Up Next: Alabama Crimson Tide
In Book II of Rhetoric, Aristotle presents the three means of persuasion : ethos (grounded in credibility), pathos (grounded in the emotions of the audience), and logos (grounded in patterns of reasoning). In this post, I’m going for the pathos, baby. So if a touch of sentimentality doesn’t grab you about the Third Fourth Saturday in October the way it does me, then wait for the next post. Otherwise, dive into this remix of Tommy James and the Shondells’ hit. It now goes like this:
Crimson and orange, over and over…
Crimson and orange, over and over…
(repeat for a total of 91 times)
A matter of the heart.
For Vol fans, Tennessee-Florida is the rivalry of supremecy for the SEC East Division. Tennessee-Georgia is the newly-christened rivalry of supremecy in the recruiting battleground of Georgia. Tennessee-Kentucky is the age-old state-line rivalry that is called the Border Battle (104 games and counting) – by the way, I miss the Beer Barrel. And, Tennessee-Vanderbilt is that bitter in-state rivalry (103 games and counting).
But the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry is different. It’s commonly referenced name is a date on a calendar: the Third Saturday in October (more on that later). That is just a historical reference. But it is a reference that elicits a profound pathos. It creates an emotional response, for Tennessee-Alabama is the Rivalry of the Heart.
It is in the heart of every Vol football season’s schedule. It is in the heart of Autumn. And, it is at the heart of every Tennessee Volunteer football supporter. It is the heart of every Vol. It is truly a matter of the heart.
On Saturday, my heart will be involved more than for any other game this season. It’s always that way for Alabama vs Tennessee, every year.
Crimson and orange, over and over, 91 times and counting.
Since its beginning in Birmingham in 1901, Tennessee and Alabama have met 91 times. Since 1928, with the exception of ’43 when WWII put a temporary suspension on things, its been an annual affair.
It has been a rivalry where the trends of dominance have changed back and forth. The Vols have had two major periods of dominance (I’m using long periods – more than a decade, not 4 or 5 years). First, from 1938 to 1960, largely the era of Robert Neyland, Tennessee was 13-5-4 agains the Tide. The second era of Tennessee supremecy, which included a winning streak of 7 in a row, was 1994-2008, during which Philip Fulmer led the Vols to a 10-5 record against Alabama. The big question on everyone’s lips addresses the time-span of that second period. Are we at the end, or just in the middle?
Bama’s major lengthy period of supremecy over the Vols was 1971-1993, under the leadership of Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant and his successors, during which the Tide was a gaudy 18-4-1 against Tennessee (the 4 Vol wins were in consecutive seasons). This period included insufferable winning streaks of 11 in a row (’71-’81), under Bryant, and 7 in a row (’86-’92). It has been a rather hot and cold affair, so much so that I think an individual Vol fan’s perspective on the rivalry might be colored by when they cut their teeth as a fan of the Big Orange.
My first memory of Alabama-Tennessee was the 1960’s. That was a decade split in half. From ’61-’66, the Vols were winless (0-5-1). But in the later part of that decade, Tennessee was a perfect 4-0-0 (’67-’70). That was when I first became excited about Tennessee football. Who knows? Maybe that’s the reason. It seemed like the Tennessee-Alabama game was an annual nationally-televised ritual back when very few games could be seen on the tube. It was the SEC’s signature game of the year during the late ’60s, as it was for many years before that.
And, it was when both teams wore their home colors, regardless of where the game was played. That’s right. Tennessee always donned their orange jerseys, no matter if the game was in Knoxville or Birmingham, and Alabama, always their crimson tops. But once I got to Knoxville as a student, Alabama had put a firm throat hold on the rivalry. I never saw Tennessee defeat the Tide as a UT student. Painful. And by that time the home colors tradition had been eradicated to where we are today – white tops on the road.
Apparently we tried to rekindle that Orange-Crimson spectacle for Saturday’s game, because the NCAA rule of mandatory jerseys was just recently changed to allow the possibility for a color-splashed game. Like it used to be – like it’s supposed to be!!! But, as you might expect, Alabama AD Mal Moore turned down Tennessee’s official request. Apparently, both teams have to agree for it to be allowed. But as our friend GhostOfNeyland writes over at the blog 3rd Saturday in Blogtober, we ought to do it anyway and suffer the consequences – hopefully just a small penalty of 15 yards and maybe a time out (am I nuts?). On the other side of the rivalry fence, Eli on the Bama Sports Report uses a big dose of humor to relay the orange-and-crimson jersy controversy by poking fun at Lane Kiffin. Tom Mattingly’s latest article of the Vol Historian recounts the history of this tradition-turned controversy. And, Todd over at Roll ‘Bama Roll, the self-proclaimed “Champagne of ‘Bama Blogs”, is relieved that our all-orange unis will not be “befouling” his stadium.
Two homes for years.
One of the more peculiar things about Alabama football history is their lineage of “home field” location. From 1929 to the present, Alabama has played home games at what is now named Bryant-Denny stadium in Tuscaloosa – but only some of them. Because from 1927 through 2003, the Crimson Tide also played home games at Legion Field in Birmingham. The dates in Birmingham were reserved for the “more important games” such as Tennessee. The Tide’s home games against the Vols were played in Birmingham from 1932 through 1997. Note that Auburn also used Legion Field for its biggest home games during many decades. The Tigers played their home games against Tennessee there until 1972 and against Georgia Tech until 1970.
Poor old Legion Field. In 2004, it was found that the 9,000-seat upper deck (installed in 1961) would need major remediation to meet modern building codes. So in 2004, Alabama backed out of all future games scheduled at the old Iron Bowl venue in favor of their stadium in their home town of Tuscaloosa. Like Neyland Stadium, Bryant-Denny Stadium has undergone a series of expansion and rennovation. Capacity now is a hair over 92,000, to be increased to about 101,000 when sky boxes and an upper deck are added to the south end zone stands. But no matter what they do to the Tuscaloosa stadium, it looks a bit souless. Legion Field may have been old and worn out, and it may have been in a not-so-desirable part of Birmingham. But it had soul. I miss it.
What week is the ‘Bama game?
From 1928 through 1994, the Tennessee-Alabama game was played on the third Saturday in the month of October. And for much of those 60-plus years, the Vol-Tide matchup was the SEC’s signature game. Many times, conference championships were decided by that game. Legends in orange and in crimson were made in that game. And it displayed two of the greatest coaches the college game has ever seen. Robery Neyland and Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant. For these reasons, and the passion of the respective fanbases, the game, and the rivalry became known as the Third Saturday in October.
When the SEC reorganized into two divisions and restructured its schedule into a more consistent format (which I think was a good thing), the timing of the Vol-Bama matchup lost its sacred calendar date status. The first year of the break in tradition was 1995 when it was played on the 2nd Saturday of October, and since then, the game has been played on the 4th Saturday 9 times, and on the traditional 3rd Saturday 5 times, most recently in 2007.
Oh well. All good things come to an end. But why did the suits mess with this tradition? Anybody out there know?
Spotlight: Richmond Flowers – traitor to the crimson, hero to the orange, and the blacks. A tale all Vol fans should know.
Richmond Flowers, Jr., native of Dothan, Alabama, committed heresy by attending the University of Tennessee. For his junior season performance, he won first-team All-American honors as a Vol wingback. He scored Tennessee’s only touchdown in the 10-9 win over ‘Bama in 1968. But Richmond was also a three-time All-American hurdler/sprinter for the Vols track squad, and if for not an injury in 1968, he most certainly would have competed for the U.S. in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.
The bigger story of Richmond Flowers, Jr. was that he was the son of perhaps the most hated man in Alabama. And because of that hatred, Richmond Junior chose the Vols over the Crimson Tide. But before that, Richmond as a kid was dyslexic, asthmatic, anemic, and walked on his ankles because of flat feet. He overcame that. And after his playing days at UT and in the NFL, he made a fortune as a commodities trader in Chicago, and then lost it all. Read Mike Sielski’s article on the fortunes and misfortunes of Richmond Flowers, Jr. Read Dennis Hevesi’s article in the NY Times’ about Richmond Flowers, Sr. after he died in 2007. Unconquered (1989) was a made-for-TV movie about the life of Richmond Flowers, Jr. that focused on the abuse and isolation he encountered and suffered because of his father’s views. Must viewing for Vol fans who want to get a broader view of the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry in the 1960s.
Surely this has happened a lot.
Alabama hosts Tennessee this Saturday as the Nation’s number one-ranked team. You would think that with all of the great Crimson Tide teams of yesterday, this occurrence – Tennessee versus a #1 ‘Bama, would have happened many times. My search through the history of the weekly Associated Press polls resulted in the astounding fact that this year will only be the third time that this has occurred. The previous two happened in consecutive years: 1979 in Birmingham and 1980 in Knoxville. Both times Alabama prevailed. I sat through the misery of that second one, a 27-0 drubbing in a rainy Neyland Stadium. One of the worst experiences I have had at a Tennessee game.
But, enough pathos for one day…
Get into it!
Well, that’s it for a stroll through the aspects of this great rivalry. The Rivalry of the Heart. There is so much to find on the subject – books, magazine articles, filmed histories. Over at our favorite blogspot Rock Top Talk, Joel is “republishing” a story on the history of the rivalry as a 4-part blog post, written with Alabama fans as the intended audience. Here’s Part One. Here’s Part Two. Look for the last two parts later this week. It’s a good read, worthy of your time in this week of crimson and orange, over and over…
But if you’d rather get into the spitting at each other over the fence stuff (and that’s fun, too), give this a look from C. Brown over at Down By the River (a great name for a Tennessee blog, by the way).
Whether it be pathos or rage, get into it. It’s ‘Bama Week!