Being a long-time follower of Tennessee football and with the current state of the Volunteer program, it was really nice to watch all the great rivalry games this past weekend. Georgia and Georgia Tech went into overtime before the Bulldogs prevailed. Ohio State edged Michigan 42-41 in a super contest and Duke eased past North Carolina, sending Coach David Cutcliff’s team to the ACC Championship Game.
Then there was the “Iron Bowl.” The game between Auburn and Alabama was played this year down on the plains at Auburn. In case you missed it, the Tigers scored twice in the last 34 seconds of the game to claim an amazing 34-28 win. Since it’s doubtful that anyone who reads this doesn’t know anything about the way the game ended, I won’t go into much detail, but boy did Coach Nick Saban and his coaching staff make a huge mistake. The Crimson Tide coaches fought to get one second put back on the clock to give ‘Bama a shot at a 57-yard field goal; that, after the Tide’s regular kicker had missed three tries from much less distance earlier in the game. In addition to attempting a nearly impossible field goal in a 28-28 tie ball game, Coach Saban inserted a redshirt freshman kicker to give it a try. His kick was a bit short, but the game didn’t end when the officials signaled it was no good. Chris Davis caught the ball nine yards deep in his end zone and never stopped running until he had gone the distance, untouched for the game-winning touchdown. Rather than take a knee and play overtime, Saban decided to go for it all with a single second left. The decision has been one of the hottest topics on sports talk shows and around water coolers in a long time. In fact, I have even heard some distraught Tide fans call for Saban’s firing. There have been some reports of fights and even shootings among the Alabama fan base. Alabama versus Auburn is more than just a football game. It’s a blood rivalry.
In my long tenure of covering sports, I have always said the two most heated rivalries were Alabama-Auburn and in Major League Baseball, the Yankees versus the Red Sox. All others pale in comparison. In the state of Alabama, a broken home is one that has at least one fan of both schools living under the same roof. Business partnerships have been dissolved over ‘Bama-Auburn conflicts, and in Alabama, a mixed marriage is not a union between people of different races, but a marriage between a Tide fan and an Auburn fan.
While Alabama fans are still in a state of shock over the “Iron Bowl,” and Auburn fans are still celebrating, Tennessee fans can take heart over a few different things as we face a third straight season without a bowl trip. First, the Vols’ thrilling upset win over South Carolina kept the Gamecocks out of the SEC Championship Game. Secondly, Coach Butch Jones is assembling one of the very best recruiting classes in school history; certainly the best in more than a decade. And thirdly, Tennessee won two SEC games in 2013, which doubled the league win total from a year ago. The Vols can invite the Florida Gators to watch the SEC Championship and all the bowl games with them, as the 5-7 Gators are also home for the holidays.
As a T-shirt proudly proclaimed this weekend, “Don’t forget to set your clocks back one second tonight; it’s daylight Saban’s time.”
Blood rivalries…you gotta love ‘em.
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).