I really tried to come up with a clever title for this article, but what does it justice? “Gimme A Break?” “Are You Out Of Your Mind?” “Are You High?”
Let me backtrack- Last summer, I checked out a series of DVD’s from the library that were produced by ESPN. (You all know ESPN, right? The home of the BCS starting in 2011? It’s not bad enough that they’ve yanked another event from free TV. I’m just bracing for three freakin’ years of them promoting it).
Anyway, I digress- These DVD’s were from the series called “Honor Roll” which aired on ESPN-U starting back in October of 2006. Now I’m not one of the six people in the country who actually have ESPN-U on their cable lineup, so I missed the shows when they originally ran. Each program was a top 10 countdown of some sort- the greatest quarterbacks, the greatest coaches, the greatest bowl games, etc.
“Fine, I’ll bite”, I thought. So I popped in Volume 1- Greatest Rivalries. I winced initially when the host, Rece Davis, the third stooge of ESPN’s “College Football Scoreboard”, greeted me. Nevertheless, I pressed on. Although no specific names were given either by Davis or spelled out on the DVD package, apparently a “panel of experts” compiled these countdowns. I don’t know about you guys but when I don’t know who comprises a “panel of experts”, I get leery.
Before I get much farther along, here were the honorable mentions, if you will, in the “Greatest Rivalry” category, aka “Best Of The Rest”-
Pitt/West Virginia, Texas/Texas A&M, USC/UCLA, Florida/Tennessee, Oregon/Oregon State, LSU/Ole Miss, Florida/Florida State, Washington/Washington State, Cal/Stanford, and yes, boys and girls, Williams/Amherst and Wabash/DePauw
All right, not bad. Not knowing the Top 10 at this point, I really only saw two- USC/UCLA and Florida/Florida State- that I may have made a case for. Here are numbers 10-3-
9) Lafayette/Lehigh- the most played game on the list
6) USC/Notre Dame
4) Florida State/Miami
OK, not much to quibble with here. I certainly wouldn’t have put Florida State/Miami up so high, if even in the Top 10 at all, when you look at the overall scope of college football history. And I was glad to see Grambling/Southern, Williams/Amherst and Wabash/DePauw get some love, which showed that our esteemed mystery panel wasn’t just honing in on the big boys. So, I wondered, who came in second to OSU/Michigan?
“At #2, Ohio State vs. Michigan”
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”
Now folks, just using the caps lock doesn’t convey the volume to which I addressed those questions to my TV. And trust me, for the purposes of our audience I’ve edited out several adjectives from those quotes as well.
That’s right. Were you aware of this, Buckeye 50 readers? “THE Game” is merely the second greatest rivalry in college football. I couldn’t tell you what highlights were shown or who was interviewed or anything else. The smoke coming out of my ears clouded my view of the TV. I opened a window and cleared the screen in time to see the SO-CALLED “greatest” rivalry- Alabama/Auburn.
My first reaction was to hop a flight to Bristol, find Rece Davis, and beat his a**. Rece is a native of Alabama, and I was certain he had something to do with this. It was becoming crystal clear why this “panel of experts” wanted to remain anonymous.
What panel of collegiate football experts, if there even is such a thing for God’s sake, could possibly fathom the Alabama/Auburn game being a greater rivalry than “THE Game”? Keep in mind; these shows were produced prior to the 2006 season, before the media’s slobbering over the SEC reached ridiculous heights. So it wasn’t a product of ESPN’s torrid love affair with anything south of the Mason/Dixon line (how’s that for a double entendre?)
Just as they had done for the other rivalries, various participants and talking heads waxed poetic about their chosen game. Here are some of the quotes supporting Alabama/Auburn-
“There aren’t any weddings. There aren’t any bar mitzvahs. Nobody’s going to the mall. Everybody’s either going to..or watching the game.”- Paul Finebaum, The Press Register.
For crying out loud, Paul, do you think you have a monopoly on that? I’m sure there are Wabash alums that don’t schedule their weddings to interfere with the DePauw game. I’m sure there’s a drastic drop in bar mitzvahs in the State of Washington when the “Apple Cup” game rolls around. (Although this year, the teams themselves would probably rather hit a bar mitzvah). I’m pretty sure I could go into any mall along the Red River when the Sooners and ‘Horns tee it up and have the place to myself. No sale, Paul.
“If there’s one game you need to play your best as a player, it better be the Auburn game”- George Teague, former Alabama defensive back.
Yo, George, I can take “Auburn” out of your quote, fill in a few dozen other teams and that statement will mean just the same if someone from another school says it. Nice try.
“We represent the same state, but yet, for that 2 ½ hours we hate each other with intensity. It’s bad”- Bo Jackson, Auburn tailback.
What does geography matter? The majority of these rivalries aren’t in-state. Bo, you don’t know compelling arguments.
“It defines that state in a way that outsiders just don’t understand”- Greg Dunnavant, author of a book about “Bear” Bryant.
“It’s a one-Saturday-a-year game, and that tradition is just beyond what anybody can understand unless you’ve lived in the state of Alabama”- Roy Kramer, SEC commissioner.
Wrong, fellas. I do understand about a rivalry, because I’ve grown up around the greatest one there is- OSU vs. Michigan. The part I don’t understand is how any supposedly non-biased observer of college football can rate “The Iron Bowl” over “THE Game”.
Time to submit the evidence-
Exhibit A- ESPN.com, another tentacle of the same family that produced “Honor Roll”, released a list of the 20th century’s greatest rivalries at the dawn of the new millennium. Who was on top? Ohio State vs. Michigan. And this wasn’t just college football. This was any sports rivalry, PERIOD! Alabama/Auburn was buried at #8. You can read related articles at 'THE' Game Links.
Exhibit B- A petty dispute over gate receipts and other issues prompted Alabama and Auburn to not play from 1908 to 1947. How in the world can you have a rivalry if you don’t even play the game? To be completely fair, Michigan didn’t play Ohio State from 1913-1917 because the Wolves had pulled out of the Big Ten over scheduling issues. However, it got worked out and UM rejoined the conference. But 39 years between games? And you call that a rivalry?
Exhibit C- ESPN Classic would have to show a test pattern during Rivalry Week without “THE Game”. Here are the games I have taped from Classic- 1969, 1974, 1979, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990. And that doesn’t include other editions of OSU/UM that they’ve shown over the years that I already taped off the original network broadcasts. The only Alabama/Auburn game that you’ll catch on a regular basis is the 1985 game where Van Tiffin’s field goal edged Auburn at the gun. OSU/UM has had so many memorable chapters that Classic can’t cram them all in. Let’s see them try to fill programming time with meaningful “Iron Bowl” games. Good luck.
Any rivalry can claim intensity, but there is no game that consistently has more at stake and means more to the college football landscape than OSU/Michigan. More evidence:
When Alabama and Auburn actually decided to play each other again in 1948, the game was moved to its current position as the last regular season game of the year. Ohio State and Michigan have been each other’s final regular season opponent, with rare exceptions, since 1935. Using those years as launching points, what game has had more chips on the table? A look at the percentages-
- % of games with at least one team ranked- Iron Bowl, 90%, THE Game, 90%
- % of games with both teams ranked- THE Game, 60%, Iron Bowl, 30%
- % of games with only one team in the Top 10- Iron Bowl, 60%, THE Game, 44%
- % of games with both teams in the Top 10- THE Game, 28%, Iron Bowl 10%
- % of games with only one team in the Top 5- Iron Bowl 32%, THE Game 28%
- % of games with both teams in the Top 5- THE Game 14%, Iron Bowl 2%
- % of games with one team ranked #1- THE Game 11%, Iron Bowl 8%
It bears mentioning that the vast majority of these percentages in the Iron Bowl were accumulated by Alabama during “Bear” Bryant’s tenure, when the Tide went 19-6 in the series. Not exactly 2-10-1, but Auburn sure didn’t put up much of a fight toward Bryant.
Checking through the Iron Bowl history, there are nowhere near any upsets along the line of 1969 OSU/UM or even 2001. Basically whenever Auburn's had the better team, they've won. Here are the losses that Alabama suffered when they had a good to great season going and lost to the Tigers, but take note of Auburn's records coming in:
1963- Auburn (8-1) beats 'Bama (7-1) 10-8 1972- Auburn (8-1) beats 'Bama (10-0) 17-16 1986- Auburn (8-2) beats 'Bama (9-2) 21-17 1987- Auburn (8-1-1) beats 'Bama (7-3) 10-0 1989- Auburn (8-2) beats 'Bama (10-0) 30-20 2002- Auburn (7-4) beats 'Bama (9-2) 17-7 2005- Auburn (8-2) beats 'Bama (9-1) 28-18
'72 would qualify as an mild upset considering the records but the circumstances were incredible. 'Bama led 16-3 in the fourth quarter with 6 minutes left. Auburn's Bill Newton blocked an Alabama punt and David Langner ran it back for a TD. 'Bama couldn't move on its next series and had to punt again. Incredibly, Newton blocked it again and-you guessed it- Langner picked it up and scored. To this day, Auburn taunts Alabama fans with "Punt, 'Bama, Punt". Hmmm, two blocked punts for scores? Snow Bowl, anyone?
If you need final stats to show what game has more on the line, consider this. Number of Iron Bowl games that have had a bearing on the SEC or SEC West title since ’48? 33. OSU/UM games with a bearing on the Big 10 title since ’35? 53.
How about outright league championships to the winner? The Iron Bowl has settled things head-to-head 4 times. THE Game? 14 times.
How many times has one team or another had a chance to grab an outright title with a win in the rivalry game? Iron Bowl- 21 times. THE Game- 49 times.
What about star power? The Iron Bowl has showcased two Heisman Trophy winner, Bo Jackson in 1985, and Pat Sullivan in 1971. Ten Heisman winners between the two schools have battled in THE Game. Apparently, Alabama takes it as a point of pride that none of their players have won the Heisman, claiming it’s a team game. Fine, but that sounds too similar to Michigan’s convenient excuse whenever Ohio State has their way with them- there’s more going on up here than football.
I admit I didn’t pore over every single TV Guide back to the dawn of television, but I certainly don’t recall Alabama/Auburn gracing ABC’s lineup in late November. In fact, in my lifetime (1967-present), THE Game has only missed being on ABC or CBS three times (’67, ’71 and ’83). Never has THE Game been relegated to ESPN or any other cable outlet. Alabama/Auburn has never, ever commanded the national attention of college football fans like OSU/Michigan. Maybe it’s ironic that I say that as Alabama currently sits at #1, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.
And if I could be allowed one final exhibit, I seem to recall last year that HBO did a superb documentary special about the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry, with much of the footage shot around the landmark 2006, #1 vs. #2 shootout. (B50 2006 Game Summary, and PhotOSU 2006 Game Photos) If anyone can tell me when HBO ever bothered airing an Alabama/Auburn documentary, feel free to let me know.
I would have loved to see the reaction if ESPN had presented this countdown via some other outlet than little-watched ESPN-U. At the very least, I’d like to know who made up the panel that voted on this. Oh, and evidently Davis did mention on the DVD that fans somehow voted as well. I’m guessing OSU and UM fans didn’t feel the need to vote for the greatest rivalry, since anyone with a brain who’s being honest with themselves knows what the greatest is.
Maybe this is too overly sentimental, but I don’t really care. As a college football fan, I’m thankful for being raised in Columbus and being able to live and breathe the epitome of rivalry. Fans of any other school that made the list have every right to be proud of their institution’s history and root ‘til they’re blue in the face when their special Saturday rolls around. Just don’t waste any oxygen trying to tell me or anyone else who knows and loves “THE Game” that there’s something bigger out there. Tide and Tiger fans, and anyone else buying into ESPN-U’s delusions, can press their noses up against the glass window and just wish they had the same thing.
And by the way, you know how DVD’s have all kinds of extras after the main feature? Take one guess what the extra was on the “Greatest Rivalry” DVD. That’s right- a condensed version of the 2006 Ohio State/Michigan game, the “so-called” runner-up in the “Honor Roll”. This particular “roll” has no honor at all.