The All Things CW notes column by Christopher Walsh will appear in five parts this week, one each day as the Alabama Crimson Tide prepares to host Auburn for the Iron Bowl.
This is ...
This is going to sound like a little bit of a cop out, but at some point you just know the answer.
What's the best biggest rivalry in college football?
There are some great ones, and this year we've seen some remarkable things even though the Alabama Crimson Tide lost twice on the final play of a game and then had to deal with celebratory fans rushing the field.
Alabama and Auburn is still the big it in that regard.
You think anyone on the Plains has forgotten how last year's game went? Try as they might to forget it, Crimson Tide fans aren't about to let them — especially since they still hear about the Kick Six.
Let me back up for a moment, though.
In 2004, after seven years of covering the National Football League, along with three seasons of Major League Baseball, I made the move that dramatically changed my life and took a job covering Alabama athletics.
At the time, I had been to exactly one Crimson Tide game, and it happened to be the last one for Gene Stallings, the 1997 Outback Bowl against Michigan. I left Tampa Stadium that day thinking that Crimson Tide fans were a little on the nuts side.
With the new gig, though, I aimed to fully immerse myself into all things Crimson Tide, including its rivalries. It's one thing to hear about how they're the backbone of college football, and read things like the late Beano Cook’s comment calling the Iron Bowl "Gettysburg south," but living it's an entirely different thing.
So in 2004, I set out to see what the national perception was regarding Alabama-Auburn. Over the course of that season 60 journalists from around the country were polled about what were college football's biggest rivalries and why.
Based off the balloting for the Heisman Trophy, each region in the country had the same number of voters, although no one working in the state of Alabama was included. Three points were awarded for each first-place vote, two for second and one for third.
The result was almost a dead-even tie between Alabama-Auburn and Michigan-Ohio State, mostly because the Wolverines and Buckeyes were both regularly in the national championship picture. Alabama-Auburn had more first-place votes (20-19), but Michigan-Ohio State appeared on four more ballots to finish with more points, 108-100.
Rivalry (first-place votes), Total votes
- Michigan-Ohio State (19) 108
- Alabama-Auburn (20) 100
- Oklahoma-Texas (6) 40
- Army-Navy (6) 37.5
- Florida State-Miami (4) 35.5
Also getting votes: Florida-Florida State, Southern California-UCLA, Texas-Texas A&M, Harvard-Yale, Florida-Georgia, Alabama-Tennessee, Grambling-Southern, Montana-Montana State, Nebraska-Oklahoma, Ole Miss-Mississippi State, Colorado-Wyoming, Colorado-Colorado State.
First published: Tuscaloosa News, Nov. 20, 2004
Ten years ago, in 2012, I went back and did the poll again, but with a slightly different approach. The number of voters was cut in half, with the 30 journalists including five national writers, at least three from each major conference. The rest were at-large to ensure Notre Dame had a presence. Geographically, every part of the country was represented, again except for the state of Alabama.
The real difference was in how the college football landscape had changed, and not just with some schools having switched conferences. The last three national champions had all been from this state (with a fourth on the way), and the Southeastern Conference had won six straight titles.
The results were much more clear-cut.
Rivalry (first-place votes), Total votes
- Alabama-Auburn (16) 68
- Michigan-Ohio State (8) 57
- Oklahoma-Texas (3) 18
- Army-Navy (1) 16
- Harvard-Yale (1) 5
Also receiving votes were: Alabama-LSU, Notre Dame-Southern California, Florida-Florida State 2, Florida-Georgia 2, Texas-Texas A&M 1
See? They knew.
Alabama-Auburn was left off just four ballots, while a couple of writers tried to vote for it more than once (which wasn't allowed).
Among those quoted in that story was Michael Casagrande, then of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, but now back at AL.com: “I can't imagine another rivalry being more intense and all-encompassing as the Iron Bowl, I wouldn't want to either. “Passion isn't even the right word and I'm not sure the English language has one strong enough.”
The thought did occur to me to go back and do another poll this season, 10 years later, to compare it to the others, but few of the journalists who I surveyed either time are still around. Most media outlets have made so many cuts that their beat writers are so young that they don't have the necessary experience to make accurate comparisons.
That's ok. We all know. And not just because the SEC has won 12 of the last 16 national titles, many by Crimson Tide teams that successfully navigated its way through Auburn.
Army-Navy is amazing and should be on everyone's bucket list. Some Alabama fans will forever consider Tennessee to be the Crimson Tide's biggest rival. As intense as Michigan-Ohio State gets, the schools will forever be in different states, so the fans don't have it in their homes and in their face 365 days a year.
The Iron Bowl is just different in that respect, regardless of the year, and there's really no need to list the reasons why except one.
To quote another writer from one of those polls: “There's no other rivalry that gets this personal,” Nolan Weidner of the Syracuse Post-Standard said. “It's like a family feud that never ends, and people don't grow out of it.”
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