There is plenty of hate to go around when it comes to teams like Auburn and Tennessee, but this generation of Alabama football fans are different than generations past. These new fans haven’t seen many losses, and beyond Texas A&M, the most recent one they’ve witnessed has been served up by another lethal SEC foe.
Believe it or not, this rivalry has a secret respect looming deep within it. But you have to get past all the animosity to notice it.
I have only experienced Alabama football for 5 years- and the downright craziest I have seen Tuscaloosa was the night before LSU gave Alabama their loss of the 2011 season.
Any real Alabama fan can put away their pride long enough to admit, those Cajuns can party. And they can also drink. That night, in a competitive contest of who could own the Tuscaloosa bar scene, the two fan bases tried to out-alcoholic the other. There was no clear winner and both shared the discomfort of a rough morning, but that was the night I realized this was my generation’s real rivalry.
A rivalry that had done enough damage to spill out from the gridiron and affect how people in both states conducted themselves when they saw crimson or purple.
This rivalry has the great recipe for a storyline worth watching. And the ingredients, while perhaps diluted this year, have not gone away completely.
No, it is not “The Game of the Century” pitting number one against number two, but it is still two top ten teams (LSU is No. 10 in the AP Poll, No 13 in BCS standings). Alabama once again has very much to lose against a Tiger team powered to prove payback is sweet. Especially when remembering January 9, 2012.
The men at the helm of these two squads also give this duel spark. Like characters in a thickening plot, the two are very different sports figures representing a couple of very unique and contrasting team mentalities.
In this week’s 60 Minutes, Nick Saban was featured as the mysterious mastermind people living in Alabama already knew he was.
Producers of the show used words like, ‘perfection’, ‘standard’ and ‘the process’- all words that Saban has ingrained into the culture here and are as common as ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in the Alabama football language.
Nick Saban doesn’t change the beat of his drum very often and then again- why would he need to?
Then there’s Les Miles. His drum doesn’t even have a beat- it just makes noise. He eats grass, goes crazy in press conferences and tells people to celebrate Columbus Day (Les Miles’ Columbus Day Message!).
Yes, that same guy you saw in that video is the same one who once shook my hand at 2009’s SEC media days when he accidentally stepped in my way. He was remarkably charming in a sense that made me forget he was in fact Les Miles- leader of the enemy camp that I knew posed a threat to my university’s football success.
I wanted to hate him but he smiled and joked, and I immediately felt at ease. Two LSU fans watched my awkward but mesmerizing encounter with the charismatic coach and both nodded, one said, “no one can refuse to fall under his spell.”
I knew that wasn’t just a description of Miles’ presence when meeting people but it was, at times, the very aura he portrayed over the college football world when fans from around the country would ask, “just how did he pull that off?”
A hand shake with Nick Saban is not exactly as enchanting. Firm and no non-sense, it’s indicative of the man controlling ‘The Process’ that mechanically churns the Crimson Tide to success.
Rigid and exact, Saban is a professor of the sport while Miles is the mad scientist. Both coaches are frustratingly good at winning and both are the unofficial spokesmen of opposite atmospheres when it comes to what a college football program can mean and be made up of.
As players like Tyrann Mathieu and Jordan Jefferson have moved on from college football, the trouble-making connotation once associated with LSU has dimmed slightly. With a roster filled with young players, the team has two losses on the season against Georgia and Ole Miss- both away.
None-the-less, there is upset alert in the air. ESPN’s College Gameday chose Tuscaloosa as their home for the preview show, and that means ALL the talk about LSU knocking off the Tide once again.
But Nick Saban is- dare I say it- feeling confident. He is even telling the media that he has seen 3 important C’s when it comes to his team in the past two weeks. Improved communication, chemistry and confidence. Coming off a bye week- those aren’t bad words to hear.
This Saturday’s contest is the seventh consecutive time Alabama opened as the favorite against LSU in Las Vegas. The Tide is an 11-point favorite according to Danny Sheridan. That’s the highest spread in an Alabama-LSU game since 2006.
The last time LSU touched down on Bryant-Denny’s coveted ground they defeated a then 5 and a half point favorite Alabama.