Thursday, November 15, 2007


I love football. I loved playing it in high school and college, and I enjoy watching it now. Growing up in LA (lower Alabama), there weren’t any professional teams in our state, so college football reigned. Ninety-five percent of the residents of Alabama are interested in Alabama/Auburn football, and about 40% of Alabama residents are CONSUMED by Alabama/Auburn football.

Where I come from, you have to declare by about the third grade whether you’re an Alabama Crimson Tide fan or an Auburn Tiger fan – and you can only change loyalty ONCE in your life without losing everyone’s respect. For most residents, it’s not a choice because unless you want to risk being cut out of your parents' or grandparents' will, you will support the team your family supports.

This rivalry bleeds over into business and politics. Besides Republicans and Democrats, Auburn and Alabama alliances are utilized. There are “Alabama” banks and busineses and “Auburn” banks and businesses.

I grew up during the time of legendary Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who was purported to be only the second man to walk on water. A typical joke ran like this: One cold winter evening, Bear Bryant came home after a high school recruiting trip. He crawled into bed and his wife said, “God, your feet are cold!” Bear replied, “Honey, when we’re alone you can call me Paul.”

It was hard to choose against Coach Bryant, but I decided at an early age to be an Auburn fan. Don’t ask me WHY they are the Auburn TIGERS, but their motto is “WAR EAGLE!” And don’t ask me WHY it’s the Crimson Tide, but their mascot is an Elephant.

The fable I like to tell is that years ago during an Auburn game, a Golden Eagle swooped down over the playing field and the announcer said, “Ladies, and gentlemen, look at that eagle.” And since everyone talks with a noticeable drawl in Alabama they all looked up and said as one voice, “WHAR EAGLE?” But I doubt that story is true.

For years, Alabama regularly trounced Auburn in the annual “Iron Bowl.” It was called that because it was played in Birmingham at Legion Field which is in the shadow of the old US Steel Iron works. It was supposedly a neutral site, but with Tuscaloosa just 45 minutes down I-20, it always seemed like a home game to Alabama. The game has since been moved to alternate between Auburn and Tuscaloosa where they each have stadiums that can seat almost 80,000 fans. An Auburn/Alabama ticket is hard to get. It’s still the most important sporting event in Alabama. A team can lose every game of the season, but if they win the Alabama/Auburn game, the season was a success. Coach Mike Shula was a great coach for Alabama, but he's gone because he just couldn't beat Auburn.

Alabama still holds the edge in the series (38-32-1), but there have been some notable Auburn victories. One of the most memorable came in 1972 when Alabama was leading 16 to 3 late in the fourth quarter. Auburn blocked a punt and ran it into the end zone to make it 16 to 10. Then, with only seconds remaining, Alabama punted again, and Auburn blocked it again and scored for a 17-16 win. For years after that you could see bumper stickers that said: PUNT BAMA PUNT!

But Auburn has beaten Bama the last five meetings and 7 of the last 10 games. One of the nice things about living in Texas for the past 16 years is that I haven’t had to hear about Auburn/Alabama football 365 days a year. They take it so seriously that when I was a pastor in Gardendale, Alabama I had to chide the people to come to church the day after the big game even if their team lost. One Sunday morning I showed up for church on the morning after an Iron Bowl that Alabama had won and there was a 40 ft banner hanging in the baptistry that said, “ROLL TIDE.” And I’m certain there were some men in our church who never sang a word in a hymn until we came to that line from “Jesus saves” that says, “Waft it on the ROLLING TIDE, Jesus saves, Jesus saves!” You could actually hear the volume increase on that line!

I still pull for Auburn, but since my oldest daughter, Jenni, graduated from OU and my younger daughter, Laura Grace, is in graduate school there, I’ve become an Oklahoma Sooner fan. As I watched Adrian Peterson break the NFL rushing record a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but think that he should be playing as a senior at OU this year.

Of course in Tyler, many of us are also pulling for LSU this year. Matt Flynn, the starting QB, is from Tyler and a member of Green Acres. He waited patiently in the shadow of Jamarcus Russell to get his chance to play and now LSU is at the top of the BCS standings.
Because OU went to sleep in their only loss at Colorado, they’re stuck at #4 in the BCS poll. I think Missouri will beat Kansas, and OU will beat either Kansas or Missouri in the Big 12 Championship game. But I’m afraid that won’t be enough since Oregon is currently #2. I’d love to see OU and LSU in the BCS Championship game on January 7, but unless the Ducks sink, it probably won’t happen.

I’m also a Dallas Cowboys fan and Tony Romo and Coach Phillips has the ‘Boys at 8-1 this year. But to be honest, I like college football 100 times better.

How about you? What are you thoughts about the College/Pro game? Who should be #1? Let me hear from you ……