Alabama has played Auburn, a program that shares its home state, every year since 1948, a 65-season stretch of Iron Bowls that has come to define both programs. It is regarded, and rightfully so, as one of the best rivalries in college football.
But it's not even Alabama's greatest.
What happened in College Station on Saturday was further confirmation of that fact, as the No. 1 Tide stormed past—then almost back behind—No. 6 Texas A&M, which rode the arm of quarterback Johnny Manziel and the everything of receiver Mike Evans to 42 points in a near-comeback win.
When the dust had settled and the clock had been wrung, Alabama won by seven; but what happened on the field was more important than what read on the scoreboard.
For the second straight year, Alabama-A&M might have been the game of the year.
Many would scoff at the notion of Alabama and Texas A&M being college football's best rivalry. Those same people might even deny it's distinction as a rivalry at all.
The Crimson Tide and Aggies have played just six times in school history, and rivalries, by formalist definitions, are seeded in historical precedent.
But don't waste time focusing on semantics—especially where they don't even exist. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a rivalry as "competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field." It says nothing of time or proximity.
And if that's the case, over the past two years, out of all the pairs of teams competing for the same objective, not one has been better than Alabama and Texas A&M.
Also, for all the cynics out there: Try looking on the very brief series history with a glass-half-full perspective. One-hundred percent of Alabama-A&M games, at least since 1988, have been epic! Every time the two teams have shared a field, tape of the game has been FedEx'd, overnight, to ESPN Classic.
That's an impressive batting average.
After Saturday's game, Grantland college football writer Holly Anderson was moved to the point of preachiness, calling it everything football should be:
Never said this in seriousness before, but that A&M-Bama game IS what we want football to be. What a treat. #blessed— Holly Anderson (@HollyAnderson) September 14, 2013
That's high (and almost hyperbolic) praise, but here it's well deserved.
The Portuguese phrase jogo bonito is often used to describe soccer as the "beautiful game," but that term could just as easily be applied to what happened Saturday. On one of the high holy days of Judaism, viewers of every faith and discipline were treated to a religious football experience. It was a beautiful thing to watch.
And that, more than anything else, is why Alabama-A&M can (and will) withstand any criticism about its lack of history. It's a purely modern rivalry—as befits a purely modern world—that relies on steak more than sizzle to make its waves.
All levels of football have undergone rule changes this past decade, and many of those changes are geared to help the offense. Often they are under attack, and often that flak is justified, but Alabama-A&M is their intended product. It was exactly what the next iteration of football should look like.
It was fast. It was fun. It was exciting to watch. It was painful to watch. Big players made big plays in big situations of a big game. Viewers couldn't take their eyes off the screen long enough to craft a tweet. Unless your thing is defense, it had a little bit of everything for everybody—and even then, you still got treated to a mind-bending pick-six by Vinnie Sunseri.
It might have been the best defensive play of the season.
The best rivalry in college football isn't the one that's existed for the longest, or whose fans hate each other the most. The title is much more fluid.
The best rivalry in college football is the one game you know, at the beginning of a season, more than any other game on the schedule, that you can count on to be must-see TV.
After what happened between Alabama and Texas A&M on Saturday, would anyone, anywhere, regardless of regional of personal bias, have the audacity to pick a different game?
And if the answer is yes—are you sure you had the right channel on Saturday?