Clash of the Ball Boys: FSU's Red Lightning vs. Auburn's Blue Thunder

Clash of the Ball Boys: FSU's Red Lightning vs. Auburn's Blue Thunder
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Ali versus Frazier. Palmer versus Nicklaus. Harper versus walls.

The sporting world is stuffed with more storied rivalries than a Greek epic, and every year a new crop of legends rise up to give us another marquee matchup.

We’re scarcely a breath into the 2014 college football season, and it may be said that we’ve already found the hulking, king-hell rivalry of the fall: Red Lightning versus Blue Thunder. 

For the college football agnostics, the two young men I speak of are the fleet-footed equipment managers of the Florida State and Auburn University football programs. They are the winged messengers—the sideline speed merchants scorching grass and turf alike as they go about the business of delivering pigskin and raising team morale.

Which is to say, they are ball boys. Fast, badass ball boys. 

First we must reacquaint ourselves with the senior statesman in this clash: Frankie “Red Lightning” Grizzle-Malgrat. 

The world first met Grizzle-Malgrat during the Seminoles’ march to the 2013 BCS title game.

Even the most disinterested eye couldn’t help but notice the red-headed hustle comet burning up the FSU sideline every Saturday, and it wasn’t long before the bearded maven was dubbed “Red Lightning” by Florida State fans.

Put simply, Red Lightning became the Robin to Jameis Winston’s Batman. 

B/R

Thus Grizzle-Malgrat reigned over the NCAA, appropriating a spot as the Usain Bolt of ball boys and ending his breakout year with a BCS title win over Auburn in January.

That reign is being threatened, however, and the heir apparent to Red Lightning’s throne is Jack “Blue Thunder” Longenecker, a sophomore equipment manager at Auburn who dropped jaws around the SEC on Saturday when he toasted a khaki trail down the sideline alongside Tigers wideout Melvin Ray. 

Longenecker’s big debut came on Ray’s 49-yard touchdown catch against Arkansas. The wide receiver snagged the ball, shed a Razorback defender and screamed up field for God’s country.

The only person with a chance of catching Ray was Longenecker, who came sprinting down the Razorbacks' sideline, closing distance like a khaki-panted puma and striding with the wideout for several seconds.

Now we come to a quandary: Who is the NCAA’s “It Boy” in the field of equipment management? Who is the Ball Man on Campus? 

In the name of discerning this all-important truth, I’ve put together a highly scientific rating system comparing the two in a number of salient ball-boy categories.

Let’s start with the most obvious:

 

1. Speed

Red Lightning: Grizzle-Malgrat is what I like to call “nimbly-bimbly.” 

That is to say, he’s not a thoroughbred as much as he’s a do-it-all beast of burden. At 5’7”, Red Lightning wasn’t built for breakaway speed, but rather the rough-and-tumble life of a ball boy behind enemy lines.

As he proved against Oklahoma State on Saturday, you could send Red Lightning into the jungle butt-naked and he'd walk out the other side wearing a leopard suit. He is more than comfortable in hostile territory.

Blue Thunder: As you'll note in Todd Staples' lovely Vine, Longenecker is a pure burner. 

In a simple, A-to-B race, Auburn’s equipment manager is winning nine out of 10 times against Red Lightning—an ironic matter considering his past.

A former high school football player, Longenecker told The War Eagle Reader’s Jeremy Henderson that his high school coach once told him he couldn’t play running back because he wasn’t fast enough 

“I said ‘I want to play running back because it was the easiest practice,” Longenecker told Henderson in a recent interview. “And he said, ‘No, Jake. You’re too slow for that.’”

Advantage: Blue Thunder.

 

2. Facial Hair

Red Lightning: A key facet of being a ball boy at the college level is having thick, luxurious facial hair. Behold its power below, as Grizzle-Malgrat talks with ESPN's Colin Cowherd:

Blue Thunder: N/A. 

Longenecker is a young warthog. He still has time to cultivate a fine face pelt.

Advantage: Red Lightning.

 

3. Swagger

Red Lightning: No one can pimp a chest rug quite like Red Lightning, as The Tuscaloosa News' D.C. Reeves tweets:

Blue Thunder: Considering his nubile existence in the national eye, we only have a small sample of Longenecker’s personality to work with.

What I do know is that he rocked a subtle fist pump after Ray's touchdown and looked more than ready to provide an additional chest bump if needed:

YouTube

Advantage: Red Lightning.

 

4. Intangibles

Red Lightning: There are too many to name—the foremost being his giving nature and paternal protectiveness for his players.

 

Blue Thunder: He has a determination to run fast everywhere.

“We like to go fast as possible, just like our offense," Longenecker told Henderson. “We have to be ready to give the ball to the refs at all times."

Advantage: Red Lightning.

 

5. Team Spirit

Red Lightning: You’d be hard pressed to find a non-player who puts a bigger smile on Seminoles fans’ faces than Red Lightning. He’s like the Yukon Cornelius of Tallahassee.

Blue Thunder: Again, we’re working with a small subset of data on Longenecker, so we’re still waiting for him to command War Eagle VII to swoop down and scoop out Nick Saban's eyes. 

Advantage: Red Lightning.

 

Final Tally: Red Lightning 4, Blue Thunder 1. 

There you have it, folks. Red Lightning won this one in a landslide. He has the portfolio and tenure. It's difficult to compete with a curriculum vitae that includes an image of this magnitude.

In any case, the season is young, and I fully expect Longenecker to take his game to the next level as the weeks pass.

It’s a breakout year for Blue Thunder, and the nation could very well see a ball boy showdown come the playoffs. Should an FSU-Auburn rematch come to pass, keep one eye on the sideline. That’s where the real stars ply their trade. 

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

 

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