It started almost immediately.
Upon his introduction to the Volunteer nation, Lane Kiffin was acting up. In his introductory speech to the Vol faithful, Kiffin said he was looking forward to “singing Rocky Top all night long” after beating Florida in the Swamp. Now, certainly this can be excused—in fact, encouraged!
Kiffin had to rally the troops. The sloppy, dragging troops that Phillip Fulmer had left behind in Knoxville.
Then, a second grievance was issued. Riding high on the coattails of a fine recruiting class, feeling invincible and acting childish, Kiffin said that although Urban Meyer had cheated, he still could not land star recruit Nu’Keese Richardson.
Alright, now it’s personal.
These were not the end of Kiffin’s outlandish comments since he has taken the reins of the Tennessee football program. He has also insulted about 78 percent of the SEC in one way or another. However, his feisty behavior does seem to be aimed slightly more explicitly at the University of Florida.
Most recently, Kiffin had a chance to prove something on the field against one of his SEC counterparts. The Vols lost at Florida 23-13 last Saturday, a game which many thought was actually a solid effort by Kiffin’s team.
The juggernaut that is the 2009 Gator squad was held in check by a stingy Tennessee defense and a gritty Vol offense. After the game, Urban Meyer mentioned that some players were sick and recovering from the flu, namely RB Jeff Demps and TE Aaron Hernandez.
In response to this, Kiffin stated that “I don’t know, maybe we’ll wait for a poor performance and then tell everyone that our team was sick.”
All the while, Urban Meyer has remained relatively quiet. In typical Urban fashion, he has let his preparation and play talk for him. And while it was not a dominant showing, the Gators were one red-zone fumble away from a far more impressive 30-6 win.
After all this bickering, one conclusion can be made: hate it or love it, this could great for the game.
Back in the '70s , there was another feud of mythological proportions, one that college football has not seen since. The "Ten Years War” raged between Woody Hayes at Ohio State and Bo Schembechler at Michigan between the years of 1969 and 1978.
This rivalry escalated the OSU/UM game to new heights and etched their interactions in football lore. Their competition was humorous at times, always gritty, mostly close, but more than anything it was honorable. Both hard-nosed coaches hated one another on the field and would do anything to win, but in the end, they were men about it all.
Two quotes illustrate this fact:
"If 'Bo' is not a winner, I never saw one and I should know. He beat me the last three games we played. We've fought and quarreled for years but we're great friends," Woody Hayes said.
"There was plenty to criticize about Woody Hayes. His methods were tough, his temper was, at times, unforgivable. And, unless you knew him or played for him, it is hard to explain why you liked being around the guy. But you didn't just like it, you loved it. He was simply fascinating," Bo Schembechler said.
Those comments are proof that this was manhood at its finest. Two stalwarts who believed in their cause, would fight for every last inch, sock each other in the mouth, but then get up, shake hands and pat one another on the back. A respectful battle.
The Lane Kiffin vs. Urban Meyer situation could be a boon to the game of college football. It could solidify one of the better matchups in the SEC by adding a personal flavor to the already hearty history filled with legendary games (see: the 1995 rain game) and great players such as Peyton Manning, Peerless Price, Danny Wuerffel, and Tim Tebow.
However, I challenge Kiffin to start acting like a man. Right now, this comes across as more of a little brother picking a fight with his elder so he can watch Sesame Street. The sly comments, the nit-picking, and the silence from a more mature opponent just make Kiffin look silly.
And, for now, he is the youngest sibling in the SEC family. Even Dan Mullen was part of the clan for a few years before taking his own gig at Mississippi State. But grow up, Lane. Talk to Monte about how to be a strong presence and how to approach this in a more noble fashion.
Hike up your pants, watch some old feuds between Michigan and Ohio State on ESPN Classic, and stop being a little brat. I love a great rivalry, and I love some healthy trash talking. But do it with respect, do it with honor, and at the end of the day, shake your rival’s hand, look him in the eye and say, “well done.”