Sunday morning, an Oklahoma fan mentioned that we should have taken a short road trip to Oklahoma City to watch the Cowboys play Alabama in basketball Saturday evening. Given that he regularly lets out a big “Boomer” in anticipation of hearing a “Sooner” in reply, my guess was that he would be pulling for the Tide to beat his Bedlam rival.
That assumption was wrong.
His conference pride trumped his rivalry feelings as a rooting interest in the game.
In Alabama, it seems there is great discussion regarding Auburn’s upcoming national title bout with Oregon and who it is appropriate for Tide fans to pull for.
In one corner is a friend in Florida who, despite his Alabama loyalties, believes it would be great to see Auburn bring another national title to the Southeastern Conference. At the other extreme is a Bama fan in Tuscaloosa who believes that anything good Auburn achieves is bad for his beloved Tide.
So, what is the proper protocol when declaring your rooting interest in games that involve one of your biggest rivals? Does allegiance to your school’s conference outweigh your hatred of the rival? Does the idea of seeing your enemy enjoy success trump the results of the conference as a whole?
In search of answers to this issue, we consulted a series of experts to help resolve this dilemma.
In the case of Alabama and Auburn it may be simply a question of manners. You are talking about opposing fans that spend time in the office together, live next door to each other and, in some cases, even share a table for dinner at night as family.
Etiquette expert Millie Chastain of the Protocol School of Alabama has strong feelings on this subject. She needs to. Her home is split down the middle. She pulls for Alabama, but her husband is an Auburn fan.
“We all like to be braggarts when we are winning,” Chastain explained, “But people need to know that sportsmanship should always win out.”
What she has seen from fans when they are on the wrong side of the score has often disappointed her.
“Civility is very important,” Chastain added. “No matter which team a person is pulling for they should always be respectful and civil.”
She makes a great point. It is one thing to pull for your rival’s opponent, but it is quite another to be an idiot about it. Chastain’s final comment was a gentle reminder that “it does not take long for the tide to swing against a person in these things.”
In football speak, this means be careful when giving grief to rival fans. Paybacks can be miserable.
We surely agree that respect and civility are important, but the question remains regarding who to pull for in a situation that places your biggest rival on a pedestal.
Still looking for an answer, we turned to ethics expert Lauren Bloom, who is the author of The Art of the Apology: How to Apologize Effectively to Practically Anyone. Bloom’s insights were pretty straight forward.
“The best ethical choice is to pull for the team you honestly think deserves to win, not just to root for Oregon because you hate Auburn,” Bloom explained.
She understands just how hard this might be for some Bama fans as she adds: “Now, I recognize that Alabama fans might want to feed Auburn to hungry alligators, but there’s no point in that now.”
Bloom’s encouragement is to “put those feelings aside and make a fair assessment of which team is better, or which team deserves the win more. Then, go out and cheer!”
Bloom was also very clear about when a fan has taken their cheering too far.
“If you injure anybody, damage the stadium, break glass, roll a police car or wind up in jail, you've crossed the line,” Bloom stated.
Make sure you get this. You can cross the line well before you are carted off by the police. Remember: Civility in all things.
The final piece of advice from Bloom is spot on. If Auburn wins the day and takes the Bowl Championship Series trophy back to the Plains, she says: “Let them gloat now and look forward to seeing your team take it back from them next year.”
Here is what this means for all the Tide fans out there: If you are hoping your Auburn friends don’t remember your actions after last year’s BCS title game, well, good luck. You probably deserve what is coming.
When told who else we would be directing this question to, one of our experts agreed it would be smart to speak with someone who has spiritual insights. She even thought it might be the most important conversation to have.
So, we went off to find guidance from a higher source. In this case, it is our own Big Ten contributor Chris Benjamin. Benjamin holds a Doctorate in Ministry from Abilene Christian University and serves as a fulltime minister in Fort Smith, Ark. He had several thoughts to offer.
For those who favor the concept of predestination, Benjamin said: “Some Alabama and Auburn fans seem to think God favors their team.” There is a third choice to consider, though.
“It is also possible God could be an Oregon fan,” Benjamin added. Obviously, he said this tongue in cheek.
If this is your brand of theology then he recommends you “figure out who God really pulls for and align yourself with that team.” He has a point. Do you really want to be found pulling against the Big Man?
If you are a free choice advocate Benjamin explains the possibilities really open up.
“The greatest tenet of the Judeo-Christian tradition is love,” he added, “An Alabama fan might want to use this as an opportunity to love his or her enemy by pulling for Auburn.”
Love also gives Crimson Tide fans an out as well, though.
“A lack of national titles may move an Alabama fan to have sympathy for Oregon,” Benjamin said. “After all, they have no national titles in football to claim.”
Notice he said sympathy—not empathy.
There is another area of religious study that could come into play, according to Benjamin. Eschatology is a theology of last things and the end of time.
“An Alabama fan cheering for Auburn just might be a sign of the end,” he proclaimed.
Three experts have been consulted, but none have been able to really answer the question posed in an adequate, absolute way. So what is a fan to do?
Here is a thought. Pull for whichever team will bring you the greatest personal joy. If seeing your rival go down in flames will make you smile, then go all in. Order your “Roll Duck Roll” shirt and hope things go well. Remember this though: Whatever you dish out, you should expect back.
The other choice? Swallow your pride and pull for your rival. It might be painful, but you will be lauded for being able to rise above petty things for the greater good of the conference. Careful though. The guys sitting next to you next season at home games might not be as open-minded.
There is one final option. Just close your eyes and hope the whole thing goes away.
Oh, the friend who was going to pull for Oklahoma State sent me a text after our conversation. He said if it was Texas the Tide was playing, there was no way he would pull for the Longhorns. That is more like it.