It is without a doubt the most heated rivalry in all of college football. The opposing fan bases find each other revolting. They accuse each other of, well pretty much everything. What exactly is it that causes them to dislike each other so strongly?
It's not the coaches, at least it never used to be. It wasn't uncommon in the old days for Shug and The Bear to sit down and have a drink together. They had a lot of respect for each other and what each had been able to accomplish at their respective schools.
Whether it was taking part in charity events, playing golf together, or going bird hunting, the two coaches from the Golden Age of college football cared a lot about each other. They also cared a lot about the two universities and a great deal about the state of Alabama.
Sure they would occasionally provide each other with a good-natured jab. They were, after all, competitors and rivals and they had to play up to their fan bases. It was nothing more than that though.
Bryant and former protege Pat Dye spent many hours together bird hunting. Even after a Dye led Auburn team snapped the Tide's nine-year win streak in the rivalry, the two remained close.
No, it wasn't the coaches, but what about the players? At least for the players that came from in-state, most of them grew up together. The played football together as kids, sometimes on the same team.
Of course they had their allegiances, some of them since birth. It's a common thing in the state of Alabama; you had to choose sides. Most who came from Alabama families chose to root for the Tide. Same thing for those raised in an Auburn family.
There was the occasional "black sheep" that chose to pull for the other school. Their parents didn't kick them out of their home, though they did probably write them out of their will.
People who moved in from out of state were encouraged to choose a team. Even if they were a fan of a school from their home state, they were encouraged to pick a side.
Later on came high school football. In rural areas, most of them ended up as teammates at the same school. For four years they had each other's back both on and off the field.
In larger counties with multiple schools they would have heated rivalries. They were going up against kids they grew up with. There was the occasional smack talk or prank. All of it was good natured.
Those that were good enough to move on to the next level usually didn't have very tough decisions to make. They might play the recruiting game enough to get a free trip or two but in the end, they chose the team they had rooted for their entire lives.
After Iron Bowl games, watch the players. They hug each other, shake each others hands while taking the time to catch up, and pray together. This is after one of them has walked away a winner and the other a loser. Those are usually not the responses under emotional circumstances, of people who dislike each other.
So, if it wasn't the coaches and it's not the players, then who is it?
The fans of course.
The fans have always been a bit passionate in this rivalry. What rivalry worth its salt isn't?
In recent years, though, things seem to have taken a turn for the worst among certain segments of both fan bases.
What is it that has been added to the mix that causes people to lose any sense of civility?
Don't get me wrong. The Net is a wonderful invention. There isn't much you can't do on it these days. There are all different kinds of ways for people to interact with each other. News rooms, message boards, chat rooms, email, and private messaging just to name a few.
Of course with the invention of team sites and the addition of message boards came the ability for opposing fans to be able to interact with each other. For the most part the rivals were civil, although barely, but there were some segments that were downright hostile upon contact.
Now why would the same people who are friendly to you in public be so quick to jump down your throat on an Internet message board?
Anonymity of course.
Some people's personalities change completely when you hide them behind a user name and keyboard. It seems as though their true personalities come out. It is only on the Internet that you will hear an opposing fan wish for his rival's starting tailback to blow his knee out.
These days, the popular thing is spreading rumors. If you repeat them over and over enough times people just start accepting them as the truth. Some of these rumors are very direct, even naming names. With the way Internet law has evolved in recent years you would think people would think twice before doing such a thing, but they don't.
Newspapers and broadcast news fail to cover these "stories," yet they're still accepted as truth on the Internet. They're done so out of nothing more than wishful thinking and a hope to hurt their rivals recruiting. Once a rumor is started you can usually expect the opposing fan base to follow suit with one or more of their own
It's a vicious circle accomplishing nothing more than continuing hard feelings. There is also the wasted time and energy by school compliance departments who have to ferret out the truth.
Why do it then? It seems as though both groups prescribe to the theory that if they sling enough mud, sooner or later they'll get some to stick. In truth, though, all they'll really manage to do is destroy each other's program.
At least they'll still have their anonymity, though.