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October 19, 2012

Alabama vs. Tennessee still has passion

There is a passion of football fans in the South that creates more arguments and dissention than religion and politics.

In the Chattanooga area there is a special passion that occurs the "Third Saturday in October" (when the SEC schedule now allows it) due to the proximity of Sand Mountain, Alabama and the popularity of the winning Crimson Tide that has engulfed those in search of a favorite college football team.

Many people and their families moved off Sand Mountain to Chattanooga to take better paying jobs in the 1950s, 60s and 70s and brought their never-dying love for Alabama football with them.

The Alabama vs. Tennessee football game has brought some memorable moments to college football fans throughout the years.

My friends who are Tennessee fans are as miserable right now, as I am as a Dallas Cowboys fan.

Tennessee's last victory over Alabama was 16-7 in Knoxville in 2007. For Volunteer fans, that must seem like a long time ago.

I am not a good college football fan. I started as a Navy fan as a kid because Roger Staubach was my hero and moved on to is a Tennessee fan until quarterback Bobby Scott graduated.

Then I became a Georgia fan because my friends would get good tickets to the games in Athens and I wanted to go with them.

That fandom was washed away with more than 19 years covering college and professional football for the Chattanooga News-Free Press and Chattanooga Times Free Press.

While working as managing editor of the Tennessee Football magazine and the Friday Night Football magazine over a five-year period I had the opportunity to meet and write about some of the players who are playing for both Tennessee and Alabama now.

In some cases, I am still friends with their families.

It was fun to follow Alabama's (OL) Barrett Jones and his brother (TE) Harrison when they were at Evangelical Christian School, as well as it has been with their little brother (LB) Walker Jones who has committed to the Crimson Tide.

Trinity Christian's all-everything athlete (DB) Jabril Washington gave me some thrills watching him play before signing with Alabama.

The list of Tennessee players that I had the opportunity to follow and write about includes (FB) Ben Bartholomew (MBA), (OL) Antonio "Tiny" Richardson (Ensworth/Pearl-Cohn), (RB) Devrin Young (Bearden), (DB) Marsalis Teague (Henry County), (DB) Eric Gordon (Hillsboro), (DB) Tino Thomas (Melrose), (LB) Jacques Smith (Ooltewah), (OL) Alex Bullard (Brentwood Academy), (WR) Zach Rogers (David Lipscomb), (TE) Brendon Downs (Tennessee High), (OL) Mack Crowder (Tennessee High), (DL) Daniel Hood (Knoxville Catholic), (OL) Kyler Kerbyson (Knoxville Catholic), (DB) Jaron Toney (Alcoa), (WR) Cody Blanc (Knox Central) and (PK) George Bullock (Knoxville West) to name a few.

I know, every time I make out a list I leave out somebody.

It is hard not to want to see those players on both teams do well.

Nevertheless, for those Big Orange fans who are tired of being chided by their co-workers and Facebook friends about the Alabama and Tennessee game, it is no longer a fun week.

Alabama's 5-game win streak is like having a big crimson elephant sitting right in the middle of a Tennessee fan's memorabilia rooms.

However, Alabama fans have endured streaks in the opposite direction with their team too.

From 1995-2001 Tennessee defeated the Crimson Tide seven consecutive times.

It might be appropriate to quote former ESPN analyst Beano Cook who died last week. Cook understood the passion of the Alabama and Tennessee game.

Cook once wrote, "If you are a fan of Tennessee or Alabama football there are two rules to live by: Don't get married on the third Saturday in October, and try not to die -- because in either case, the preacher might not show."

Cook was as on the money with that statement as he was when he wrote, "You can't lose this game consistently and expect to keep your job as the head coach of either team."

There are those who will tell that this could be Derek Dooley's last time to coach against his former boss Nick Saban as the Vols' head coach.

A Tennessee upset would help the Vols in recruiting battles with players like all-everything (DB) Vonn Bell, who lives in Ooltewah and plays at Ridgeland High just across the state line in Rossville, Ga.

Bell grew up a Tennessee fan, but has admitted that the lure of a No. 1 team is intriguing. He has been offered by both schools as well as many more.

Few Tennessee fans are offering much hope against the No. 1 ranked Alabama machine.

However, some Tennessee fans still believe.

Connie Shamblin DeBord responded to the Facebook question, "Can Tennessee win?"

"Yes they can, GBO," she wrote.

Retired TSSAA football referee Jerry Walker answered, "I'm a diehard Vols fan, but I'm afraid they are out-manned at pretty much every position this time around."

Richard Petty NASCAR fan Mike Walker wrote, "The only chance Tennessee has is if Alabama misses its flight to Knoxville."

Former Ooltewah record-breaking running back turned preacher Blake Foster wrote, "We (Tennessee) will have a shot ... but it won't happen."

Michael Noone responded to the question, "Sadly I think Bama will name the score on us (Tennessee), but I would be happy to be wrong. The Vols have nothing this year sadly. Hopefully Dooley will be gone after this year. He's 0-15 vs. Ranked Teams."

James Hammond is one who believes that there is anger still there from the Phi Fulmer era as the Tennessee coach.

"After all the angst created by the page 1 Fulmer recruiting accusations and the page 20 acquittal, I imagine (Nick) Saban has been issued orders from the Bama governor to run the score up and injure as many Vols as possible."

Chattanooga area media veteran Redzone Ron Hall, who has more opinions than Archie Bunker ever had, wrote, "Despite the injuries that can possibly affect the Tide, the huge disparity in both the talent level and coaching will not slow down Alabama's run to another BCS championship. Unless pigs are seen flying over Knoxville, there is NO chance of Tennessee being able to keep the margin of victory to less than 35."

In addition, Kaiti Kelly, who was a standout softball player at Boyd-Buchanan and UT-Chattanooga and is a member of the Stump On Sports television show staff, left no question as to which colors she will be wearing on Saturday.

"I expect (and hope) to see Bama's fourth string in the second quarter," she wrote.

Oh well, there is no doubt there is a passion about college football and the Alabama vs. Tennessee game.

I only wish I could have quoted my TNVarsity.com partner Hobe Brunson on Tennessee's hopes. The truths (he claims to be the truth) he tells me about Tennessee in private are usually colorful and priceless.

By the way, I told a Southeast Tennessee Kiwanis club crowd back in early August that Tennessee was going to upset Alabama this year.

We will find out if my better judgment was being fogged by old age. However, what if I am right?

As Doug Lambert responded to the Facebook post about that possibility, "Bahahahahahahah."


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