On the Alabama football beat: The Third Saturday in October rivalry is going up in smoke

On the Alabama football beat: The Third Saturday in October rivalry is going up in smoke

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even before University of Alabama senior linebacker Shuan Dion Hamilton left the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium following the 41-9 victory over Arkansas on Saturday night, he was already singing the song to himself.

Not “Rammer Jammer,” or “Yea, Alabama!” but the one he’ll be hearing over and over again this week, especially when the Crimson Tide takes the field again, “Rocky Top.”

He knows all the words.

“We always sing it,” Hamilton said. “It’s going to be a pretty fun week.”

Tennessee would beg to differ unless something extreme happens. Since Nick Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, the rivalry known as the Third Saturday in October has been anything but enjoyable for the team that wears orange and while. The Volunteers have lost 10 in a row, and most of the games have not been close.

Moreover, the Volunteers again appear to be in the middle of a lost season.

Tennessee is 0-3 in SEC play. It hasn’t scored a touchdown since surviving against UMass 17-13 on Sept. 23, including last week’s 15-9 loss to South Carolina. In contrast, Alabama has scored 134 points since then, all against SEC foes.

It lost 41-0 to Georgia before getting its bye week, and according to Oddsshark.com is a 34.5-point underdog at Alabama.

So yes, some players have been getting asked: “Do you consider Tennessee a rival?”

“Doesn’t everybody?” Alabama running back Damien Harris said.

To some Crimson Tide fans, Tennessee is THE rivalry, and always will be, even more so than Auburn. The series dates back more than 100 years, and unlike the Iron Bowl they played every year minus one, 1943, when neither school sported a team due to World War II.

They’ve been the two most successful football programs in SEC history, even though Tennessee hasn’t played in the SEC Championship Game since 2007.

SCHOOL SEC TITLES LAST TITLE
Alabama 26 2016
Tennessee 13 1998
Georgia 12 2005
LSU 11 2011

The initial Alabama-Tennessee game in 1901 featured fans rushing the field in Birmingham to protest, but was called due to darkness with the score tied 6-6.

The 1913 game ended with a 6-0 score in favor of Alabama, but Tennessee never forgot the Crimson Tide’s first All-American, Bully Van de Graaff.

“His ear had a real nasty cut, and it was dangling from his head, bleeding badly,” Tennessee lineman Bull Bayer later recalled. “He grabbed his own ear and tried to yank it from his head. His teammates stopped him and the managers bandaged him.

“Man, was that guy a tough one. He wanted to tear off his own ear so he could keep playing.”

In 1934, Tennessee coach Gen. Robert Neyland made his famous comment: “You never know what a football player is made of until he plays against Alabama.” The subsequent year, Crimson Tide end Paul “Bear” Bryant not only played against the Volunteers with a broken leg, but scored a touchdown.

For years, the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry was the league’s version of a blood feud, and of course not all of them went  the Crimson Tide’s way. One game in particular that might come up this week was 1982, when Johnny Majors’ team knocked off No. 2 Alabama, 35-28. The coach was carried off the field by his players, and the Neyland Stadium goalposts subsequently were torn down.

A repeat of that scenario is what Nick Saban is coaching against this week.

“It means a lot to a lot of people,” he said of the rivalry.

“When you have rivalry games that have tradition associated with them for many, many years, there’s a different kind of motivation in those kinds of games. … You could make the case that they’ll come in here and play great — play really, really well and try to prove something.”

Tennessee nearly did in 2009, the 12-10 finish known as Rocky Block, which threatened to derail Saban’s only perfect season. Two years ago, the Crimson Tide had to hold on for a 19-14 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Otherwise, Tennessee’s bluetick coonhound mascot Smokey put up a better fight when he bit Alabama receiver Mike McCoy during warmups in 2006 than the football team. Here’s how lopsided the past 10 games have been:

  • Alabama has outscored Tennessee 351-119, for an average score of 35.1-11.9.
  • Over the last decade, Tennessee had the lead at the end of a quarter just once, 7-3 after the first quarter in 2010.
  • In the 600 minutes of game time, the Vols have enjoyed the lead for 15 minutes and 10 seconds, essentially the equivalent to one of 40 quarters played. It works out to 2.5 percent.
Alabama football-Nick Saban-Jalen Hurts-Damien Harris-Tennessee-Crimson Tide football-SEC-watch online-kickoff time
The Third Saturday in October hasn’t been much of a rivalry during the Nick Saban era at Alabama (Getty Images)

Overall, Saban is 12-1 against the Volunteers, the lone loss occurring in 2001 when he was with LSU. The Tigers lost 26-18 in Knoxville, but came back and won a rematch in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, 31-20.

If the Crimson Tide wins, they’ll match the longest winning streak in series history, 11 games set by Bryant from 1971-81. The overall series record is 54-37-8 (52-38-7 after vacations/forfeits).

Plus Alabama hasn’t lost to an SEC East team since 2010, having won 19 in a row.

So, still a rivalry? Maybe in the traditional sense, but that’s about it. For the past few years, most students have considered it more of a rivalry for their parents. They can’t relate to Gene Stallings playing “Rocky Top” in the locker room all week long, the scout team wearing orange jerseys or eve the heartbreaking five-overtime game in 2003.

Lane Kiffin and running back Alvin Kamara have both come and gone — from both schools. Linebacker Joshua McMillon is the only player on the Crimson Tide roster from the state of Tennessee, while the Vols have one player on its depth chart from Alabama, linebacker Will Ignont.

On Oct 3, Alabama sent out a release that it had tickets available for the game, which usually means the visiting team returned part of their allotment that went unsold. That’s not supposed to happen in rivalry games.

But the winning side still lights up cigars, and that changes everything.

“It definitely lights a match up in the room,” Hamilton said.

The post On the Alabama football beat: The Third Saturday in October rivalry is going up in smoke appeared first on SEC Country.

Christopher Walsh – SEC Country

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