Sports Outside the Beltway

Tide King in Alabama Despite Auburn’s Recent Success

Paul Finebaum explains that he got a lot of hate mail from Auburn fans after a recent column saying that Nick Saban’s hiring at put Alabama ahead of their cross-state rival in national attention again.

It isn’t so much the hiring of Saban that has some Auburn fans sniveling, but the resiliency of the Alabama Nation. How many times has this Alabama program been knocked down to the canvas since the death of Paul Bryant but somehow, some way, been able to get up, bloody, beaten and battered, to live to see another day? Even to someone from another state and who attended a rival school, it is an extraordinary thing to witness.


Bill Curry, after three straight losses to Auburn, tucks his tail in early 1990 for Kentucky, replaced by a popular but underwhelming choice in Gene Stallings. He loses his first three games. Yet he wins a national championship in 1992 and runs off a streak of 28 games without a loss. In 1995, the Tide program is humiliated with its first NCAA probation, but the next year Stallings wins 10 games and retires with a 5-2 mark against Auburn. Mike DuBose enters, gets caught up in a secretary scandal three years later, is nearly fired, loses to Louisiana Tech (and is days from being fired), and follows up with an overtime win over Florida and then beats the Gators for the SEC title. He goes from preseason No. 3 in the nation to 3-8 in 2000 and is gone. The Albert Means story explodes and Alabama is staring down the barrel of a gun from the NCAA, which is threatening the death penalty. Dennis Franchione has a cup of coffee and bolts; Mike Price, his replacement, goes down in flames (before ever coaching a game); and Mike Shula, who seemingly throws up all over himself for two years, wins 10 games and finishes No. 8 in the nation ahead of Auburn, which should have played for the national championship the year before.

This season, of course, Alabama loses to Mississippi State and nearly everyone else, and gets left at the altar by Rich Rodriguez (and nearly everyone else) in the aftermath of Shula’s bungled firing. The entire college football world, led by Auburn fans, are dancing on Alabama’s grave and guess what? The Tide lands Saban — one the most feared college coaches in recent history.

Yes, I can feel the pain of the Auburn Nation. I can understand its frustration. It’s like, “Dude, what else do we have to do?”

Finebaum’s right.

I’m an Alabama alum, so I’m a little biased on this one. Still, I was 14 when I moved to the state and have no animosity toward Auburn; indeed, I wish them well on days they’re not playing ‘Bama.

The bottom line is that, though Auburn’s has almost certainly been the premier football program in the state over the last decade or so, Alabama has a legacy that they will never be able to match. Alabama is The Capstone; Auburn is the ag college. (No matter that Auburn’s academic programs are often more highly ranked nationally.) Alabama has won 12 national football championships; Auburn has only one (although they might have won a couple more had they not been on probation in their undefeated 1993 season and screwed by the BCS system in 2004). The Tide has far more fans statewide and it’s not even close nationally.

These things put Auburn at a substantial competitive disadvantage. It’s really quite amazing that Tommy Tuberville has made them regular championship contenders and beaten the Tide five straight years. That should change now, though, with Bama off probation and with a first rate coach.

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