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Friday, November 29, 2013

It’s Rivalry Weekend In College Football

Auburn running back Onterio McCalebb (23) stiff arms Alabama defender Brent Calloway (21) during a kick return during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Butch Dill/AP)

Auburn running back Onterio McCalebb (23) stiff arms Alabama defender Brent Calloway (21) during a kick return during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Butch Dill/AP)

When I was 7th grader in Durham, North Carolina, I had a teacher named Mrs. Crawford. She was a North Carolina fan. I rooted for Duke. The two universities are less than 10 miles apart. I think my rooting interest might have affected my grade.

That’s a joke but not too far from the truth. These college football rivalries are pretty serious stuff.

As my friend John Bacon, author of “Fourth And Long: The Fight For The Soul Of College Football,” reminds me, “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate” is how folks describe the annual game between Georgia and Georgia Tech. Those two old friends meet for the 107th time on Saturday.

And to the winners of these rivalry games go the spoils. College football rivals play for at least seven bells, four buckets and two spittoons. There are also beer barrels and bourbon buckets at stake.

“This is probably the biggest Alabama-Auburn tilt since 1971 when both teams were undefeated and ranked in the top five.”

Saturday afternoon, the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels will tangle for the 100th time. And this fall I might just have the edge on Mrs. Crawford, if she’s still cheering for the Carolina blue. Duke is on the cusp of its first 10-win season in school history and a victory would lift the Blue Devils into the ACC Championship Game. The winner of the annual Duke-North Carolina game receives one of those bells, the Victory Bell.

Rivalry weekend actually started Thursday night with the 110th edition of the Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and Mississippi. The winner of that tussle receives a trophy that is supposed to be shaped like a football but it looks a little bit more like an egg, hence the name. Whatever it looks like, the Bulldogs of MSU will keep it for the next year. They edged the Ole Miss Rebels 17-10 in overtime in Starkville, Mississippi.

In the Northwest part of the country on Friday, there are a couple of major rivalry games. Washington State plays Washington in the 106th Apple Cup game and Oregon State tangles with Oregon in Eugene. The Beavers and the Ducks are playing each other for the 119th time in a what is know simply as the Civil War. So far, Oregon holds the edge in that war, 60 wins to 48. There have been 10 ties.

After my family moved from North Carolina to Illinois, I became acquainted with the most storied rival in the Big Ten Conference. And it’s not the game between the university that was kind enough to eventually graduate me (Illinois) and the school my more academically-gifted sister excelled at (Purdue). It’s actually the game between Ohio State and Michigan tomorrow in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes and the Wolverines are meeting for the 110th time. Ohio State is the clear favorite.

The Buckeyes are undefeated (11-0), the Wolverines 7-4. But as the cliche goes, throw out the record books when these teams collide.

I wonder where all those record books end up?

The rivalry game of the weekend that carries the biggest implications pits Auburn against Alabama. The Tigers and the Tide are playing in the 78th edition of the Iron Bowl, so-called because the traditional site of the game, Birmingham, had historic ties to the steel industry. It wasn’t until 1989 that the folks at Auburn convinced the folks at Alabama that the game should be played, at least sometimes, on the Tigers’ home turf. So tomorrow, the Iron Bowl will be played in Auburn, Alabama. And this one is about way more than bragging rights.

Alabama is the top team in the nation. Auburn is ranked 4th or 5th depending on the poll you watch. The winner of this game gets a berth in the Southeastern Conference title game but for the Crimson Tide of Alabama, a victory keeps them on track for a third straight national title. This is probably the biggest Alabama-Auburn tilt since 1971 when both teams were undefeated and ranked in the top five. Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan collected the Heisman Trophy as the best college football player in America that season, but Alabama didn’t seem to notice. The Tide rolled over the Tigers 31-7.

If memory serves me, one of the things we had to do in Mrs. Crawford’s class was memorize the names of all the counties in North Carolina. There are 100 of them. Somehow, I did it — placed them correctly on the map.

If I was still a 7th grader, I could imagine her asking me to do it again if Duke wins Saturday.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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