A lot of college football fans outside of the SEC scratch their heads and wonder why Alabama vs. Tennessee on the
Third Fourth Saturday in October is taken so seriously by Crimson Tide and Volunteer faithful.
After all, Alabama has the annual Iron Bowl clash with Auburn as its season ending finale, right? Isn’t that the fiercest rivalry in the league, if not the country?
Maybe, but Alabama vs. Tennessee is the annual Clash of the Titans in SEC football lore. One of my earliest football memories was listening to the 1972 game on the patio with my father. Bama was down 10-3 late in the fourth quarter due to a very stout Tennessee defense. But the Tide somehow managed to score two touchdowns in under two minutes and pulled out a 17-10 victory. Bama play-by-play announcer John Forney was nearly unintelligible as the final seconds ran off the clock, but my father’s grin as he pulled out the Victory Cigar was all I needed to be told—beating Tennessee is huge.
Tennessee has beaten Alabama 38 times. No other school in the country has beaten Alabama 38 times. Tennessee has 13 SEC Championships. No other school in the league is as close to Alabama’s 22. Beginning in 1995 with Peyton Manning as a sophomore in Knoxville, Tennessee ran off a streak of seven straight victories. No team in the SEC has ever beaten Alabama seven straight times and it may not ever happen again. Tennessee rightfully claims six National Championships. No other team in the SEC is as close as Alabama’s 13.
The games have meant more than any other matchup in the league because so many of these games have determined the SEC Championship, Sugar Bowl berths and whether either of the two would be in the National Championship race. Ten years before Alabama’s 2009 Return to Glory, Alabama won its 21st SEC Championship. Its only SEC loss that season was to Tennessee. During that 2009 run a decade later, Tennessee again tried to blemish Bama’s SEC title run and it took two blocked field goals from Terrence Cody to seal the 12-10 victory.
The average score in the series is Alabama 16, Tennessee 13.
These are the two marquee programs of SEC Football lore. These are the two flagships. Florida may have more fans and more TV viewers. Georgia, too. But no two programs have done more on the field than Alabama and Tennessee. Nobody. No two programs can claim head coaching legends like Paul W. Bryant and General Robert Neyland. It’s 110 years of college football at it’s finest and most intense.
It’s the Third Saturday in October even if the calendar is wrong. It’s Us vs. Y’all.