Ad Spot

Rivalry has lost its shine

By Staff
Paul Finebaum
This is not your father's Tennessee-Alabama game coming up later in the week.
The Third Saturday in October. Orange vs. Crimson. The leaves turning, the air becoming chilly. The glorious history of Dixie's most storied rivalry on display.
We interrupt this lame attempt to become the next Robert Frost for a reality check.
The Tennessee-Alabama game has become an afterthought. It's pass/.
Says who?
Check the starting time. The game begins Saturday at 11:34 a.m. and will be carried on something called Lincoln Financial. There will be no Keith Jackson bellowing "Whoa Nellie" and remembering his old friend Bob Neyland and his other old friend Paul Bryant (Keith called him "Paul" and not "Bear.")
This game this year couldn't even draw Verne Lunquist and Gary Danielson.
Not than anyone will miss Danielson's incessant and banal chatter. The announcers for this game will be Dave Neal, Dave Archer and Dave Baker. Does three Dave's beat a full house?
Instead, the league's No. 1 "old-school rivalry" isn't even the No. 2 matchup on this Third Saturday in October. The top dog belongs to the Ali vs. Frazier bloodletting in the Bayou Saturday night. No. 2 on this day belongs to Florida Kentucky, a game that usually has to fight to even get on Lincoln Financial (the artist formerly known as the JP game).
There's something wrong with this. This game once stood the South on its ear. Now, it's the appetizer in the SEC. This is the first time since 1988 the game has failed to make a national network (Lincoln Financial is shown in nine states). This is like Paul McCartney doing a concert at Dollywood.
This is like Robert De Niro playing community theater in Montgomery. Or Gene Stallings coming back to coach in an arena football league.
At his news conference Monday, Saban was asked the usual laundry list of questions relating to the rivalry, such as what about playing "Rocky Top" at practice?
Saban looked totally bored with the question and struggled to say anything about the storied rivalry, other than the usual boiler-plate. In a way, it was embarrassing to hear how little Saban seemed to care about this once-relevant rivalry. He might as well have been talking about Alabama playing UT-Martin or Chattanooga.
So what happened to this rivalry?
Three years ago, there were death threats and national security issues. Tommy Gallion, the Montgomery attorney, was on radio and television as much as Fulmer and Mike Shula.
Two years ago, there were still issues for Fulmer as he was making his first appearance in Bryant-Denny since it was revealed he had ratted out Alabama to the NCAA.
This time, I think Fulmer could walk into the busiest restaurant in Tuscaloosa the night before the game and nobody would care.
On Alabama's schedule this year, nobody has called offering their first born for tickets to the Tennessee game. Instead, everybody wants to be in Bryant-Denny-Saban Stadium on Nov. 3 for LSU. That's the hate game this year in T-town.
Oh, the Auburn game on the Plains matters, too. But I've heard more buzz and more demands for tickets for the Western Carolina game this year, Saban's debut, than for this one Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
I need two tickets for the Tennessee game, says a guy in front of the stadium. Will you take four?
Now some of it has to do with the two teams and how they are playing. Tennessee has looked better in recent weeks and Alabama is all over the map.
However, from a national perspective, this game is a big yawner. No, ESPN GameDay. They'll be in Lexington. Oh, it's definitely important, now. With the Florida meltdown in the Bayou and the LSU implosion in the Bluegrass, both teams control their own fate, to a degree.
Tennessee would be in great shape with a win today. So would Alabama. However, with LSU and Auburn still to come for the Tide, I think reservations for Atlanta and the title game ought to be put on hold, perhaps for a couple of years.
Paul Bryant once said the Tennessee game defined the season. He said you found out what kind of football team you were. What will Alabama and Tennessee find out this weekend in Tuscaloosa?
For Saban, it would be an important win to show the Tide can beat a quality opponent. Alabama may be strutting along with a 5-2 record, but the five victories (Western Carolina, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Houston and Ole Miss) are all against teams without a winning record.
The Alabama comeback on Arkansas late seemed historic at the time. After watching Auburn edge the Razorbacks late Saturday in the Nutt House, it just seemed routine if you are an opponent of a Houston Nutt-coached team.
And neither of the two teams the Tide lost to, Georgia and Florida State, is setting the woods on fire, either. Georgia lost to Tennessee 35-14 two weeks ago, and last week FSU dropped a game to Wake Forest, 24-21.
Still, the days of Alabama measuring its manhood by Tennessee are long gone. After all, this is a Tennessee club that lost 59-20 to Florida a month ago. This is a program that was 60 minutes away from putting Fulmer on the shelf until the blowout over Georgia. That's how fragile life is these days on old Rocky Top. That's how unpopular the Great Orange Pumpkin has become in the autumn of his career.
Meanwhile, watching Alabama is akin to watching a horror movie. There will be thrills and chills and skeletons rattling in closets and bodies falling from rafters. It may not be quality entertainment but it will keep you in your seat until the credits roll.
So here we are, in the eighth week of the football season, on the famed Third Saturday in October. Tennessee vs. Alabama. Be there in person or catch it live on Lincoln Financial (you might want to consider doing some retirement planning and reposition your 401(k) during the commercial breaks).
Kickoff is at 11:34 CDT, that's 9:34 on the West Coast, in case you were wondering. Would someone please remind me to buy an alarm clock for Saturday morning. With all the buildup and excitement for this game, I sure would hate to miss the opening kick.
Paul Finebaum is a guest columnist for The Franklin County Times. He can be reached via e-mail at