Alabama, LSU share rare respect

Published 9:29 am Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Forget, for the moment, the Alabama and LSU fans, the Gumps and corn dogs and the trash-talking.

The two schools will play again this week and, even with both already saddled with a loss coming in for the first time in seven years, the college football world will stop and pay attention.

You can’t afford not to.

The rivalry has evolved to where it has become the Game of the Year Every Year in the SEC — even when it’s not, it still has that feel about it.

It has become, arguably, the best rivalry in the nation’s best conference.

It’s an easy choice for LSU. The nostalgia of the Ole Miss thing two weeks ago notwithstanding, LSU really doesn’t have a natural rival.

Bama’s game with Auburn may loom larger for the Crimson Tide.

But it is in Alabama’s blood to hate Auburn with its every fiber of its being, from cradle to grave.

It just is. It’s a no-brainer, in a Spike 80DF herbicide sort of way.

LSU, on the other hand, has had to earn the Tide’s respect, hatred and suspicion, which the Tigers have obviously done over the last decade.

It’s been a good thing.

Alabama fans think they should win every game — well, so do LSU fans, I guess — but the Tigers may be the one opponent Bama really doesn’t trust to roll over and succumb to the Crimson aura.

Bama fans complain that almost every team they play seems to be coming off an open date to rest up and prepare for them.

LSU follows suit, most every year.

But it’s also the LSU game when Alabama always makes sure it has its own open date the week before as a countermeasure.

Can’t believe it’s an accident on either side.

Alabama fans, for that matter, seem to think a lot more of Les Miles than many Tigers’ fans do. They don’t trust him.

We all know how LSU fans feel about seeing Nick Saban on the Alabama sideline.

The novelty of that sideshow has just about worn off, but I’ll remind you that Saban didn’t draw any particular ire for leaving LSU — he was roundly cheered the next year when his newfound Miami Dolphins were forced to play the Saints in Tiger Stadium due to Katrina.

It was coming back to the SEC that turned him into a traitor and a pariah of ill repute.

It doesn’t matter.

This rivalry has gotten beyond the disparate personalities of the head coaches.

They certainly have gotten past it.

Miles, prone to referring to things like “our opponent” and his counterparts as, say, “the Florida coach,” even got downright convivial this week when mentioned a “Coach Saban” in his news conference.

Saban was even more friendly, referring to the LSU coach as “Les.”

It should be a good show.

Unless it’s a rematch for the national championship, you can always expect a war.

Check your spread offenses and your no-huddle silliness at the door.

This is generally big-boy, physical football, honest mayhem without the bells and whistles.

In fact, in two of the tightest recent games the coach who got the cutest got burned — Saban in the famed 2011 regular-season meeting, Miles two years ago in his near-miss in Tiger Stadium.

As intense as it has been, it has also for the most part been a testament to sportsmanship on the field. You’ll have two teams playing their butts off but generally without the chippiness of some rivalries.

Maybe that’s what happens when respect among players trumps hatred among fans.

Alabama players have never stomped on the Eye of the Tiger at midfield and, best I can recall, no captains on either side have ever refused to shake hands.

Some of the fans’ antics can go over the top. The postgame scene following the 2011 rematch for the BCS national title will never be a chapter in profiles in sportsmanship, particularly at the French Quarter Krystal Burger.

But there are times when even nuttiest of fans get so caught up in the gravity of the moment that they are shocked into at least passably civil behavior.

The atmosphere before the touted “Game of the Century,” the first meeting in 2011 between No. 1 LSU and the No. 2 Tide, was some electricity I’ll never forget.

But it was more than that, almost odd and confusing in a “Twilight Zone” sort of way.

A press box buddy and I arrived a good 4-5 hours before the long-awaited kick off and used the spare time to check out the Alabama tailgate scene — an ambiance run we called it.

We covered a good chunk of the campus and at one point I said something like, “There are way too many LSU fans here — this is going to get ugly.”

“Multiple arrests,” he predicted. “Bama won’t back down.”

Yet there was nothing of the sort.

I’m not here to tell you they were smiling at each other, breaking bread and mingling in kumbaya fellowship.

But neither side seemed of a mind to start any taunting wars either. They looked at each other suspiciously perhaps, but always keeping a proper, arm’s-length distance.

Never mind the teams — it was a rare SEC instance of fan bases seemingly afraid not to respect each other.

As the far-flung crowds began easing toward the stadium — Bryant-Denny was full to the brim an hour before kickoff — the strained politeness continued.

When a Tide and Tiger fan reached a crowded street corner, they seemed to arrive in kind of a “No, no, after you” mood before crossing.

No, for the most part they were not smiling with each other. More like serious game faces, and when their opposing eyes would dare to meet, time after time you saw a stern nod and a serious expression that suggested, “Let’s show the world a good game, how football is supposed to be played.”

Like I said, not something you see in the SEC every day.

I guess that’s a good thing.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU

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