Richard Hyatt: Football divides, unites family

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerNovember 28, 2013 

2010: Auburn 28, Alabama 27

Auburn was undefeated and ranked No. 2 heading into the game, but it had been a season of turmoil for the Tigers as the NCAA investigated the recruiting of quarterback Cam Newton.

Alabama rolled out to a 24-0 lead midway through the second quarter. But then Newton took over, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another.

His last TD pass — a 7-yarder to Philip Lutzenkirchen — gave the Tigers the lead for good.

Newton would go on to win the Heisman and the Tigers the BCS national championship.

PHOTO BY ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

Curtis Samuel Howard Sr. played at Auburn in football's dark ages, scoring the Tigers' only touchdown in a 1919 victory over Georgia.

Curtis Samuel Howard Jr. -- we know him as Sammy -- was among Bear Bryant's early recruits at Alabama, kicking off an impressive career that took him into coaching, banking and politics.

Curtis Samuel Howard III was a student trainer at Alabama, caring for players on Bryant's last two national championship teams and later spent five years on the Auburn faculty.

But for the Howard clan and their extensions the heritage goes deeper, so among Thursday's sweet potato pies was a sour subject that even loved ones can't discuss -- a topic that this particular weekend will divide families all over the state of Alabama.

"When holidays come along, my mother reminds us that talking about football is off limits," Curtis III said. "We're there to love each other."

His mother understands the dynamics of football. Sammy Jr. was playing the game when he and Judy married. Teammates in Tuscaloosa hoarded milk so little Curtis III would have enough to drink. She spent years as a coach's wife while her husband coached at high schools in Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama.

But the depth of the family conflict began before Judy joined it, going back to 1958 when Sammy was a star at Phenix City's Central High School. Everyone assumed -- including his father Red -- that Sammy would get a scholarship to Auburn.

"Shug Jordan had just won a national championship, and he could be picky. When he didn't offer Dad a scholarship my grandfather went over there and told him off. He never rooted for Auburn again," Curtis III said, retelling an old family story.

There was talk he was too small, but Sammy became a Junior College All-American in Mississippi and Bear Bryant invited him to play at Alabama. Injuries curtailed his Crimson Tide career but not his love of the game.

At Yazoo City, he won a Mississippi state championship, ending his career back home at Hardaway and Glenwood. Fingers pointed at him as a coach prepared him for a brilliant stint as mayor of Phenix City.

Football was always a tough subject for the Howards. Sammy went to Alabama but his brothers went to Georgia and Troy, and his sister went to Auburn. Barbara Howard Edwards, who died last month, was close to her brother, but long ago she and Sammy agreed to disagree on the subject of football.

Like many of his relatives, Curtis III married an Auburn graduate. But football doesn't matter to Dr. Marseea Howard. "She doesn't care about football -- which is good." It's different for his brother, Kevin, and wife, Deidre. "If they go to the game they won't even sit together."

Curtis III has been talking trash on Facebook. "You want us. You got us," he taunted his Auburn friends.

But he also showed respect: "Auburn is having a great year. Alabama is having a better one."

This year's game is a national event that transcends the rivalry, pitting No. 1 against No. 4, but at home it's family.

"College football isn't about the Harvey Updykes or the Eric Ramseys. It's about gathering with friends at Toomer's Corner or eating at Dreamland with family. It's fun. It's family. It's friends. And by God, it's our Southern way of life, something that is lost in other parts of the country," Curtis III said.

There's also a Curtis Samuel Howard IV. He didn't choose Alabama or Auburn. He attends the Savannah College of Art & Design.

Go SCAD.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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