Broadcast director says it’s bigger than AU game
By Michael Casagrande
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Few rivalries evoke emotion like Alabama’s with Tennessee.
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Former Volunteers coach Phil Fulmer had little love for the Crimson Tide, and his replacement, Lane Kiffin, hasn’t done much to smooth relations with his comments during recruiting season.
But while the two fan bases battle on the radio talk shows and Internet message boards, the players who will compete for those bragging rights are considerably more laid back.
Of the 22 Crimson Tide starters on offense and defense, only nine hail from Alabama. Even those who grew up in the state didn’t necessarily live and die with the rivalry.
Starting linebacker Cory Reamer, a Hoover product, said he grew up cheering for Auburn. His fellow starting linebacker, Rolando McClain of Decatur, said the rivalry with Tennessee never meant much to him.
“To me, personally, it doesn’t mean a lot,” McClain said. “I don’t have any ties to Alabama or Tennessee, besides the tradition of playing every year. I’m going to treat it like any other game, really. I just know I’m playing against a good team that’s well-coached. It’s just an opportunity.”
To Tom Roberts, a 31-year veteran and broadcasting director of the Crimson Tide Sports Network, the Tennessee rivalry is even bigger than Auburn because it never had the dormant period like the Tide and Tigers had from 1907-48.
He said Alabama fans of his generation who followed the Bear Bryant teams developed a distaste for the color orange.
“We just absolutely hate the Vols,” Roberts said. “But I think the players have begun to understand that, even the out-of-state guys.”
Vols defensive tackle Wes Brown, an Athens (Ala.) High School product, is returning to his home state for one final installment of the late October ritual.
“I’ve been trying to approach it as business, like usual,” Brown told reporters Monday in Knoxville. “Every game’s important to me. It’s my senior year, and I want to make the best out of all my opportunities. But this week is special for me and my family. Growing up in Alabama does make this a special week.”
Tide tight end Colin Peek, one of three starters from Florida, grew up surrounded by Gators fans. He got his first dose of the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry last season after transferring from Georgia Tech.
He learned quickly about what this game means by hanging around the weight room. Peek remembers hearing Alabama coaches yelling out their record versus the Vols during those workouts.
“If you can remember your record against Tennessee, it’s something that travels with you for the rest of your life, so, apparently, this must be a huge game,” Peek said.
The streaky nature of the series, led 48-36-7 by Alabama, helped cultivate its intensity, Roberts said. Although the Southeastern Conference divisional split in 1992 took away a little from the meaning of the series, the broadcasting veteran noted the late 1990s were the peak of the hostility. The Fulmer’s allegations that Alabama committed NCAA improprieties became a flashpoint in the rivalry.
“That made it get even stronger — stronger to the point where it’s a bitterness,” Roberts said. “I don’t think I’d ever say it’s a good-natured rivalry, but I think down through the years, there is a fair amount of respect on both sides, even though it was huge for both.”