Georgia-Auburn. Or, to be fair, Auburn-Georgia.
Either way, for as long as anybody around here can remember, those two words conjured up more emotions, excitement and memories than any simple phrase. I remember my dad telling me stories of the old Georgia-Auburn games at Memorial Stadium.
“We thought it was the biggest sporting event in the world,” he told me the other day. “Everywhere you went, you’d see Georgia colors and Auburn colors.”
The Georgia-Auburn rivalry — OK, Auburn-Georgia — had been going strong for 23 years before the series that would become known as the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry moved here in 1916. It stayed here for 42 years. Even though it has been gone for 61 years, it’s still OUR game.
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Keith Jackson, the voice of college football for decades, told the story of his grandfather taking him to his first college football game. Auburn-Georgia, Memorial Stadium. As the game was about to kick off, his grandfather sat up straight and bellowed, “Whoaaaaa Nellieeeee!”
So one of the most famous catch phrases in sports broadcasting was born right here, along with the formula for Coke.
What brings all of this up now is the announcement last week that the Georgia-Auburn game will be moved from its traditional slot of mid-November to early October, starting in 2020. This was done to help Auburn split its two biggest — and usually most physically and emotionally taxing — games of the year. Having to play Georgia and Alabama in the span of two weeks had not been an issue until recent years. The schedule changes to work Missouri and Texas A&M into the SEC meant the home and home rotation of the Georgia game had to be flipped.
That worked out quite nicely for Auburn the first year, which was 2013 and happened to be the year of The Prayer at Jordan-Hare. Who knows how that game might have unfolded had it been played in Athens? But it’s safe to say that if it had come down to Auburn needing a miracle on fourth-and-27, Sanford Stadium would have been absolutely pulsating with noise.
It hasn’t worked out so well for Auburn in the past even numbered years when the Tigers had to play at Georgia and at Alabama. Even the home games in 2017, arguably the two most exhilarating games in Jordan-Hare history, which Auburn swept, came with a price. When the Tigers had to play the Bulldogs again the following week in the SEC Championship Game, they were a bruised and battered team.
But make no mistake about this. The schedule change has less to do with improving competitive balance than it has to do with what governs everything in college football — money. And maybe recruiting with the new early signing period, although rest assured Georgia coach Kirby Smart would never agree to anything that would give any rival a recruiting edge.
Here’s Auburn’s November home schedule for those even-numbered years:
2014 — Texas A&M, Samford
2016 — Vanderbilt, Alabama A&M
2018 — Texas A&M, Liberty
I hate to see another piece of tradition, however trivial it might seem, thrown to the scrap heap. But in the grand scheme of things, we could focus on the positive. At least one of college football’s most sacred rivalries will live on.
Lest we take that for granted, consider this list of some great rivalries that became casualties of change:
▪ Texas-Texas A&M
▪ West Virginia-Pitt
▪ Pitt-Penn State
So when you think of that, the fact that Georgia-Auburn hasn’t been completely bulldozed in the name of progress is a relief. For years, Auburn traditionally played Florida, Georgia and Alabama late in the season. Pat Dye, drawing from his Augusta roots and familiarity with The Masters, nicknamed it Amen Corner after he became the Tigers’ coach. But the Florida game got moved up to October when Arkansas joined the SEC and was eventually scrapped as a permanent non-division game. And now the Georgia game is being moved.
What impact this will have on the rest of the SEC schedule has not been determined. It’s almost certain that Auburn would play another conference game in that November slot. It could be the Tigers‘ rotating East division opponent, which will be Kentucky in 2020, Missouri in ‘22 and Florida in ‘24. Or maybe Auburn drops one of its cupcake opponents and plays somebody with a name brand, like Baylor or N.C. State, just to name a couple of examples.
As much as I love preserving tradition, I don’t care when Auburn and Georgia play. Just as long as they play.