A politically correct Iron Bowl?

Guest Commentary By Wayne Franklin

It’s Monday morning, three days after the Letdown in T-town, and for this Alabama alum one undeniable fact remains: losing sucks. Losing to Auburn after jumping out to a 24-point lead? Infinitely so. That fact is exactly why we in this state argue so vehemently year-in and year-out that the Iron Bowl is the greatest rivalry in all of sport. We feel the extreme highs of victory and the crushing lows of defeat like a state full of manic-depressives off their meds.

The problem is this rivalry that ideally brings out the best in the players (although one could argue it only did so for a half this year) also tends to bring out the absolute worst in the fans.

I’m not saying Auburn fans have no reason to gloat, nor Alabama fans reason to grouse. They certainly do. However, the reaction to this year’s game threatens to undermine the very fabric of the rivalry itself.

“But wait,” you say, “I’ve heard any number of Alabama fans congratulating Auburn on the win, even vowing to support them in their bid for a national championship.”

That’s exactly what I’m talking about. The plague of political correctness has infected the Iron Bowl!

Heck, I’ve fallen victim myself. Early in the season, as it became apparent that Auburn was a legitimate contender for the West, I found myself saying I hoped both teams would meet undefeated in the Iron Bowl. What happened to me? I spent the better part of high school and college sporting a t-shirt that declared my two favorite teams as Alabama and whoever was playing Auburn. (Or should it be “whomever?” I don’t suppose it matters as t-shirts aren’t exactly the last bastion of proper grammar, anyhow.)

Throughout the whole Cam Newton saga, I’ve been quick to come to Auburn’s defense, or at least express the hope that Auburn was not complicit in a pay-for-play scandal. This from a guy who, during the Shula years, proudly sported a t-shirt declaring my hatred for “that cow college.”

Maybe I grew up. Maybe it’s just that I got too fat to wear my old t-shirts. Who knows? But where is that old vitriol? Where’s the righteous anger that should accompany the rivalry?

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I directed Auburn’s institutional commercials for a number of years, and I have a number of friends in their communications and marketing office to this day. I think Auburn is a fine university in a beautiful town. Of course, such statements would cause my Bama friends to question my loyalty. I’d remind them that although I will always bleed crimson and white, my wallet hemorrhages green. However, I haven’t done Auburn’s spots the last two years, (thank you, proration) and it’s during that exact time period that I’ve gone soft.

Perhaps I’m only responding to the magnanimity of my Auburn-loving friends. No, that couldn’t possibly be it. Among my peers – and by my peers, I mean upper-middle class, college-educated, Protestant white professionals in their late thirties and early forties with an average of 2.8 children, living in north Shelby County or similar communities…generally speaking – among that group, the Auburn fans have been nothing if not down-right hateful. Good men, church deacons and elders whose words are normally dripping with love and encouragement, reacted to Alabama’s success last year with venomous taunts and threats, accusing us Alabama fans of all manner of vile deeds, condemning us to eternal suffering and even suggesting that our mothers were not married to our fathers.

One would hope that, in the glorious light of victory, they would amend their ways, but they have been even more ungracious in their success. The final seconds had not even ticked off the clock last Friday when a barrage of messages appeared on my Facebook feed from Auburn fans:

“What happened to no moral victories?”

“If Nick Saban is the best coach in the country, I’m a terrorist.”

“So, when Alabama wins, they’re good. But Auburn is just lucky? How does that work?”

The thing is, no Alabama fans had even commented on the outcome, yet. Auburn fans, if you don’t want Alabama fans to think you’re obsessed with their program, you might want to stop crafting indignant responses to insults that have yet to be uttered…for what it’s worth.

Inevitably Alabama fans joined the noisy chorus of comments. Their remarks fell into one of two categories: “Auburn got lucky,” and “Enjoy it until the NCAA takes it all away.” As far as trash-talk goes, that some weak sauce, people.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating trash-talk. It’s rude, classless and unbecoming of two of the most loyal fan bases in the country. And since when is calling someone lucky an insult? Most championship teams require both skill and luck to succeed.

Carter catching up to Ingram and punching the ball away? Skill. Having that ball scoot 20 yards down the sideline and into the end zone? Luck.

Fairley bursting unimpeded into the backfield? Skill. Ingram’s helmet knocking the ball out of McElroy’s hand as he tries to protect his quarterback? Luck. Steen not recognizing a loose football on the field? Ummm…I got nothing.

Alabama had their fair share of luck last season. Take for example Cody’s blocked field goals against Tennessee. It takes incredible strength and skill for so large a human being to bend the laws of physics and get that kind of elevation. But having his hand in the exact trajectory of the kicked ball not once, but twice is more than a little bit lucky. The fact that the hand in question is roughly the size of a hubcap from a ’52 Buick? Well, that’s just a freak of genetics. Seriously, the guy should be studied – if not by geneticists then by biblical scholars, because I’m pretty sure he’s descended from Philistines.

My congratulatory remarks toward Auburn aren’t motivated by class or dignity, though. I’m not even sure if I mean them. It’s more like I’ve been guilted into it, like Auburn fans are some new special interest group. Next thing you know, they’ll have their own TLC series airing right after the family with forty kids and the little people running a tattoo parlor.

That’s what political correctness is: overwrought sensitivity by the Haves for the feelings of the Have-nots. As much as Auburn fans are loathe to admit it, when it comes to championships, they are the have-nots.

I’m not going to start spouting off about thirteen championships. I understand the arguments both for and against most of them, save 1941. That one is indefensible by any measure, and Alabama fans should be ashamed that they ever allowed an S.I.D. to bamboozle them otherwise. And if you question 1925, you’re only flirting with doom. Do so, and the ghost of Pooley Hubert will rise up in full uniform (sans helmet and socks, because that was his thing) and crush your skull like an overripe melon. Count on it.

If you’re an Auburn fan, and you remember your last legitimate national championship, step forward. Congratulations on your AARP membership. Your Social Security benefit checks will arrive shortly.

Insincere platitudes are no way to treat your most heated rival. It’s demeaning. Insults and name-calling are classless. Making excuses for your team’s loss or accepting moral victories is no better. That’s the beauty of sports: it’s all there on the scoreboard. One team wins. One team loses.

What then is the proper response to Friday’s Iron Bowl, or any game for that matter? If your team wins, simply say “Good game,” and go celebrate your victory. If your team loses, do likewise and add, “We’ll get you next year.”

And maybe Auburn going on to win it all really is good for Alabama. They get a share of the BCS money, after all. Auburn seems to have made a good investment with theirs from last year.

Wait…maybe I haven’t gone soft after all.
—Wayne Franklin is a fan and graduate of the University of Alabama.