By Hunter Ford
It’s the fourth Saturday in October and it’s time for the “Third Saturday in October.” Forget the World Series, the annual Alabama-Tennessee football game is a true fall classic.
One special thing about the game is that it takes place right around the time true fall weather kicks in. Football in September tends to be a hot and muggy affair. It’s kind of difficult to choke down a Maker’s Mark and Coke when it’s 101 degrees in the stands. But in late October, however, when the leaves are changing colors and there’s a nip in the air, it just doesn’t get any better.
My grandfather went to school at Alabama in the 1930s when the Tide didn’t play Auburn. Tennessee was Alabama’s most hated rival. Grandpa had stories about punting duels and 0-0 ties between the Tide and Vols back in the General Neyland-Frank Thomas days. He told us kids that we could pick the winner by looking at the trees. If the leaves were more red than orange, Alabama would win, and vice-versa.
The series usually favors one team for long stretches. Tennessee went 10-2 against Alabama from 1995-2006. Alabama has a 6-0 record in the series since the arrival of Nick Saban.
Bear Bryant reeled off 11 straight victories from 1971 to 1981. The 1982 game, when Tennessee ended that streak, is one the Alabama losses I’ll never forget as a fan. Alabama came into that game ranked second in the nation, after beating Penn State 42-21 in Birmingham. Although Alabama looked poised for a national championship run, Tennessee took the Tide’s wheels off in a 35-28 upset. Penn State would eventually win the national title that year, and the loss to Tennessee sent Alabama into a funk. The Tide ended at 8-4 in Bear’s last season.
Another loss I’ll never forget was a 16-14 loss at Legion Field in 1985. With time running out, Van Tiffin tried a field goal from more than 60 yards that was long and true but fell just short. Of course, later that year, Tiffin would nail a 52-yarder against Auburn, to become forever immortalized by Daniel Moore.
“The Kick” had a sequel. In 1990, Gene Stalling’s first year at Alabama, the Tide started 0-3 and was a big underdog in Knoxville against the #3 Volunteers. Late in the game, with the score tied at 6, Tennessee lined up for a game-winning field goal. Alabama blocked it and returned it inside Tennessee territory. Philip Doyle knocked home a 47-yarder as time expired. The victory was a shot in the arm for the Tide that year. Alabama finished at 7-5 that season, but I’ve always thought that game was a catalyst for the 11-1 and 13-0 season’s that followed. I’ll never forget one of the Alabama players shouting after that game “We’re going to a bowl! We’re going to a bowl!”
Tennessee will be just that excited this year if they can beat Alabama. At 4-3, this year’s Volunteers will be lucky to make it to the Chicken Sandwich Bowl. But, Butch Jones has the Volunteers feeling like winners again.
Could this game come down to a field goal? Remember the 2005 “Rocky Stop” game, or the Mount Cody block in 2009?
The law of averages says that Tennessee should win this game again sometime in the next three or four years. Looking out the window, however, I don’t see a lot of Orange. ROLL TIDE!