Several years ago, after negotiating the location of a Robert Trent Jones Golf Course in either Auburn or Opelika, David Bronner, CEO of Alabama’s Retirement System, is reported to have said that he had always heard that the state’s strongest rivalry was between Auburn University and The University of Alabama.
It’s not, Bronner emphasized. The state’s strongest rivalry is between the municipalities of Opelika and Auburn.
In 1977, when I moved to Auburn from Tuscaloosa, of all places, I heard that the rivalry between the cities of Auburn and Opelika began in 1856 when the East Alabama Male College, later Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API) and then Auburn University was established.
In the 1800s, residents of the college town had to travel about seven miles over a red clay road, now known as Opelika Road, to a textile town to buy goods and groceries. By the time they got to Opelika via wagons, or whatever, the Auburn book people must have looked a sight to the railroad people and the textile people in Opelika.
I will leave it to your imagination to picture those days before there was an effort at political correctness to perceive the dialogue and the observations of these academicians and textilians, or maybe white collars and blue collars as they strolled up and down Railroad Avenue.
Throw in a few years of this shopping togetherness, and then bring in high school sports, which would provide those thrilling victories and tough losses, and voila, you have the makings of a major rivalry.
Gillis Morgan is an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University and an award-winning columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org