The word rival comes from a Latin word meaning “one who uses the same stream, or one on the opposite side of the stream.” It would occur to me that in the old days before water processing plants, the ones who lived down stream would be more likely to be spoiling for a fight than those who lived up stream.
The definition of rivalry includes “the notion of the competitiveness of neighbors.”
It does seem that a family who lives close to another family does try to have a nicer lawn, but that doesn’t always translate to a mean thing.
Some people just try to have a different lawn.
When the East Alabama Male College in Auburn began the paper-work process in the 1870s to become a university, the University of Alabama objected. Thus you have “the competitiveness of neighbors” — neighbors in the sense of being in the same state — as a characteristic necessary to becoming a rivalry.
Alabama Polytechnic Institute might have just wanted to have a different lawn than the other university on the other side of Alabama, but the other university saw API as a threat, and as a competitor for tax money.
Over, the years, football games — the upsets in particular — have magnified this rivalry.
I have lived and worked in Tuscaloosa and Auburn — and on both campuses. I can tell you that good people live in both places, people who know how to enjoy a rivalry, but I can tell you also that the best thing that ever happened to me was when I got a faculty appointment to the Journalism Department in Auburn in 1977.
And when I retired I did not move back to Tuscaloosa.
I also learned to appreciate the Auburn student chant “It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger,” normally hollered loudly and clearly as they made their way out of Legion Field after a loss to Alabama.
I was living in Tuscaloosa in 1972 when Auburn upset Alabama 17-16.
Wikipedia recorded it this way: “Alabama was leading 16-0 when an Auburn drive stalled, forcing the Tigers to settle for a field goal.
On the ensuing possession Alabama was forced to punt. Auburn’s Bill Newton blocked Greg Gant’s punt.
Auburn teammate David Langner caught the blocked punt and ran it back 25 yards for an Auburn touchdown, narrowing the score to 16-10.
“Several minutes later Alabama was forced to punt again. Once again Newton blocked the punt and Langner returned it for a touchdown. Gardner Jett kicked the extra point to give Auburn a 17-16 win.
“Despite the loss Alabama won the SEC championship.”
After that game Tuscaloosa became deathly quiet.
It was this kind of upset that has magnified the Auburn-Alabama rivalry to a point beyond normal rivalries.
We’ve even made it to the level of movie scripts. During the original “Ocean’s 11,” Angie Dickerson greets a sour Frank Sinatra: “What’s the matter? Did Auburn beat Alabama?”
Auburn and Alabama are good schools. I got my BA and MA from Alabama, but I have truly enjoyed my years in Auburn with people who know how to enjoy a rivalry.
After the 17-16 game, that Monday in Tuscaloosa I went to lunch at Harrison’s drug store, and Mr. James Harrison, for whom the Pharmacy School at Auburn was named, was listening to the jovial jaunts of the Alabama fans when I said to him, “You’re awfully quiet.”
“You know,” he said, “when you win one like that all you have to do is sit here and be quiet.”
He was right.
And the graduates and fans of both schools who know how to enjoy a rivalry will keep on enjoying it.
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