Don't throw rocks at refs: Flashlight & A Biscuit, No. 31
Alabama, Tennessee, and a rivalry that's gone from hot to, well ... not.
This fall, while we’re in the middle of an unprecedented, all-killer-no-filler SEC season, I’m telling stories based on the matchups ahead for each week. This week, pay no attention to the calendar … for Alabama and Tennessee, it’s the Third Saturday In October.
If I had the opportunity to travel through time … well, I’d go make friends with Bill Gates while he was still working out of his garage, I’d go check out Van Halen when they were playing Southern California house parties, and I’d ask Mark Wohlers not to throw a slider to Jim Leyritz in the 1996 World Series. Once I got done with all that, I’d go back to the early 20th century and I’d check out some of the initial matchups of future SEC powers. (Yeah, and probably have a word with lil’ Hitler too.)
If I happened to go back to Nov. 28, 1901 and made my way to Birmingham, I’d be lucky enough to see the very first matchup of two august Southern universities. That game between Alabama and Tennessee ended in a 6-6 tie after fans rushed the field following a terrible call. (Hmm. That sounds like maybe I did — or should I say, will — travel back in time and took a few modern-day SEC fans with me.)
The referee troubles would get worse eight years later, when Bama blanked Tennessee 10-0 in Knoxville, and rowdy Vol fans took out their frustrations on ref R. T. Elgin. His sin? Calling a holding penalty that negated a 40-yard Tennessee run.
“Tennessee’s players protested vigorously,” ran an account in the Montgomery Advertiser, “but violence was confined to spectators. Elgin was hooted, jeered and hissed and at the conclusion of the game, a mob collected around him and he was escorted from the field, to a streetcar, but the crowd followed.”
Yeah, it didn’t get any better from there. SEC! SEC!
“He was unfortunate enough to get in an open car and the crowd followed him,” the story continues. “He was hissed and jeered, but no harm was done until a stone thrown from the crowd struck him on the side of the head, cutting a painful gash which bled profusely.” No word on who the ancestral Manning was who threw that rock, but it was Tennessee’s best completion of the day.
In the civility-above-all style of early 20th century journalism, the Advertiser noted that “the crowd accused Elgin of being partial to Alabama in his decisions.” (Also worth noting in the game: “Alabama failed to kick a goal and the touch-downs were the only scoring.” Nothing ever changes. Nick Saban’s grandfather probably kicked a tree in rage.)
For most of the ensuing century, the rivalry took on its date as its name: The Third Saturday In October. As with any century-long dance, the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry has its legendary twists and turns, lore and legends upon which neither party can agree. The rivalry was apparently put on pause early in the 20th century after a Bama player named Bully VandeGraff — names were so much better back then — got his ear bitten, torn or chewed off by a UT player. (Of course he stayed in the game.)
Along those same lines, Bear Bryant, back in in his own playing days, apparently suffered a broken leg during the 1935 game yet kept on hammering away at UT. (And then he went and built an orphanage by himself, rescued a litter of puppies from the Black Warrior River, and walked every Tuscaloosa grandmother across University Boulevard, right, Bama?)
For the Vols, the high point of the rivalry probably came in 1995, when Peyton Manning threw an 80-yard touchdown on the very first play of the game to start a 41-14 rout. (See above photo.) Two years later, after another victory, Manning went and led the UT band in a rousing rendition of “Rocky Top.” And it’s never been quite so good ever since. (Sorry, Tennessee.)
Alas, the Tide has swamped even the peaks of good ol’ Rocky Top. Alabama leads the overall series 56–38–7 (seven ties? what the hell?), including the last 13 in a row.
“This is not a rivalry anymore,” SEC oracle Paul Finebaum said this week. “It’s just another game on the schedule. Part of that is it’s a divisional game. When we went to this in 1992, Florida became Tennessee’s biggest rival and Alabama was a game that was always on TV and a big deal. Tennessee hasn’t won. I checked. It’s been 457 years.”
Not quite, but close. There’s a longstanding Twitter account that tracks how long it’s been since UT won the game, and, yeah … it’s been awhile:
This year’s model has a line of Alabama -21.5 and an over/under of 65.5. If you bet $100 on Alabama, you’d win all of $8. In other words, this is going to be an orange bloodbath. (But hey, we said that last week about UT beating Kentucky, and that didn’t exactly work out.)
It’s likely Alabama will once again light up victory cigars after Saturday’s game, a tradition that dates back to 1961. But hey, you never know. And that’s why we’ve watched these games for more than a century now.
A few bits of content (God, I hate that word) I’ve appreciated this week:
“Tiny Televisions,” Granville Automatic: This Texas-by-way-of-Memphis country duo has a rich, chill vibe that masks the lyrical edge within. I love this particular tune (embedded above), a postmodern jaunt through 50 soul-breaking years of American history.
You can hear it above, and you can hear all my F&AB recommendations in the ongoing Spotify playlist:
“Squeeze Me,” Carl Hiaasen: A typically absurdist South Florida … thriller, I guess you’d call it, from the guy who basically cornered the market on the genre. Plot: A python swallows an elderly heiress whole — right from the jump you can see we’re not exactly talking about a comedy of manners here — and that knocks over dominos that end up involving everyone from fierce environmentalists to an extremely familiar Commander in Chief. Like all Hiaasen, it’s fast and fun … and it’s set in a time after the pandemic is past, which is nice to think about.
“Mississippi Justice,” PBS/The Bitter Southerner: A short film detailing the murder of three young civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964, including the subsequent coverup and obstruction of justice that allowed virtually all of the Klansmen and local police involved to walk free, some to this very day. It’s not easy to watch, but it’s necessary, and even at under 15 minutes it’s a powerful look at the rot that can hide in plain sight.
As Florida As It Gets
And finally … I’d like to introduce you to Brian Edward Kahrs, a 57-year-old janitor who’s now the damn boss of Clearwater Beach, Florida, thanks to what he calls a “blue collar limousine” — a mop bucket, an umbrella and a leaf blower.
Behold the legend in action:
“Nothing like taking a cruise along Clearwater Beach after a long night of mopping floors and scrubbing toilets,” says Kahrs, who apparently also goes by the name “Chairman Platinum.” Ride on, brother.
That’ll do it for this week, my friends. Fire up your own blue-collar limo, enjoy all the football, and we’ll see you back here next week.
This has been issue #31 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. And if you dug this, share it with your friends. Invite others to the party, everybody’s welcome.