From the perspective of an Auburn fan, Auburn’s victory over Alabama might actually be comparable to the United States defeating the Soviet Union in hockey in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Auburn was the underdog but virtuous United States, loving freedom and apple pie and momma and iced tea on the porch. Auburn’s players were just a bunch of “aw shucks” college kids who were pretty good at backyard football, and had decided to give intercollegiate football a try in between their studies.
Alabama was the Evil Empire, coldly churning out national championships by plucking children from their mothers to turn them into emotionless robots trained to annihilate opponents on the gridiron. Nick Saban (is it only accidental that his name requires the replacement of only one very similar-sounding consonant to render him Satan?) was Brezhnev, the heir to power of Bear Bryant’s Stalin. Alabama was godless materialism and the suffocating repression of centralized power.
Auburn stood for all that was good and proper and virtuous in the world. Alabama stood for all that was evil and oppressive. Auburn stood for the idea that the more free was an individual, the better off was both the individual and the state. Alabama stood for the idea that individuals didn’t matter except as they might be useful to the state.
That Auburn’s dedicated but overwhelmingly outmanned college kids could defeat Alabama’s trained professionals really was a miracle of epic proportions, rivaling the Miracle on Ice in 1980, when a nation reeling from stagflation, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, defeat in Vietnam a few years earlier and the ascendancy of an empire capable of demolishing its civilization with the touch of a few buttons found solace in a ragtag bunch of hard-working college kids who proved through a hockey victory the innate virtue of the nation’s ideals over those of its existential competitor. Auburn beating Alabama proved that freedom and goodness and light always ultimately prevail. With Gus Malzahn at its helm, Auburn can now vanquish completely the evil Alabama Empire within the decade, just as the US vanquished the Soviet Empire within a decade of the Miracle on Ice. Those walls, Mr. Saban, will be torn down.
But not really. Not even Auburn fans, not even those still deliriously basking in the glory of their victory, would buy the notion that Alabama is comparable to the old Soviet Union.
Gary Danielson owes Alabama’s football team and its fans an apology. And he owes the 1980 US hockey team an apology. And he owes the nation an apology for denigrating through analogy a sports event unrivaled in its inspirational value, one that served for so many as metaphorical proof of their country’s virtue. Here’s what he actually said, as reported by the Birmingham News:
“To me, this one was comparable to when the U.S. hockey (team) beat the Russians (in 1980),” said Danielson, who covered the Iron Bowl on Saturday. “Alabama was the machine. They didn’t make mistakes.”
Danielson points to the Crimson Tide’s back-to-back national titles and their domination in the last two Iron Bowls in which they won by a combined score of 91-14 to back up his statement. The Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) question for a third straight national title was likely derailed by the Tigers (11-1, 7-1) inside Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.
Danielson compared the Tide to the Russians’ 1980 Olympic hockey team, which was comprised of professionals and were heavily favored to beat the United States in the medal round. The U.S. went on to defeat the Russians in the game affectionately known as the “Miracle on Ice.”
(Incidentally, they weren’t the “Russians”. They were the old Soviet Union, which was a communist empire spanning from East Asia to Eastern Europe, including the nations known today as Russia and Ukraine, but also several others, and counted Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Cuba, Nicaragua, inter alia, among its client states at the time.)
In a previous post, I compared this Auburn-Alabama game to a reenactment of the Civil War, with Alabama playing the part of the Union, relentlessly grinding out battlefield victories, and Auburn playing the part of the Confederacy, passionately fighting to prove the veracity of its belief that its cause was virtuous. I think my comparison is more apt, and certainly that it better captures the psyche of the two teams and their fans. And that it doesn’t denigrate either team, or insult the memory of any living Americans. My comparison didn’t require that game resonate with actual geopolitical implications as Danielson’s comparison with the Miracle on Ice required.
And that’s why Danielson’s analogy so miserably fails. Alabama is not the Evil Empire. Nick Saban is not Leonid Brezhnev. Auburn is not freedom and light and all that is virtuous and proper in the world. Gus Malzahn is not Ronald Reagan or Herb Brooks. When the dust settles and the smoke clears, which will take a while for this epic battle, the 2013 Iron Bowl will mainly be remembered for its remarkable ending, and not much more. It was an incredible ending to what would have been a game ending in a tie in regulation. The game meant a great deal to the fans of the respective schools, as it does every year, but its emotional impact fades about like the force of gravity, according to the inverse square principle, as soon as it crosses the Alabama state line.
Auburn wanted this game much more than did Alabama, and for good reason. Would anyone have been talking about it had the kick sailed true and Alabama had again defeated Auburn? No. It is very hard to muster the effort to win again and again and again, when each successive victory means less and less and less. It is the law of diminishing marginal returns as applied to football victories. Alabama played a great game under the circumstances. Auburn wanted this game so badly, it almost certainly would have won even had it gone to overtime.
Alabama fans should understand that Alabama was bound to lose a game this season, no matter how efficiently is Saban’s Process at producing victories. Alabama had a loss in each of its last two seasons (to LSU and Texas A & M), yet got a bit lucky and made it to the BCS championship each time. A repeat of that process is only very remotely possible this year. But if an Alabama fan wants to make an Auburn fan angry, they should congratulate them on the win and shrug off the loss—just tell ‘em you never figured any team could win ‘em all, and was proud of how well the team fared under the circumstances. It’ll drive ‘em crazy. But be careful about it—it might get you shot if another Bama fan overhears and thinks you aren’t really, really sincere in your support of the Tide.