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Sullivan's Thoughts & Prayers: Rivalry Week

Crowley Sullivan is a 20-year sports-media veteran having spent ten years at ESPN as a producer, programmer, content creator, business developer, and brand manager.  He now serves a EVP, Planning/GM, Sports for MandtVR, a content creation platform that emphasizes Virtual Reality initiatives.

Bother Crowley at @CrowleySullivan

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Thoughts & Prayers: Rivalry Week

What am I thankful for?

A lot.

My computer machine.

Ice cream.

The ribs at Twin Anchors on Sedgwick and Eugenie on Chicago’s North Side.

The brilliance of Sam Seder.

The College Football Playoff.

But for this week, we’re eschewing the debate and speculation that comes with the entire College Football Playoff. Instead, we’re going to celebrate the timeless nature of the rivalries that make college football so special.

Whether the College Football Playoff has four teams, eight teams, sixteen teams, or gets killed entirely due to being lumped in with the efforts to kill the Electoral College, I’m thankful for these rivalries and all that they mean to the people who live for them…

THE GAME

I’m hearing rumblings about a football game to be played between the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and THE Ohio State University.

A television network is touting that they’ll be dedicating forty hours of programming time to the overall coverage of this football game.

Did Judge Lance Ito get forty hours of coverage in the aggregate?

The men (and some women) associated with this annual battle will set their alarms to cue up their emotional expressions of solemnity for this football game throughout the week with raised intensity levels of the cries as kickoff nears.

The radio announcers for each team’s radio network will begin their broadcasts by talking reverentially about the way in which this football game is an annual rite of passage; that THE GAME is something that just can’t really be understood by those who are not a part of it; that the Autumnal calendar depends on THE GAME as it transitions our part of the planet from Autumn into its Winter slumber; that Coaches Woody and Bo are arm in arm and everyone can see their images if everyone looks heavenward; and that our regular, earth-bound world is back on its proper axis since THE GAME features both teams firing on all cylinders.

A very good source told me that there is a very real possibility that the exhumed bodies of Woody and Bo will be placed into a two-seat wheelchair and wheeled out on to the field as The Best Damn Band In The Land performs Script Ohio and the inextricably linked pair will DOT THE I together, as corpses.

Am I thankful for all of this?

Hell yes, I am.

I’m an American and a college football nut.

Put all of the satirical bombast aside – Michigan vs Ohio State is as good as it gets, folks.

College football is the real benefactor here.

Both teams are, indeed, firing on all cylinders.

These are, very legitimately, teams that belong in the Top 3 or 4 in the nation.

On one of the best days of the year, America gets to enjoy one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports.

Yeah, Duke and Carolina hoops is great.  And there are others.  Yankees/Red Sox, etc, etc.

But the overall dynamics of college football make this whole thing one of the very best examples of why and how sports can be transcendental.

Like all of the rivalries on the slate this Saturday, this isn’t really even a football game.

It’s an annual tribal clash in which world views and approaches to life are measured up against one another.

Winner gets the riches and the right to puff the chest and say, “We are better than you in all ways.  Our football team is better than you.  The food that we make in our state is better than the stuff you guys eat.  Our school’s drama department is better than yours.  Our beer of choice is, obviously, better than the wine you drink.

The accent of the speech we use is far more palatable to people across the land.  The fact that our state was first populated by Dutch Reformists rather than English Puritans shows very clearly that we have a much greater propensity for entrepreneurial successes.  The architecture in our major cities illustrates a very real combination of commerce and creativity. And, of course, our marching band makes your marching band look like a marching band that might be from an SEC school.”

Loser has to deal with it for the next year.

Just like all of the nonsensical crying and hushed-toned reverence, I could really do without the piano in this nifty clip – but this rivalry is as good as it gets so I’m willing to look past it just this once…

And after this battle concludes, we all get to experience…….

THE IRON BOWL

It’s a fair question to ask:

What matters more to the communities of the University of Alabama and Auburn University: a national championship or a victory in The Iron Bowl?

I do not know the answer to the question.

I don’t know if there even is an answer to the question.

Alabama leads the all-time series 44-35-1.

My guess is that casual fans wouldn’t assume that the all-time series between these two schools would be that close.

It’s that close because these two schools, these two communities, these two worlds have a hatred for each other that makes the hatred between Kizza Besigye and Yoweri Museveni look warm and neighborly.

Nobody will ever forget The Kick Six.

But how about when Auburn strolled into Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first time EVER and beat the Tide 9-0 on three field goals?  You think that one stung a bit for the Rammer Jammers?

Van Tiffin’s 1985 52-yard game winner as time expired still echoes for Tide fans.

Is there an RTRer anywhere that has gotten over the improbable final drive by Auburn in 1982 that culminated with Bo Jackson’s leap over the defensive line for the game winning score that ended Bama’s 9-game winning streak and was Bear Bryant’s final Iron Bowl prior to passing away 60 days later?

A man poisoned trees at Toomer’s Corner over this thing.

A football game?

I don’t know even know what to call this – but it’s certainly not a “football game.”

NOTRE DAME at SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Elitism is at its strongest and most prolific when it combines forces to showcase a broader elitism to the world in one, shining and gleaming bright light.

Knute Rockne didn’t necessarily intend to create an annual battle of the elites when he bravely brought his upstart football program west in an effort to build his empire.  But nearly a century later, this has evolved into a celebration of superiority.

It’s the first inter-sectional rivalry in the history of college football.

On the one hand, you have a band of folks who claim immediate and entitled superiority, handed down by God Himself.

On the other hand, you have a self-created superiority rooted in the glitz and glow of Hollywood and all of its entitlement.

Yes, Notre Dame holds a 46-36-5 lead.

But over the last thirty years, each team has had long stretches of dominance.

National championships?  How about 11 for each school.

How about Southern California firing off 55 straight points after going into halftime down 24-0 in 1974?

How about Dan Devine’s “Green Jersey Game” in 1977?  How about Dan Devine having the personality of an uncarved pumpkin?

How about the all-timer in #1 vs #2 in 1988?  How about Frank Stams and Stan Smagala smothering the Trojans that afternoon in front of a sundrenched gathering of about 94,000 patrons?

How about The Bush Push in 2005?

How about Ted Tollner’s BluBlockers from 1983 through 1986?

How about the fact that there was a decision made by supposedly really smart people to not only hire Charlie Weis but to give him a contract extension that is still paying him something like $576 million?  But that’s getting a bit off topic.

How about the elitist manner in which these communities proudly wear their plaid pants and cardinal cardigan sweaters in ways that suggest they’re all taking a break from a round at Bel Air Country Club?

It’s God’s Roman Catholics vs Southern California’s Private School Beach Boys and it’s much more than a mere football game.

And it’s all great stuff.

ARIZONA STATE at ARIZONA

Sorry, folks – this one doesn’t really count.

THE APPLE CUP

This year’s edition of this annual grudge match is a lot like Marisa Tomei as 1992’s Oscar winner.

We all knew of Tomei’s work.

We admired her craft from afar.

But did we ever see her as an Oscar winner?

The Oscar was always for the Meryl Streeps, the Cate Blanchetts, and the Dame Judi Denches.

But then – BOOM – “My Cousin Vinny” catapulted Tomei into the rarefied air.

UDub and Wazzu have been Apple Cupping it since 1900.

This year, the battle is front and center and, as my pal KHY correctly points out, all CFP roads go through Pullman this weekend.

Forget Wazzu’s loss at Boulder last week – The Pirate seems to have cured the Coogs from their Ryan Leaf hangover that hung on for an extra decade or so.

Chris Petersen’s Huskies are still very much alive in the big race – win out and they’re in – but none of that matters this week.

These communities don’t go for bobbing for apples when it comes to The Apple Cup.  This is comparable to the intensity of the conflict between the Montenegrins and Ottomans.

SOUTH CAROLINA at CLEMSON

This one started in 1896.

It’s the longest uninterrupted series in the South.

Over 113 matchups, the average margin of victory for the winner is less than a touchdown.

The deep-seated bitterness between these schools started before Clemson was even an official institution.

The Tillmanites of the 1880s subscribed to Agrarian Populism and were supported by the rural upstaters.  These folks were not terribly idealistic with regard to the Confederacy and its plight.  This turned into the Clemson base.

Wade Hampton III’s Conservatives could be found all over the state and were not only mostly aligned with the Confederacy’s mission, 80% of the Conservatives who followed Hampton’s lead fought for the Confederacy during The War of Northern Aggression.  This base became the University of South Carolina’s foundation.

Within a Confederate state, there was a conflict of ideology that pre-dated the start of the football games played between the state’s two main institutions.

The football game between Clemson and South Carolina is about more than football, people.

FLORIDA at FLORIDA STATE

Florida and Florida State did not compete against one another in football when Florida State was Florida State College For Women.

Give credit to the University of Florida for agreeing to engage in an annual series with any institution that once was the Florida State College For Women.

Football programs far and wide are not especially known for their progressivism – but the Florida Gators showed some forward thinking by acquiescing to their in-state “sister school” that once was Florida State College For Women.

Give credit to the Florida State College For Women for dedicating its entire existence to women and women only, long before anyone was giving any thought to breaking the glass ceiling.

I’ve never read or heard anything proving this but I would confidently guess that both Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden have great respect for the contributions Florida State College For Women made to the state and the nation.

This Saturday’s edition of the rivalry packs more punch than people may think.  Florida is the SEC East Champion.  And there are many people who aren’t shy about saying that they think Florida State should be considered as a College Football Playoff team.  The people who are so bullish on Florida State are probably alums or have family members that are/were alums of Florida State College For Women.

One thing is for sure: Osceola only removes himself from Renegade’s loin to throw his flaming spear into the turf when the opponent is Florida.

Beyond these sensational grudge matches, there is much to be thankful for.

We’ve all had quite a circus to deal with over the last year or so.

All around us are perfections mixed with imperfections, combined with perfections, surrounded by imperfections.

And yet I wouldn’t want it any other way.

To friends, family, and folks all over – I’m thankful for you all.

Find a few minutes over the weekend, in between stuffing your faces with great food and taking in all of the action, to crack open a King and remind yourself of Mellencamp’s bittersweet love letter to America…