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Times top 5 college football rivalries

Compiled by PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000


Florida-Florida State has grown into perhaps the pre-eminent college football rivalry of this era. Here are the Times' Top 5 rivalries in college football history.

ALABAMA-AUBURN

The Iron Bowl has one of the common ingredients found in great rivalries: Heaping helpings of hatred. Year-round, supporters on both sides -- and there is no in-between -- are consumed by this religious war, er, game. 'Bama is Bear Bryant, the favorite son, multiple national championships, smug and superior. Auburn is the step-child with the chip on its shoulder, underappreciated and somewhat bitter. Within Alabama state lines, nothing matters as much as Alabama-Auburn.

HISTORY: Started in 1893, Alabama holds a 37-26-1 advantage. The schools didn't play regularly until 1948.

GREATEST GAME: Crimson Tide fans might say it was in 1981, when Bryant, the symbol of Alabama football, passed Amos Alonzo Stagg as college football's all-time winningest coach with a come-from-behind 28-17 win over Auburn. It also was the first meeting between Bryant and Pat Dye, his former assistant. Tigers fans might say it was in 1972, when Bill Newton blocked two punts in the final 5:30 and David Langer ran both in for touchdowns as Auburn overcame a 16-3 deficit to win 17-16.

DID YOU KNOW?: This year marks the first time since 1901 that they have played the game in Tuscaloosa. For decades it was played in neutral-site Birmingham, but in 1989 it was played at Auburn. From 1993 through last season it rotated between Auburn and Birmingham.

ARMY-NAVY

Like Harvard-Yale, but to a lesser extent, its meaning has diminished with regard to its impact on the national college football landscape. However, Army-Navy is the most tradition-laden game in America, perhaps in any sport. For decades it was contested between top-notch teams, and to tens of thousands of American military personnel around the globe it is the only game each year that matters. The games are so intense, if the Cadets and Midshipmen could play with such passion in the rest of their games, they might be nationally ranked.

HISTORY: Started in 1890, Army holds a 48-45-7 advantage. Navy won last season in the 100th edition, 19-9. Philadelphia has been the site of 75 Army-Navy games. Just three games apiece have been played in Annapolis and West Point. The Cadets are 0-3 at West Point.

GREATEST GAME: The notion of football as war is time-honored metaphor, and it certainly carried extra meaning when Army played Navy in 1945, just a few months after the end of World War II. Army was ranked No. 1, Navy No. 2. The Cadets' Heisman Trophy backfield of Felix "Doc" Blanchard and Glenn Davis, Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, led Army to a 32-13 win and its second consecutive national title.

DID YOU KNOW?: In 1893, President Grover Cleveland banned the Army-Navy game after witnessing a bloody 6-4 Navy victory in which there were several brawls in the stands. However, in 1897, President Teddy Roosevelt, then an assistant secretary of the Navy, wrote a letter to Secretary of War Russell A. Alger urging the series be resumed. Army and Navy played again in 1899 and have been briefly interrupted just three times since.

HARVARD-YALE

So you think this game, now played between Division I-AA teams, isn't important anymore? Well, the outcome matters a little bit to a couple of guys named Gore (Harvard, Class of 1969) and Bush (Yale, '68). True story: Last month a Yale graduate living in Geneva traveled overseas to Baltimore for a wedding. Someone mentioned college football, and the first words out of her mouth were, "We better beat Harvard this year!" Many are called "The Game." This is the original.

HISTORY: Vast. Started in 1875, Yale holds a 63-45-8 advantage. Today is the 117th edition.

GREATEST GAME: 1968, at Harvard. Yale, featuring future NFL All-Pro running back Calvin Hill and legendary quarterback Brian Dowling, had won 16 in a row and was ranked No. 19 in the nation. Harvard, featuring All-Ivy League offensive lineman Tommy Lee Jones (yes, that Tommy Lee Jones), was 8-0. Trailing 29-13 with less than a minute to go, Harvard scored a touchdown, made the 2-point conversion, recovered the onside kick, scored again on the game's final play and made the 2-point conversion with no time remaining to tie the score at 29. The headline of the Harvard school paper, the Harvard Crimson, said, "Harvard beats Yale 29-29."

DID YOU KNOW?: Dowling, whose only loss on a football field from sixth grade through the end of college was the 1968 game against Harvard, was the inspiration for the Doonesbury character B.D., who always is wearing a football helmet. Doonesbury writer Garry Trudeau graduated from Yale in 1970.

OHIO STATE-MICHIGAN

The Big Game has been the premier rivalry in the Midwest seemingly forever. The Wolverines and Buckeyes always seem to have highly ranked teams and be playing for a berth in the Rose Bowl. This year the winner will need some help, mainly a loss by Purdue, to get there. In recent years this has been a particularly sour experience for Ohio State. Under coach John Cooper, the Buckeyes are 2-9-1 against Michigan and have had multiple sterling seasons soiled by the Wolverines. This series long epitomized the phrase, "Three yards and a cloud of dust."

HISTORY: Started in 1897, Michigan holds a 55-35-6 advantage.

GREATEST GAME: 1973. A 10-10 tie between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan created co-Big Ten champions, with the league sending Ohio State to the Rose Bowl and angering volatile Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler.

DID YOU KNOW?: The 1950 meeting could be dubbed The Worst Game. Playing in a snowstorm, Michigan won 9-3 in a game that featured 45 punts, many on first down to avoid fumbling. Michigan didn't register a first down, but the Wolverines recorded a safety and touchdown on blocked punts to pull it out.

TEXAS-TEXAS A&M

This rivalry has parallels to Alabama-Auburn, one of them being Bear Bryant, who coached the Aggies from 1954 to 1957. Texas is the elite state university, A&M the hard-working agricultural school. Or, depending on your perspective, Texas is insufferably snotty and self-absorbed, and A&M is for simpletons who couldn't get in to UT. It's been said football is larger than life in Texas, but a few million Texans think this game is much bigger than that. Last season, tragedy brought the schools together. A towering bonfire built by students on the Texas A&M campus each year during the week of the Texas game collapsed during construction, killing 12 people. Flags were at half-staff throughout the state, and the visiting Texas band played an unforgettable rendition of Amazing Grace at halftime in tribute. The Aggies won, 20-16.

HISTORY: Started in 1894, Texas holds a 67-34-5 advantage. Traditionally played Thanksgiving weekend, it is the third-most played rivalry in Division I-A history, behind Minnesota-Wisconsin and Missouri-Kansas.

GREATEST GAME: For old-time Aggies fans, 1939 was special, as A&M's 20-0 win kept it undefeated, and the Aggies then beat Tulane in the Sugar Bowl for the national title. For old-time Longhorns fans, 1940 ranks right near the top, as Texas beat the defending national champions 7-0, ending the Aggies' 19-game winning streak.

DID YOU KNOW?: The bonfire tradition at A&M dates back more than 90 years. Before the tragedy, it was widely regarded as one of the greatest traditions in college football. ... Texas' 1940 triumph was the first of 31 it would win over the next 35 years, until 1974. A&M won 10 of 11 from 1984 to 1994.

* * *

Honorable mention: Alabama-Tennessee, Cal-Stanford, Clemson-South Carolina, Florida-Georgia, Florida State-Miami, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Nebraska-Oklahoma, Notre Dame-USC, Oklahoma-Texas, Penn State-Pitt and UCLA-USC.

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