Rivalry Week showed us all that is right with college football: the drama, the pageantry, the passion and so much more.
We started on Thanksgiving Night with Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott displaying so much courage and perseverance in leading the Bulldogs to an Egg Bowl victory. Playing with nerve damage in one shoulder and with the death of his beloved mother still weighing on him, Prescott entered the game in the fourth quarter and won it, not once but twice.
We saw Southern Miss win a game on Saturday for the first time in 608 days. It may not seem like that big a deal to beat a 2-9 UAB team, but it was a long lost ray of light for a once-proud program that has to walk again before it can trot. To not lose his team after 23 straight defeats and a dozen or so crippling injuries was a first step in the right direction for Todd Monken. He may coach for 30 more years and never face a more difficult task.
We saw the miracle at Auburn. We saw Michigan give it the old college try. We saw all that and so much more. We saw, for the second straight Saturday, that Johnny Manziel is human.
Dark side of fandom
But we also saw and heard later about the vile, disgusting worst aspect of college football in the aftermath of the Auburn-Alabama game.
Did you see some the social media messages sent by Alabama fanatics to Crimson Tide senior placekicker Cade Foster, the 22-year-old who missed three field goals in Bama’s shocking 31-24 defeat?
That was one of the nicest. Others were worse.
Drink bleach Foster.
Foster should kill his own damn self!!!
Foster, I’m coming for tonight. You gonna die!
Foster, you ruined that one for us. You are the worst kicker in Alabama history.
His classmates chimed in.
Don’t come back to campus, Foster.
Stay out of Tuscaloosa; you aren’t welcomed anymore.
With fans like those, who needs foes?
This is the same Cade Foster Ole Miss fans will remember for making three first half field goals, including a 53-yarder, to give the Tide all its points for a 9-0 lead in an eventual 25-0 Alabama victory.
This is the same Cade Foster, a Texan, who chose Alabama over practically every other football power in the country who needed a kicker.
This is a young man – the sort the NCAA refers to as a student-athlete – being attacked by his own fans, the ones who were waving crimson and white pom poms earlier that day. And it should mentioned, many Alabama fans also came to his defense. But…as for those who attacked him.
It’s sick and it’s the same level of sickness that caused a man named Harvey Updyke to poison the stately old oak trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn. Updyke, far from contrite, resurfaced last week with a nasty post on his Facebook page, which read in part:
Alabama is going to beat (Auburn) like a drum, a rented mule, a stepchild, going to beat them into sometime next week. God, I HATE Auburn. I wish I had not killed those trees just so that I could do it again!. Roll damn Tide!
So the question: What is it about this sport, these rivalries, that evoke such behavior? And how related is the passion of the Harvey Updykes of the world to the unbridled passion that sets college football apart from the rest of sports?
And: Why would some Alabama fans choose to bully the 22-year-old placekicker instead of the coach paid $6 million a year to make all the right decisions and made some sensationally poor ones against Auburn?
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.