Of cigars, NCAA investigations and Fat Phil: Remembering a formerly great Alabama-Tennessee rivalry
To those new to the Tennessee-Alabama college football rivalry, you might wonder what all the fuss is about.
After all, Alabama has won 12 consecutive games in an overall decade of dominance that has not only laid waste to the Volunteers but pretty much the entirety of the Southeastern Conference.
That said, Tennessee Week is special. It’s different. It actually has an assigned date on the calendar — The Third Saturday Of October — and dates to glorious games coached by legends like Neyland and Bryant and Dooley and Whitworth.
OK, not so much the last two.
We will let the Tennessee side of SDS tell you all about the reasons Tennessee hates Alabama. Trust me, they are myriad. But because we hover over this keyboard in the name of the Crimson Tide, here are 3 prime examples of the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry from the perspective of the state that doesn’t produce Jack Daniel’s.
1. Stogies, stogies everywhere
Officially, there is an NCAA rule against tobacco use in collegiate locker rooms. Can’t do it. No cigarettes. No dip. No cigars.
But no matter who wins Saturday, you better believe there will be social media pictures emerging from the winner’s locker room of triumphant players, assistant coaches and support staff enjoying Cohibas in a cloud of thick smoke. Fans will also enjoy it by the thousands, turning Bryant-Denny Stadium into a huge humidor no matter if it is Crimson Tide fans or Tennessee loyalists puffing away.
How this tradition started is, ahem, a bit hazy. The Alabama story traces to former athletic trainer Jim Goostree, who graduated from Tennessee, promised the 1961 team that he would dance naked in the locker room if the Tide won to break a 6-year winless streak. Alabama beat Tennessee that day at Legion Field, and Goostree danced while smoking a victory cigar. Players wanted a cigar, too, and that was that.
For a long while afterward, the cigars would be procured by the athletic department and hand them out to players — reporting it as an NCAA secondary violation. That doesn’t happen anymore, but the tradition is still as strong as ever.
Can you only imagine the stale cigars that Volunteer fans are toting around after more than a dozen years of abstinence?
Nick Saban has previously said he doesn’t partake in the stogie after a victory against Tennessee. And some players keep the cigars that mysteriously appear instead of lighting up.
Bryant-Denny Stadium and the entire Tuscaloosa campus have been smoke-free since January 2015. But no amount of security could have prevented thousands of fans from lighting up last time Alabama won the game in Tuscaloosa. Nor will they even try Saturday. And both teams travel with fans and blowers to ventilate their locker room should the time come.
2. Memphis, Albert Means and “TennStud”
Speaking of secondary violations, Alabama football in the 2000s was not the most pleasant experience, thanks to multiple NCAA investigations triggered in no small part by Tennessee football and their boosters.
Perhaps the most scandalous one involved Logan Young. During the 2000 season, an assistant football coach at Trezevant High School in Memphis claimed that a local businessman and loyal Crimson Tide fan named Logan Young had paid Lynn Lang, the Trezevant head football coach, either $150,000 or $200,000 to encourage defensive lineman Albert Means to sign with Alabama.
An NCAA investigation, which included Vols Coach Phillip Fulmer and several other college coaches as secret witnesses, found truth in the charges. The infractions committee assigned to the case issued a two-year postseason ban and stripped Alabama of 21 scholarships over 3 years.
Alabama permanently disassociated itself from Young in 2000, banning him not only from any involvement with the athletic program but stripping him of his $40,000 Bryant-Denny Stadium luxury box and canceled an insurance policy that would have paid $500,000 toward the Paul “Bear” Bryant Museum on campus upon Young’s death.
None of this was helped by the colorful, abrasive presence of Roy Adams, who was the Volunteers’ version of Young in Memphis. Depending on your side of the story, the man known as “TennStud” on message boards either turned Young into the NCAA or simply protected his self-proclaimed “Shining Beacon On A Hill” — all the while purportedly doing all the same things Young was accused of.
“I knew the NCAA rules,” Adams said. “I just didn’t care for them.”
Young was convicted in federal court on on conspiracy to commit racketeering, crossing state lines to commit racketeering, and arranging bank withdrawals to cover up a crime. On April 11, 2006, Young was found dead in his home in Memphis — originally thought to be due to homicide but instead deemed accidental.
3. Fat Phil
Fulmer was a thorn in Alabama’s side on the field, of course. The former Tennessee coach and current athletic director went 11-5 against the Crimson Tide — including the forfeited 1993 tie and the 2005 vacated Alabama win — and won the 1998 national title. During Fulmer’s tenure, the Vols won 9 of 10 versus Alabama from 1995-2004. Arguably, his most memorable game facing the Tide came in 2003 when the Vols beat the Tide in 5 overtimes, 51-43.
But the hatred toward Fulmer from Alabama Nation comes from his “secret witness” participation in the Crimson Tide’s NCAA issues relating to Albert Means. After Alabama was placed on probation in 2002, Tide assistant coaches Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams filed libel lawsuits against the NCAA. An Alabama subpoena was issued to require Fulmer to be deposed by the plaintiff lawyers. Fulmer avoided the subpoena by staying out of Alabama instead incurring a $10,000 fine by the SEC for not attending 2004 Media Days in Hoover — instead calling in via speakerphone.
Simply put, Alabama fans have never forgiven Fulmer for what was believed to be a conspiracy led by the portly Fulmer to damage Alabama football — all the while engaging in some of the same activity via boosters like Roy Adams as described above.
There is no telling whether Fulmer will be in Tuscaloosa on Saturday in his role as Tennessee athletic director. But if he is, you can bet someone in crimson will spot him and welcome him … and hope he doesn’t have a cigar tucked in his shirt pocket.