LSU vs. Alabama: The 10 things every fan should know about the rivalry
It’s a prestigious SEC rivalry of football blue bloods known by a few names.
It’s called the First Saturday in November.
And the Saban Bowl, because of course it is.
But you know what LSU vs. Alabama really is?
It’s college football royalty. It’s championships and champions. It’s Heisman Trophy winners galore and glory beyond belief.
It’s really everything you would ever want in a college football rivalry. The schools’ states don’t border each other, but it feels like they do, because it’s the Deep South and it’s college football and it’s a high degree of hatred between programs that annually vie for the sport’s top prize.
It’s the football-crazed states of Alabama and Louisiana.
It’s Roll Tide and Fight for LSU.
It’s Bama’s beautifully basic crimson and white, and it’s LSU’s famed white home jerseys.
It’s venerable Bryant-Denny Stadium and equally venerable Tiger Stadium with its quirky yard-line markers that are listed every 5 yards instead of every 10, like you see in just about every other football stadium in America.
It’s late in the season, always, and the highest of stakes, usually.
It’s everything you think you know about college football but also so much you still might not know about a rivalry.
So with that, in the spirit of a grudge match that is once again set for the 1st Saturday in November and once again has both teams in contention for an SEC West title, we give you 10 things every fan should know about LSU-Alabama.
1. The Bear’s ultimate respect
We’ll start the list with a telling tidbit from legendary Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, because why not?
The Bear was 14-2 at Tiger Stadium, an insanely great record at an insanely tough place to win, but even Bryant wasn’t kidding himself whenever he entered Death Valley’s doors.
The Bear once famously remarked that “Baton Rouge happens to be the worst place in the world for a visiting team. It’s like being inside a drum.”
Of course, Bryant knew best. Since he uttered those complimentary words toward a hated rival’s stadium, there have been loads of surveys, including by the College Football Association in 1987, The Sporting News in 1989, Gannett News Service in 1995 and Sport Magazine in 1998, that have concluded that Tiger Stadium is the most difficult stadium for a visiting team to play. The Bear’s 1-man survey was really all you needed though, right?
In 2007, which was ironically Nick Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa (more on Saban later, of course), ESPN named Tiger Stadium “the scariest place to play,” also saying Death Valley “is, by far, the loudest stadium in the country.”
Fast-forward to 2022 and this Saturday night. You won’t be able to hear yourself think at Tiger Stadium. Saban’s Tide will be trying to break hearts. And The Bear’s ghost will be hovering above, muttering about that drum.
2. 2 showdowns, 1 champion
The rivalry entered the ultimate bizarro world during the 2011 season. The regular-season meeting in Tuscaloosa had a Game of the Century feel to it, with No. 1 LSU outlasting No. 2 Alabama 9-6 in overtime on Nov. 5 (the same date that the teams will collide on this year, but we digress).
But the Tigers would be faced with the unenviable — and maybe impossible? — task of beating the Crimson Tide twice in 1 season, within a few months really, and with everything on the line. That’s because the 2 teams were picked by the Bowl Championship Series (remember the BCS?) to play each other in the January 2012 BCS National Championship Game at the Superdome in New Orleans, which created a whole hunk of history in the rivalry by itself.
It was the first time since 1986 that the teams played at a location other than Tuscaloosa or Baton Rouge. LSU had remained undefeated at 13-0 after crushing Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers had done everything and more that had been asked of them in 2011, and who was waiting for them on the grandest stage of all, and in their home state no less?
Yup, Saban and Alabama, which was a controversial selection to play for the crown because it hadn’t even won its conference title. So, of course, the Crimson Tide not only beat the Tigers to win the national title, they shut them out, 21-0, to win Saban’s 2nd championship as Bama head coach. It was the first BCS Championship Game to have 2 teams from the same conference (and, in this case, the same division), and was the first shutout in any BCS bowl game in the BCS’ 14-year history.
It was the sweetest revenge imaginable for Bama, and the toughest pill to swallow ever for LSU.
3. Bama rules, but LSU has resolve
In a rivalry that Alabama leads 55-26-5 all-time, one would expect the Crimson Tide to also have the edge in the most important matchups, and they certainly do.
Alabama leads in the series 19-9-1 when both teams come in ranked (and they’re both ranked in the 2022 showdown, too), and when they’re both in the Top 10 entering the November showdown, the Tide has a healthy 10-3-0 advantage.
But that’s not even what we’re getting at here.
What we are getting at is the sheer number of times these football behemoths have played each other while both were ranked and while both were in the Top 10. That speaks to the lofty status of the rivalry and the lofty status of the programs themselves, no matter which one has generally ruled over the other through the years.
So these schools have played 86 times, and on 29 of those occasions both have been ranked? Incredible.
And you’ll be able to make that a symmetrical 30 times out of 87 all-time meetings come Saturday night, when the 6th-ranked Tide visit the 15th-ranked Tigers at Death Valley. It’ll be yet another high-stakes hookup in a high-stakes rivalry.
4. 1 giant rivalry, lots of stops along the way
Most rivalries contain 3, maybe 4 locales in their rich history.
Well, the Alabama-LSU rivalry is a very, very rich one, and so it definitely deserves a few more destinations throughout the decades.
How many, to be exact?
How does 6 places sound? Yes, 6.
The Tide and Tigers have laced them up and balled out in Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa, of course. Then you add New Orleans to the list for that aforementioned national championship clash in January 2012.
And then there are the 3 other cities in Alabama where the rivalry has been staged — Birmingham (Legion Field, anyone?), Montgomery and Mobile.
That’s enough stops for now, but give it some years — a new, 7th locale is liable to pop up for a rivalry that knows no bounds.
5. No trophy, no problem
You always hear after all those November rivalry games about 1 team prancing around the field and down the tunnel with the “So and So Trophy.” The winning team in said rivalry gets to have the treasured piece of hardware for the next year, while the losing team plots its course from that day or night to recapture the trophy in 1 year’s time.
It’s a cute tradition. It gives those rivalries a stamp of approval.
But the Alabama-LSU rivalry doesn’t need a cute trophy with a cute name or a stamp of approval. It already has the stamp without any piece of hardware being dragged onto Bryant-Denny Stadium or Tiger Stadium when the clock hits 0.
So, yes, there is no official rivalry trophy shared by the Crimson Tide and Tigers. Not to this point, at least.
Maybe some year or decade, a trophy will be brought onto the scene. But the rivalry has gone on this long and been this special without a shared trophy so, really, why bother now?
6. Bama’s decade of dominance
LSU has had its fair share of moments during the rivalry, please understand. But Bama took exclusive ownership of the 1970s when it beat the Tigers 14-7 in another one of those matchups when both teams were ranked, on Nov. 6, 1971, at Tiger Stadium.
What followed were 10 more Tide wins, as Alabama ripped off a series-high 11 straight wins between ’71 and 1981. Nine of those 11 wins were by double digits, so it wasn’t really a case of LSU suffering from near-miss disease. This was pretty much domination by all those Bear Bryant-led Tide teams.
The only other single-digit contest in the series during the Tide’s 11-game winning streak came in 1979, when Bama escaped Baton Rouge with a 3-0 victory.
A ranked LSU team finally ended the party in 1982, taking down a ranked Alabama team, 20-10, at Legion Field in Birmingham. The Tigers also got the final say after so many losses against Bryant, who was coaching his 25th and final season in Tuscaloosa.
(Nick Saban’s longest winning streak vs. LSU is 8, by the way, which occurred during the Tide’s most recent decade of dominance. It started with Alabama’s win in the January 2012 BCS title game and continued until 2019, when Joe Burrow ended it. LSU’s longest winning streak is 5, from 2003-07.)
7. Those are fightin’ words
Iconic programs with iconic colors and stadiums deserve iconic chants and fight songs, and Bama and LSU have both. Because of course they do.
LSU’s fight song is the aforementioned “Fight for LSU,” written by Castro Carazo in the 1940s and played by the Golden Band from Tigerland Marching Band.
Alabama will counter annually (and on Saturday night) with The Million Dollar Band’s playing of its fight song, called “Yea, Alabama!”
Outside the framework of these legendary fight songs are other songs, chants, “side traditions” that are done and duplicated every Saturday, but especially during rivalry games like this one where every last breath of fans’ lung space is used up by day’s (or night’s) end.
So this Saturday night, if you’re watching the 85th meeting of this rivalry on TV, turn the volume up a little more so you can hear what’s being played or chanted instead of just what the game announcers are saying.
8. A sign of the times
Curiously, but definitely not surprisingly, each program scored its most points ever in the rivalry in consecutive years, and those years were 2019 and 2020 during this era of high-octane offenses dominating defenses.
First, it was top-ranked LSU’s turn in 2019, when the Burrow-led Tigers walked into Tuscaloosa in a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 showdown and showed the No. 2 Tide whose dream season it really was. Burrow and that incredible offensive cast put up 46 points, LSU’s most ever in the rivalry, and needed every single one of those points, outlasting Bama 46-41 on the way to an undefeated season and a national championship.
The following year, in a season condensed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the top-ranked Tide returned the favor and then some in Baton Rouge, exploding for a rivalry-high 55 points in a 55-17 victory over the unranked Tigers. And just like LSU did the year before, Bama went undefeated in 2020 on its way to another national championship.
Once again, these 2 mighty programs were upstaging each other, on the road, with fireworks, incredible talent and overall excellence.
9. LSU gets first word …
According to Winsipedia, the rivalry began on Nov. 18, 1895, with a 12-6 LSU win in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers got the first word in on the Tide, and LSU will always have that bit of bragging rights over Bama.
It might not be worth a championship, and it doesn’t take away the Tide’s overall dominance in the series. But it’s a historical fact for Tigers fans to hang their hats on, and it will never go away.
10. The Saban Thing
Last but certainly not least, it’s Saban. LSU-Alabama is about a lot of incredible and fun things, but right now, for as long as Saban is still coaching at Alabama, for as long as he’s still contained in the rivalry, every meeting between the Tide and Tigers is going to have a Saban slant to it.
Saban’s reign in the SEC didn’t start in Tuscaloosa, as every LSU fan will remind every Bama fan with every chance they get. Saban arrived in Baton Rouge from Big Ten country in 2000, and in his 4th season he brought a national championship to LSU. He might’ve won more titles there, but the lure of the NFL took him south to the Miami Dolphins in 2005.
When it didn’t quite work out at the pro level, Saban scurried back to SEC country and to Alabama, where in 2007 he started this dynastic run in Tuscaloosa that’s still going strong now. Saban has won 6 national titles at Bama, from 2009-20, and who knows how many more he’ll win there or if he’ll win another one. Saban is also 11-4 against LSU since he got to Alabama.
But in the ultimate gamesmanship between these old, wonderful rivals, the Tigers will always be able to lean over and tell the Tide that Saban was theirs first. And then the good-natured arguments can begin and continue for as long as it takes to get to that 1st Saturday in November.