Should Alabama fans cheer for Auburn to win the NCAA championship?
Monday was April Fools’ Day, so I was even more skeptical than usual about what information I consumed and what sources I chose to believe.
Hence, I laughed when I saw the question about whether Alabama fans should cheer for Auburn to win the NCAA championship.
Yeah, right. You almost got me.
But the topic didn’t go away. Talk radio to Twitter, people were actively, passionately trying to engage in a serious discussion about the matter, weighing the pros and the cons.
I can’t speak for Alabama fans. I’ve never lived there. I grew up in Raleigh, the #919, home to 3 basketball programs that have combined to make 39 Final Fours and win 13 NCAA championships. North Carolina is the only state in our fine country with 3 programs that have won multiple NCAA titles.
And we all live within 30 miles of one another. Fun times. Try merging onto I-40 with a bumper sticker or license plate decal that somebody doesn’t like. I’m fairly certain that’s how NASCAR was born. Gives “The Road Ends Here” an entirely different meaning.
Given our proximity and proud hoops history, you can imagine how often we’ve heard that question in the #919 — would you cheer for your rival? — and what our response might be.
In my best, most polite Southern drawl, here’s the universal answer: “Awwww helllll naaaawwww.” No N.C. State fan wants UNC to win, no UNC fan wants N.C. State to win and every fan of either wants Duke to lose. Painfully. Duke fans don’t care what you think. They just want to crush your will to live.
That’s our dynamic, our identity. And it’s equal parts pathetic, petty and perfect. The only thing we ever agree on is that “March Means More.” Our football has almost always stunk. We didn’t have pro sports. College basketball is our pro sport. Almost every ounce of sports pride we have is derived from how well our team does relative to the other two.
The happiest day of any year is the Monday our team cut down the nets.
The second-happiest day is when our rivals lose. And if our team didn’t win it all, watching our rivals lose easily becomes our happiest day.
Did you see this exchange from former UNC forward Brice Johnson?
— Brice Johnson (@bjohnson_23) March 31, 2019
I love how State fans hate on Heels when they lose. But I guess it's because they know what losing feels like, they do it all the time!
— Shari Smith (@ShariElizSmith) March 30, 2019
This is standard. This is who we are. Nobody in the #919 chants “A-C-C! A-C-C!” We chant things I can’t print, sometimes in line at the church picnic. I was 12 before I realized ABC stood for the alphabet, not “Anybody But Carolina.” You could blame Wake County’s public schools for that, or give them a high-five for rolling black-and-white TVs into our classrooms so we didn’t miss the ACC Tournament. They made sure we could spell Krzyzewski. Priorities, man.
That’s why, as adults, we bring gifts to the baby shower in our colors, not theirs, and throw away the receipts. Unless it’s diapers. Those are always in the parents’ colors.
We don’t share in “their” team’s joy. We accuse them of cheating and turn them in. I mean, everybody knows they did it, right?
That’s how I grew up. That’s my reality, warped though it might be. So, no, I could never imagine any Bama fan pulling for Auburn this weekend.
I didn’t want to assume it’s like that everywhere, though, so I asked some of our staffers, who have lived in Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky, how would their fan bases answer the question: Would your fans ever cheer for the rival to win it all?
Connor O’Gara, columnist and Indiana U. alum
Personally, I think it’s impossible to genuinely root for your rival. There’s always going to be a piece of you in the back of your mind that sees their fan base being sad, and it makes you happy in a weird, evil way. That’s what this comes down to.
With schools like Indiana and Purdue, a lot of the hatred is fueled by in-state recruits turning down one school in favor of another. There’s a jaded sense from fans, and understandably so. And when Indiana fans see someone succeeding at Purdue — in state or not — the feeling is well, why couldn’t Indiana land him?
Now are there a few Indiana fans who can put that Purdue dislike aside and just root for the conference? Sure, but it seems a bit counterproductive to root for your rival when all arguments with the opposing fan base are centered on success. You don’t want them to get more ammo for their argument, right?
Let’s just say plenty of Indiana fans breathed a sigh of relief when Virginia took care of Purdue and continued the Boilermakers’ Final Four drought.
Dave Hooker, Tennessee beat writer, UT alum
It’s incredibly difficult to even imagine Tennessee fans rooting for any other SEC schools, but especially Florida. Florida wasn’t even a rival until the 1990s, but when the Gators reached that status, they excelled at it.
It seemed former Florida football coach Steve Spurrier always had a verbal jab to throw at the Vols until UT finally broke through and beat the Gators in 1998 en route to a national championship. When asked about former UT quarterback Peyton Manning returning for his senior year, Spurrier reportedly said that Manning was chasing another Citrus Bowl MVP Award. And then there’s the “You can’t spell Citrus without UT” line that has resonated for decades.
The UT-Florida basketball series wasn’t much friendlier. Florida fans were known for their intense dislike of former Vols’ standout Dane Bradshaw. Trips to Gainesville included Bradshaw having to endure chants of his sister’s name as well of posters of her.
So could UT fans ever cheer for their ultimate rival of the past 30 years? Not a chance.
Joe Cox, Kentucky beat writer
Of course, we faced this very situation in 2013, fresh off UK’s title in 2012.
The situation was somewhat defined by Kentucky’s basketball tradition being a source of state pride. It felt like most of the casual fans were fine or at least tolerant toward hopping on the Louisville bandwagon.
The hardcore fans would have rooted for Satan before UofL, by and large.
Of course, many of those struggled to distinguish between Lucifer and Rick Pitino, anyway.
* * * * * * * *
(And you wonder why I say Kentucky would be a perfect fit in the ACC … They already hate Duke, too.)
Bama fans, I think we’ve shown, from several corners in the country, there’s no need to overthink this one.
Everybody else is free to scream “S-E-C! S-E-C!”