NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The state of Alabama’s stranglehold on the BCS national title has showcased the best and worst of a football-mad populace.
No. 2 Auburn will try to bring a fifth consecutive championship to the state Monday night against No. 1 Florida State and Alabama native Jameis Winston, the third Heisman Trophy winner during that span with state ties. Winston somehow remained neutral despite growing up in a family where his mother, the youngest of 13 children, was the lone Auburn fan and the rest pulled for ’Bama.
As if he needed further demonstration of the passions involved, Winston watched from the stands as fellow Heisman winner Cam Newton led Auburn to a remarkable comeback over Alabama in the 2010 Iron Bowl.
“It’s funny seeing how Alabama and Auburn fans react after that game,” said Winston, who is from Hueytown, Ala. “It’s the funniest thing in the world.”
The rivalry is serious business for most of the state, though. Sometimes football rains glory on the state, others embarrassment.
The state of Alabama’s passion, and penchant, for football has been on full display nationally for the past five years.
Alabama has won three national titles during that span and Auburn won it all in that 2010 season.
Three of the last five Heisman winners are either from the state of Alabama or played college ball there, including Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009.
That’s the good. There’s been some bad and ugly, too.
Auburn came up with one of college football’s most memorable plays on Nov. 30 when Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown on the final play for a 34-28 win over the two-time defending national champion and then-No. 1 Crimson Tide.
The outcome apparently led to tragic results.
Alabama fan Adrian Laroze Briskey, 28, was charged two days later with killing another Tide fan. Briskey was angry that 36-year-old Michelle Shepherd and others weren’t distraught enough over the loss, the victim’s sister, Neketa Shepherd, said.
The state’s football fervor also drew plenty of national attention after the 2010 Iron Bowl, when Tide fan Harvey Updyke Jr. poisoned Aub- urn’s two iconic oak trees at Toomer’s Corner, whose branches were draped with toilet paper during victory celebrations for decades.
Occasionally, state pride even trumps the rivalry. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron is pulling for the Tigers.
“I know there’s some crazy fans in the South, Auburn and Alabama, that will go to their grave hating one another, which is absurd to me,” McCarron said. “The players don’t think like that, so I don’t understand why the fans think like that. But it’s what makes it a good rivalry. But I’ll be rooting for them (Auburn). I know that. I want them to win.”
“I think it’s awesome. I think it shows how much talent we have in the state between two great schools and it would be awesome to keep it (the BCS trophy) in the state of Alabama, definitely.”