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Legendary Auburn play-by-play announcer Gary Sanders on pulling for the Russians over Alabama

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I’ve never wanted Alabama to win a football game. The closest I ever got was during the 1992 or 1993 or whatever it was Sugar Bowl. Miami was totally going to beat them, Bama wasn’t going to win a national championship like all the kids at schools said they used to win, there was no way. Miami was Miami (and back then Miami was still very Miami) and they had a Heisman Trophy winner, and honestly, I just don’t remember Bama being that good. But apparently they were. And when Antonio Langham or whoever it was ran the dude down and stripped the ball mid-stride,  it wasn’t that I started wanting Bama to win so much as I just knew they weren’t going to lose, and stopped caring. That was it—that was as close as I ever got to pulling for the Tide. Until last night.

My conflicted feelings had nothing to do with “SEC, SEC, SEC”; when it comes to Bama (and hell, sometimes even stupid Georgia), the whole SEC loyalty thing goes out the window and the window is bolted shut and guarded with guns and knives. You always want Bama to lose, even when it’s bowl season (and I think Dean Foy would agree with me). But when they don’t lose their bowl game, you can at least take a little comfort in knowing that, OK, the SEC gets to count it as a win against all the other conferences, which makes Auburn look all the tougher for being in the SEC and everything.

What I was dealing with last night was the possibility that the Iron Bowl would be that much sweeter for us (by virtue of being that much more disgusting for them) were Bama to beat Oklahoma, were they to have to live with knowing that 2013 and all it was supposed to mean for them and their coach and college football history was only one second away… were they to not only have lost the Iron Bowl by one second, but the entire season. It was all very utilitarian: What would cause Bama the most pain? Would winning the game actually cause them more pain (at least related to us) in the long run than losing it?

But then McCarron got sacked and fumbled and the dude scooped up the football and scored and I started laughing maniacally and everything made sense again (and made even more sense on the squibside kick: “THROW IT DEEP, STOOPS!!!!”).

But of course, all of it got me thinking about the whole whether not it’s ever OK to pull for Bama issue. Some Auburn fans say they do—that they want Bama to win if it helps Auburn, or even that they always cheer for them except against Auburn (which, to me, is sick. But that’s just me). On the other end are Auburn fans who look you straight in the eye and say that if Bama was playing Russia, they would pull for Russia. I always heard that growing up. You’d hear it and laugh and think “yeah, maybe… ” and then wonder how you’d ever be able to watch Rocky 4 or play that USA vs. USSR hockey game in the arcade again if that ever happened and you did that, so thank God it never happened.

Except the one time it did. The ultimate Auburn Scruples card was actually dealt to Tiger fans in the 1970s, back when legendary radio announcer Gary “It’s Blocked! It’s Blocked!” Sanders, who later became the voice of UAB Blazers basketball, was still calling games for Auburn.

When I interviewed Sanders several years back, he told me about it. “I always thought that was just a joke!”

Nope. Real life. 1977.

“In 1970-something they opened that coliseum downtown (in Birmingham) and there was a basketball doubleheader: Auburn vs. Czechoslovakia and Alabama vs. Russia,” Sanders said. “This is the height of the Cold War, and I said, ‘well, tonight I can pull for Alabama, they’re playing the Russians.’ And a rebound comes off—they’ve got a 7″2 guy (Vladimir Tkachenko), the Russians do. He reaches up and is just going to casually take the rebound. Well, Reginald King, one of the best Alabama players ever in my mind, takes that ball away from him and stuffs it in. And I’m sitting there at the table and I said “Goddammit, Tkachenko—hold on to the rebound!” And I said, ‘oh my God, I’m pulling for the Russians!’”

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer and Sickle, baby.

Alabama vs. Russians basketballRelated: Dean Foy crowd surfs Toomer’s Corner, celebrates Bama’s loss to Vandy.

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* ‘One of the smartest f***ing minds in football’
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* The play that saved Auburn football

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About Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the editor of The War Eagle Reader and co-host of Rich and Jeremy in the Mornings on Wings 94.3 FM in Auburn. Follow him on Twitter: @wareaglereader / @jerthoughts / @RichandJeremy

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