It sounds really cool and southern and stuff. But calling Auburn vs. Georgia “the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” may actually be doing it a historical disservice.
It’s not that the description isn’t accurate. It’s that it’s not accurate enough.
Question: What happened 245 days before the first Virginia-North Carolina game?
Answer: The first Auburn-Georgia game.
So why are the Cavaliers and Tar Heels allowed to hashtag their annual meeting as the #SouthsOldestRivalry? It’s not like there’s some controversy as to which series started first. It’s not a question of hours or minutes or factoring in time zones or daylight savings–we’re talking eight full months here. It’s right there on the calendar, and yet the modern mentality from the Auburn-Georgia camp is apparently to just accept the premise that its fabled football feud needs the qualifier “deep” in front of it.
But once upon a time, the press and even the schools themselves correctly referred to the game as “the South’s oldest rivalry.”
The trophy Auburn took home on Feb. 20, 1892? Yep, the inscription refers to “First Collegiate Game Played in the South.” Sure, the plaque was added a little later—and it technically wasn’t the first intercollegiate game played in the entire south, just the first game in the oldest continual rivalry—but it goes to show that folks around these parts did indeed once have the rivalry in the pole position of pigskin past.
In fact, newspaper stories on the ancient adversaries didn’t start going “deep” until 1940 or so, and then only occasionally.
Meanwhile, a November 1934 Associated Press story that ran in papers across the country described the Auburn-Georgia game as “the South’s oldest rivalry.” (The Tampa Tribune’s headline: “Georgia, Auburn to renew South’s oldest grid feud.”)
Four years later, the Red and Black, Georgia’s student newspaper, referred to the 1938 game as “the 43rd renewal of the South’s oldest football rivalry.”
I could go on. And on and on. Even papers in North Carolina and Virginia have run stories describing Auburn vs. Georgia as the South’s oldest rivalry. But in the age of Wikipedia, “Deep South” has become copy ‘n’ paste canon.
So what changed? It may simply be a question of semantics. At some point, advocates for the Shallow South’s Oldest Rivalry seem to have moved the metaphorical goalposts to where “oldest” is measured not chronologically, but in the number of games of played. By that metric, then sure, North Carolina vs. Virginia would be ahead of Auburn vs. Georgia by a single game.. were I writing this in 2016…
But it’s 2019, two years past that fabulous fall when the Tigers and Bulldogs met not only on Amen Corner, but in the SEC Championship Game—two games in one season, same as Virginia and North Carolina had in their first year as rivals.
Which means that come Saturday, the number of games played in each series will again be dead even at 124.
Of course, it turns out that a quality vs. quantity analysis could have countered the count’em! claims even before 2017. Because while both series feature five seasons in which the respective teams haven’t met, the Auburn vs. Georgia anomalies stem almost entirely from world wars (1917-1918, 1943) and player fatalities (1897). The only season in which Auburn and Georgia both fielded teams, but didn’t play, was 1893, due partly to football being temporarily suspended in Athens in the fall of 1892. (That decision kept the teams from meeting twice in their very first year of intercollegiate football… and likely kept us from avoiding this conversation 127 years later.)
What excuse do the Tar Heels and Cavaliers have for not scheduling games in 1899 and 1909? Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it’s not as good as saving the planet.
In other words, Auburn vs. Georgia is the south’s oldest rivalry, period. It’s time to #DropTheDeep.
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