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A Team Worth Hating

Here we are: Bama Week.

Our fearless leader will keep bringing you the news recaps and the mood of the fanbase.  Billy and Paul, of course, will break down the X and O's, so you can go into the game as well-educated as possible.  Which leaves me to do what I do best:

Irritate the opposing fanbase. 

Alabama is an easy team to hate for one simple reason: they win.  They've won a lot, and it seems like they will continue to win.  Nobody hates Vanderbilt (well, maybe Louisville, who has to envy Vandy's sweet gig while they are constantly fighting for their survival). 

Alabama has won 12 national titles, 22 SEC titles, and represented the Western Division in the SEC Championship Game just under 50% of the time.  Alabama is the New York Yankees of the SEC, and they show no real sign of slowing down.  It's just infuriating.

Is it jealousy?  OF COURSE IT'S JEALOUSY.  We're talking about a fanbase that complains about the Bill Curry years as some sort of catastrophe - and he won an SEC title.  Not even an NCAA probation slowed these guys down. 

Every school has their own unique traditions: Between the Hedges, the War Eagle's flight, the Vol Navy, et cetera.  Bama's tradition is winning.  And houndstooth caps, just because that reminds them of the guy who won more than anybody. 

Would I rather be a Bama fan?  Of course not.  LSU is just boatloads more fun.  Alabama is respectable, dignified.  They are college football royalty.  We're completely unhinged psychopaths.  In the SEC Family, we're the crazy drunk uncle.  Everybody loves that guy, so long as he only trashes somebody else's house.   Well, we're coming to trash Alabama's house this week.  Hide the china.

Nowhere is the difference between the two programs more apparent than in our head coaches.  Nick Saban is a great football coach.  He wins a lot, primarily by preaching the Process.  Alabama fans love the order and discipline he brings.  Here's a guy who probably has a detailed plan on how to order eggs at Waffle House (if Saban would ever eat at a Waffle House).   Saban has fostered the image of himself a dictator, who derives about as much joy from winning as you would from brushing your teeth.  It's all part of the Process.

Les Miles can't even spell process.  He's embraced the crazy and the lunatic fringe.  Miles is also a great coach who wins a lot, but you get the sense that he's more exciting than anyone else in the stadium.  He'd high five Mike the tiger if we'd let him.  He seems to embrace that this is a game, and that all of this is fun.  Not just the game, but the whole experience - the fans, the tailgating, the pageantry.

That's the image anyway, though I suspect the two coaches are more similar than anyone would like to admit.  You don't just win by accident.  And this LSU team is loaded.  Miles also has acted swiftly and severely to punish players who break team rules.  For all of the talk of him being a Player's Coach, this is isn't Florida State under Bowden, when players would get suspended for a half for an arrest.

Also, Saban's not quite the uptight prick he wants you to believe.  He was willing to make fun of himself in that ESPN commercial where he eats a cookie off the floor.  Besides, any guy who eats an oatmeal cream pie every day can't be too evil.  He also embraces team traditions and understands he's leaving behind a legacy.  He'll never be as goofy as Miles, but I like to picture Saban celebrating in the tunnels by himself like Herb Brooks after the Miracle on Ice. Well, if I liked to picture Saban celebrating, which I don't.

But the reason the two coaches foster such wildly divergent images is because that's what we, the fans, need.  We need Saban to be Darth Saban, leading the Evil Empire of Alabama.  We need Les Miles to be the insane gambler who is just getting by on passion because, well, that's how LSU sees itself.  Even with all of the talent in the world, we are the perpetual underdog.  And Alabama will always be ALABAMA, a team worthy of our hatred, but also of our respect. 

LSU has won two national titles in the last ten years, something I never thought possible.  We are the #1 team in the nation with commentators lining up to tell us how great we are.  Yet LSU fans still look for every perceived slight, every possible insult.  It's just who we are.  We might have a great team, but we don't fully trust it.  It could all be gone by tomorrow.  Look at how quickly it all crumbled under Archer.

Alabama, on the other hand, expects to be good.  This is the natural order of things.  You don't find too many Tide fans uncomfortable with being the hunted - they expect to be on the top of the mountain, looking down on the rest of us peons. 

I don't want to be Alabama.  I want to beat Alabama.  For all of our differences, we're really not that different.  We both want the same thing, but only one of us can be the SEC Champions.