Alabama had another one of those nights, a striking offense led by Quarterback Scott Hunter, who broke three school offensive records, and not much defense. In fact, the Tide's defense was so bad that Ole Miss Quarterback Archie Manning broke four SEC offensive records and the Ole Miss team broke three more. You could have won a lot of money betting that no one would break seven SEC offensive records against a Bryant-coached team. Next Alabama faces Vanderbilt and then must still play Tennessee, Mississippi State, LSU and Auburn. That's asking a lot unless Bryant shores his defenses in a hurry.
Somehow no one is getting excited about Tennessee, which should please Doug Dickey. After all, they did whomp Auburn 45-19 two weeks ago, and then last Saturday night really turned it on against Memphis State 55-16. The most exciting moment for the Vols against Memphis State came in midweek before the game, when a fellow standing on the railroad tracks overlooking the MSU practice field was apprehended with a notebook containing Tiger defensive diagrams. Dickey denied that the man was a Vol scout and, while the incident was inflated in Memphis papers, it has now been deflated by the size of the score. Tennessee showed a well-balanced attack with eight players scoring. The Vols gained 239 yards rushing and 226 passing and that's about as balanced as you can get. Six of the scores came after pass interceptions (3) and fumble recoveries (3), and all were from inside the 35-yard line. Tennessee has a tough SEC schedule the rest of the way, facing Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss and Kentucky on the road, before getting home to play Vanderbilt.
This wealth of good teams has Southerners bubbling with excitement, but, then, they always are. With its small towns tucked away out of casual reach, the SEC is unbelievably provincial. Fanatic loyalty, like the sword grandpappy wore at Vicksburg, is handed down through the generations. Down South—and it may be the last outpost—they still make gods of football players. At Ole Miss, they speak with pride of Placekicker Bob Khayat. Not for any football exploits, but because he dated both Lynda Lee Mead and Mary Ann Mobley, back-to-back Miss Americas. An NCAA record.
Football weekends are an endless series of cocktail parties—or just a bunch of good old boys sitting around sipping an endless stream of bourbon—and crowds are raucous. When you hear 80,000 people screaming for your blood, and meaning it, it can be a little eerie. Once, after escaping from Baton Rouge with his Georgia Tech team, Bobby Dodd said: "I know now I'd rather face the lions in the coliseum." But if you escape from Baton Rouge, there's still Oxford and Starkville and Athens and Tuscaloosa and Auburn and Gainesville. And they are all lions and coliseums, except maybe at Gainesville. No one worries about trips to Kentucky. It thinks it's in the South, but it isn't, and the fans at Vanderbilt and Kentucky are a gentler breed. Lately, so are the football teams.
Part of the charm of the SEC is its traffic problems. Most of the towns have one road in and one out, and madness in between. In Oxford, which quaintly approves hard liquor but bans beer, the fans of Ole Miss solve the problem of traffic by parking their cars and trudging off to the student union. There they have been known to plunk their bottles of bourbon on the tables, often right under the eyes of the local police, who look the other way. The other gathering spot is the local Holiday Inn. Oxford was William Faulkner's town, and it's hard to tell whether the people there are proud of that or not. "That book that got him famous, Sanctuary, was one of the nastiest books you ever saw," says Tad Smith, the athletic director at Ole Miss. "Hell, we could tell his characters were taken right off those special trains that would go from here to Mississippi State for the game. He was a football fan."
The problem of traffic is not so complex in Athens, the home base of the Georgia Bulldogs, who can point with pride to the city's find old antebellum homes. With a population of only 58,000, the city has 70 churches, which seems remarkable. There also are three houses of ill repute, none of them antebellum, but still, in their own fashion, quite historic. It was in Athens in 1929 that Georgia played Yale in what has become known as The Greatest Day in the History of Football in the South. Yale, with Albie Booth, was a national power, but it was a hot, muggy day and the Yale players, wearing thick blue stockings, soon wilted. Georgia won 15-0. Dan Magill, Georgia's sports information director, calls the day "the biggest thing to happen in the South since Appomattox. Except we won."
And it was from Athens that the Bulldogs left in 1908 for Knoxville and a game with the Tennessee Volunteers, who already hated them. And perhaps it was that day that the spirit of Southern football was born. Late in the first half a Georgia football player swept around his end and was shouldered out of bounds at the Tennessee one. At this point there appeared a large mountaineer wearing a green frock coat and a four-gallon hat and reeking of sour mash. In one hand he carried a .38 revolver. With the other he pointed to the goal. "The first man who crosses that line," he snarled, "will get a bullet in his carcass." On the next play, not surprisingly, Georgia fumbled. Tennessee won 10-0. Apparently the mountaineer lost interest in football because Georgia won the next two years.
There are thousands of such stories, each carefully recorded—after, perhaps, a bit of polishing and honing—and every bit as important to an SEC fan as, say, knowing that since 1951 the old league has turned out seven national champions; that since 1947 the SEC has had 48 teams in the top 10 to only 43 for the Big Ten. Well, almost as important. SEC fans, too, have been known to mention casually that in bowls it's Us'uns 70, and the Other'uns 42, with six ties, and since the Associated Press picked Alabama End Wu Winslett as its first All-America from the South, the SEC has produced more All-Americas than any other conference. Oh, they can get downright boring with that stuff if you listen. And downright nasty if you don't. Just because the Civil War ended in a draw doesn't mean they intend to lose any football battles.