TUSCALOOSA — If you truly know how much the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry means, you might know the answer to these trivia questions about the series:
n Which Alabama player got thrown out of the 1934 game for punching a Tennessee player? (Future legendary coach Bear Bryant, although teammate Bill Lee confessed in the 1987 book “Third Saturday in October” that it actually was him who decked the Vols player.)
n What Alabama player apparently endured a broken leg to play in the 1935 game? (Again, it was Bryant, as the legend goes.)
n Which Alabama trainer began passing out cigars whenever the Tide beat the Vols? (Jim Goostree is credited with coming up with the idea in the late 1950s.)
But how can current Crimson Tide players know all this and the importance of Alabama-Tennessee, especially when most were born in the 1990s? And what about Tide players from outside the South?
Sophomore middle linebacker Trey DePriest, who is from Ohio, offered assurances everyone wearing crimson has a good idea what the rivalry means, even if Alabama has dominated recently, winning the last five meetings by a combined 108 points.
If they don’t, they’re taught by the older players, the assistant coaches and Tide head coach Nick Saban, who reminded his players of the rivalry’s importance immediately after Alabama’s win over Missouri.
“Being a second-year player, it’s kind of grown on me now,” DePriest said. “Last year, I didn’t know. I thought it was always Alabama-Auburn. I didn’t really know about the Tennessee game.
“But a lot of the older fans take this game real seriously. It’s bigger than Alabama-Auburn to them. I try to please the fans as much as possible, so it definitely means a lot.”
Alabama running back Eddie Lacy grew up in Louisiana and has said he doesn’t watch much college football. He probably has played in more college football than he has seen on television.
He said he had to be taught about the Tide-Vols rivalry.
“I’m more of an out-of-stater. So you’re coming in and basically picking up whatever that team has,” he said. “Any game, you have to take on the mentality that it’s for you and for the community. For this one, we’re going to take a little different approach and go out and try to play our best and win for ourselves and for the community, for the rivalry.”
He said it didn’t take him long to learn.
“You hear people talking about it, the players talk about it, people in the outside community talk about it,” he said. “You get a pretty good sense of it.”
Alabama defensive lineman Damion Square is from Houston, and he said in Texas, there are sections of the state in which college football is huge and other places where it isn’t that big.
He added that in Alabama, college football is big everywhere, and that was something the fifth-year senior learned when he arrived in Tuscaloosa in the fall of 2008.
“I got the fever here when I arrived,” he said. “I didn’t know how great the Iron Bowl rivalry was until I got here, I didn’t know how great Alabama-Tennessee was or the feeling was until I got here.”
Then he added with a smile: “Over these five years, it’s grown on me and now I’m just like anybody that’s been an Alabama fan for 60 years.”