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Philosophy And Football Mix During Week Of Auburn-Alabama Game

November 20, 1996

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ In the week before the Alabama-Auburn game, football and philosophy sometimes become one and the same.

``If you were guaranteed to go 8-3 every year and you knew you would beat Alabama every year, could you be happy?″ Auburn coach Terry Bowden was asked

``You wouldn’t have to worry about your job much,″ Bowden said. ``But in a way, it would be like being in Purgatory, because who would those other three losses come against?″

That, in a way, sums up the rivalry that will be renewed Saturday when the Tigers and Tide meet for the 61st time.

In a state where three-loss seasons are frowned upon, a win in the biggest game of the year can buy the coach a peaceful offseason. But a loss in the game _ no matter how good the season was leading up to it _ can mean a year of distress.

``It doesn’t go away,″ Bowden said. ``You’d like to think it would ... but what you do in this game is under constant scrutiny. It’s never-ending.″

Or, as it says in the book ``The Uncivil War,″ one of a half-dozen publications documenting the history of the game:

``To win means a day of joy and a year of glory.

``To lose can mean days of dark depression, endless weeks of recrimination and, worst of all, a year of unending torture from the other side’s fans on the radio, in the boardrooms and offices and factories and playgrounds and sometimes across the dinner table.″

``You can salvage a whole season of pride in this game. Or ruin an otherwise unblemished year,″ says the foreword to another of the books, ``Alabama Showdown.″

Neither team will finish unblemished this season. And on a national scale, this year’s game doesn’t mean as much. For the first time since 1982, both teams are coming into the game off losses. Alabama (8-2, 5-2 SEC) is ranked 15th and Auburn (7-3, 4-3) isn’t ranked.

But within the state, it’s still the big event.

``It’s part of living in Alabama,″ said Ken Gaddy, head of the Bear Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa. ``If you’re not rooting for either Alabama or Auburn, you’re missing out. Some people don’t think of football as culture, but I do. This game is part of the culture of this state.″

Alabama coach Gene Stallings sees the game as big-time pressure. He tries to keep it off of his players, but no matter how hard a coach tries, the players feel the buzz.

Even in this, a down year for both teams, there are twice the number of reporters swarming outside practice. Twice the number of TV cameras. More calls from neighbors and friends. More scrutiny.

``As far as I’m concerned, it’s the biggest game of my career,″ Alabama offensive lineman Pete DiMario said. ``It’s because of the pride factor. It’s because of the bragging rights. It’s basically the whole season.″

Some theorize that players who didn’t grow up in Alabama might not take the game quite as seriously. Take Auburn’s starting cornerback Brad Ware, a freshman from Powder Springs, Ga.

``I don’t know the true meaning of the game like the people from Alabama,″ he said. ``I didn’t grow up around all that. I think it will keep me more relaxed.″

Coaches like anyone who can stay loose for this game.

But some of Ware’s more experienced teammates know that if he gets burned for the game-winning touchdown or blows a tackle on a key play or drops a sure interception, he’ll be remembered for at least a year, maybe longer.

``I don’t think that’s fair, but that’s the way it is,″ Auburn offensive tackle Victor Riley said. ``If you don’t win this game, you can count on hearing about it anywhere you go in Alabama. If you lose, you’ve just got to be ready to deal with it for the next year.″