ESPN Films: Roll Tide/War Eagle (2011)

Directed by Martin Khodabakhshian

The world of sports is ripe with big time rivalries between teams. Some of them are friendly and some of them are quite harsh. As a sports fan myself I have been involved in a number of rivalries as both an athlete and as a fan. My high school baseball team had rivals, but the real rivalries I want to talk about are my college teams. I attended the University of Cincinnati, who has a heated rivalry in basketball against nearby Xavier University. The recent brawl which broke out between the teams I think is perfect evidence of the intensity of the sports rivalry. Everyone who has a passion for a sports team has a passion against another team. In Alabama those two teams are Alabama and Auburn. Your choice is a game breaker.

The two universities are separated by just 160 miles and with no professional teams in the state every resident is fully involved in the bitter rivalry. Alabama has been the dominate team in the series, but the last two years have brought new meaning to the rivalry. In 2009, Alabama won another National Championship behind the strong, Heisman Trophy winning season of running back Mark Ingram, whose Heisman win was surprisingly the schools first in their storied history. But last year Auburn turned the tables on them and won a National Title of their own. In addition their star quarterback, Cam Newton, also won the highest honors in the sport, the Heisman Trophy.

In addition to my connection with the Cincinnati/Xavier rivalry, I have been much closer to an even greater rivalry in football, that of Ohio State and Michigan. I grew up in Columbus and live here now and every year the season as an Ohio State fan is based on the performance in the final game of the season against that state up north. I know what it is like to hate another team, even if I am not nearly as radical as some fans. But to live among the enemy as in the Alabama/Auburn rivalry is something with which I am unfamiliar. Director Martin Khodabakhshian does a good job of examining both sides and telling the tale of this unique rivalry. He interviews the stars and important figures from both sides as well as some of the split married couples.

Every fan believes that the rivalry they are involved in is the greatest in sports. I know I have always made that claim about OSU/UM, but the truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as the greatest in sports. Rather the best rivalry in sports is simply the one that means the most to you. For the Northeast it is predominately the Red Sox/Yankees, then there is the Cubs/Cardinals, Army/Navy, and any number of big time match-ups. Roll Tide/War Eagle is one of those rivalries that is unique in the hatred and the bizarre mutual respect. Not every fan is as radical as the Bama fan who poisoned the trees on Auburn’s campus, and actually there is a heart in all of them, which shone brightest when tragedy struck the campus of Alabama last year as a tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa.

Last spring I actually went to Alabama for the first time of my life for a spring break trip on the Gulf. My friends and I decided it would be fun to say “Roll Tide” to everyone we saw. It was a fun practice, but we soon learned the other side of the coin in “War Eagle”, which is the Auburn catch phrase which stems from an eagle flying over the stadium way way long ago. The amount of enthusiasm for their teams is admirable and I have a deep respect for what football means to the state of Alabama. Khodabakhshian does a great job of putting that on screen and even fitting it into the short amount of time he has. This is the type of rivalry that I am sure the Auburn fans are mad at ESPN for putting Roll Tide first in the title ahead of War Eagle, but let’s face it, Roll Tide is a better catch phrase.

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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