Why the LSU-Alabama rivalry is the best

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LSU-Alabama is the best rivalry.

How do we know that?

We’re only 2 sentences in and already people are taking to social media to argue about whether it’s an LSU-Alabama rivalry or an Alabama-LSU rivalry.

In fact, some Crimson Tide fans question whether it’s even a rivalry, invoking the old “it’s not a rivalry when 1 team wins all the time” mantra, noting that Bama has won 10 of the last 11 meetings.

Tigers fans will counter… well, actually, they don’t have much to deal with that reality right now. But rest assured, once LSU wins, say, 2 straight games, they’ll be the ones questioning if this is really a rivalry.

Meanwhile, next Saturday at Tiger Stadium, Brian Kelly beat the Tide for the first time since becoming the Tigers’ head coach.

He took a few shots at Bama when he was at Notre Dame and things didn’t go well.

In the national championship game of the 2012 season, the Tide rolled over the Fighting Irish 42-14. In the CFP semifinals 2 seasons ago, the Tide rolled over the Fighting Irish 31-14.

Bam fans will say that Kelly was a glutton for taking the LSU job because he knew he would get more of the same from the Tide — only every season, not just occasionally.

LSU fans will say that Kelly was smart because he knew that he could never put together a Notre Dame team capable of beating Alabama — and thus probably never win a national championship there — but that he would be able to put together a Tigers team. capable of beating the Tide on its way to a national championship, just like Ed Orgeron did in 2019, Les Miles in 2007 and Nick Saban in 2003.

And speaking of Saban, here we come to the biggest reason the LSU-Alabama/Alabama-LSU rivalry is the best.

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Saban was the guy who rebuilt the Tigers program into a program that could compete with Alabama, that could win national championships.

When Saban arrived in Baton Rouge from Michigan State in 2000, LSU had won just 6 of its previous 29 games against Alabama.

Saban immediately won his first 2 games against the Tide and 4 of 5 during his tenure. Along the way, it brought LSU its 1st national championship in 45 years.

A national championship was nice—really nice—but not that much more significant than exorcising all the ghosts of losses with Bear Bryant and finally putting LSU over Bama.

Tigers fans loved it. These are the things that create great rivalries.

And Saban’s role as hero-villain and villain-hero on both sides is what sets this rivalry apart.

A year after bringing that national championship to Baton Rouge, Saban wanted to try the NFL head coaching role and joined the Miami Dolphins. He left the Tigers in pretty good shape and they brought in Miles from Oklahoma State to build on what Saban started.

While Saban was at LSU, Alabama only had 2 winning seasons and 1 of them ended in the Independence Bowl for crying out loud.

But Saban only lasted 2 years in the NFL while Bama tired of their mediocrity.

Meanwhile, Miles’ 1st LSU team went 11-2 and ranked No. 6, and his 2nd team went 11-2 and ranked No. 3 as the Tigers built toward a national championship in Miles’ 3rd season.

So when Saban was looking for a place to land in college football, LSU was already set. Bama was not.

The Tide hired Saban. And 15 years and 6 national championships later, Tigers fans can’t help but wonder what they could have accomplished if Saban had remained their coach.

Every time Alabama beats LSU or wins a national championship or wins virtually any big game — it’s a reminder to Tigers fans of what Saban left behind and what Saban built with LSU’s biggest rival.

Saban never chose Alabama over LSU. He chose the NFL over LSU. He never had a choice between LSU and Alabama.

In fact, he famously said his biggest coaching regret was leaving LSU.

But when Saban’s NFL opportunity faded, Bama needed a coach and LSU didn’t.

In some quarters, the bitterness toward Saban appears to be as strong as it would have been had he actually dumped the Tigers for the Tide.

Alabama fans may argue that LSU had the best coach in college football (perhaps in the history of college football) and failed to keep him. And while he didn’t go straight to the Tide, he left Baton Rouge after just 5 seasons and stayed in Tuscaloosa for 16 – and counting.

LSU fans may argue that Bama got lucky with their coach only because the Tigers didn’t need a new head coach like the Tide did when Saban went looking for a return to the college ranks. And they can argue that Saban wasn’t who he became until the opportunity in Baton Rouge made him who he is.

When these teams meet for the 85th time next week, the winner will control their destiny in the quest to win the SEC West.

But there’s a lot more going on here.

It is the best.


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