“We started dating in February and in April my son was getting ready for spring ball,” said Richey, an Oxford resident and lifelong Alabama Crimson Tide fan. “She started talking about Auburn football, and I said, ‘whoa, whoa, we don’t talk about that around here.’”
By then, it was too late, Richey said. They were already in love.
“I probably wouldn’t have married her if I knew she was an Auburn fan,” he said with a laugh.
In Alabama, where football is sometimes described as a religion, folks often pledge loyalty to Alabama or Auburn at an early age, learning to say the prayers of “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle” while worshipping at the altar of Bear Bryant or Shug Jordan. Couples marrying along divided sides often find themselves in a strange position in late November when the two powerhouse college football teams square off in the Iron Bowl.
“We try to watch it on neutral ground so nobody gets their feelings hurt,” said Oxford resident and Alabama fan Ben Padgett, who married his high school sweetheart, Jackaline, 23 years ago despite being an Auburn fan. “Auburn beat us six years in a row once, so that was rough, but things have been a lot more quiet around the house the last couple years.”
Unlike Richey, Oxford resident Greg Smith knew his wife, Cheryl, was an Auburn fan the minute he met her on a blind date in Birmingham. In 2005, the Smiths, by then newly married, attended their first — and last — Iron Bowl in Auburn, when Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle was sacked 11 times in a 28-18 Auburn victory.
“So that wasn’t a very good date,” Smith said with a laugh. “I didn’t have a lot of fun.”
Since then the couple have decided to stay at home for the game, typically enjoying the Iron Bowl alone, away from other fans who might get under their skin. That includes even Greg’s own family, who have a tendency to cheer pretty hard for the Crimson Tide.
“This year we’re actually all going to the beach,” he said. “When the game starts, Cheryl and I are going to the bar by ourselves to watch the game.”
Staying away from the more rambunctious football fans in the family tends to be policy for mixed football couples. Richey said that after spending one Iron Bowl with his wife’s family in Troy, the couple decided it was best to watch the game apart; Richey with his son in Oxford, and Artisha with her family down south.
Splitting up the family can be tough, though, when children are involved. Jackaline Padgett said she’s always outnumbered at the Iron Bowl thanks to her two sons choosing early on to be like their dad come football season, wearing crimson instead of orange.
“We decided the first one would be Alabama, and the second would be Auburn,” Jackaline said. “But early on the youngest one said he was going to be Alabama too, so that was that.”
Typically it doesn’t matter if football fans raise their kids to scream “War Eagle” or “Roll Tide.” They tend to make up their own mind one way or the other. Richey said he got a scare earlier this year when his son, Kenyan Richey, a defensive tackle for Oxford High School, was potentially being recruited by Auburn.
“That was painful,” Richey said. “He still doesn’t know where he’s going to school, I just hope it isn’t Auburn.”
Richey said he doesn’t hate Auburn, and as a “traditionalist” football fan, he said he enjoys SEC football all around. The Padgetts, meanwhile, have said they found common ground in their dislike for all the other SEC teams, most notably Tennessee. And Greg Smith said when Alabama isn’t playing Auburn, he’s been known to say “War Eagle.”
If there’s one thing Alabama and Auburn fans can agree on Saturday during the Iron Bowl, it’s that the state has put together two pretty good football teams the last several years.
“Me and my wife both know the national championship is coming through Alabama,” Ben Padgett said. “It’s either going to be Auburn or Tuscaloosa.”
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.