Long Before Alabama, the South Had Sewanee

Fullback Ormond Simkins wore heavy knee braces as he battered into the line. His legs were eventually amputated below the knee because of football injuries.

When the Southeastern Conference was created in 1932, Sewanee was a charter member, even though its days of being a powerhouse were long over. Inclusion was a tribute to the 1899 Tigers, a team for which Alabama’s Saban is a worthy descendant.

Saban was the first coach in the SEC to consistently adopt a season-opening game in a neutral, big city for money and exposure when Alabama played Clemson in Atlanta in 2008. Now, marquee matchups at the start of the season are a regular occurrence across college football. Saban is also the primary fund-raiser for football facilities on campus, which are among the best nationally. He knows what Lea did — success requires money.

“There is a connection between then and now because there is a significant money element at the center of the sport, and money is an unavoidable element of the game of college football,” Register said. “To have a mighty program, and be the champions of the South, which was their real aspiration, that required money.”

Saban has been a catalyst for football programs, Clemson among them, to add layers and layers of support staff, more than a century after Sewanee added trainers. And the Crimson Tide (13-0) are as merciless as they come. They outscored opponents by 33.1 points a game this season, the biggest margin in the country. Clemson was second at 30.6.

Alabama and college football, in general, have become symbols of pride in the New South. As in 1899, Rable said, “there is still a sectional quality to the football” that has its roots in the sentiments created by the Civil War. If a team from the Southeastern Conference is throttling a team from another conference, he added, “you can hear chants of ‘SEC, SEC, SEC.’”

The ghosts of the Sewanee Tigers, nicknamed the Ironmen, would surely approve.

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