There's nothing like a good grudge. Over the years, those fans living south of Messrs. Mason and Dixon's line have perfected the art of never forgetting even the most minor slight. It's a way of life in some locales.
In the SEC, events on or off the playing field often carry over into everyday life, all part of the rivalries, some ancient, dating more than 100 years, along with others of more recent occurrence.
There are figurative and literal lines drawn in the sand between seemingly rational and reasonable people, people who take the proceedings seriously.
Historically, Tennessee has had its hotly debated moments fans have never forgotten. Consider the missed field goal at the south against Alabama in the rain in 1966. Was it good or not? Charles W. Bowen, the referee that day, waved it off, and that settled that.
Then there was the supposed completion to Jabar Gaffney that gave Florida a 27-23 win in 2000.
Both moments of controversy were followed by key wins the next year against the same opponents, with these supposedly negative events used as motivation.
Consider the afternoon the heavens opened over Neyland Stadium during the 1973 Auburn game, Tennessee leading 13-0 in a game the Vols eventually won 21-0.
Whenever Tennessee got the ball in the monsoon, Vol head coach Bill Battle, acting on advice from Gen. Neyland's playbook, kept kicking the ball back, letting Auburn handle the slippery pigskin. That somehow offended the visitors, and they weren't happy again until the next year's game on the Plains was history.
The score that day, at a much drier Cliff Hare Stadium, was also 21-0, but that was just a coincidence.
For a year, Florida players and partisans quietly endured the "excessive celebration" penalty Georgia incurred early in the 2007 game and the resulting loss to the Bulldogs. In 2008, Urban Meyer, his team leading comfortably in the final minutes, somehow found the presence of mind to call a couple of timeouts.
It was nothing personal, mind you. The post-game commentary between Meyer and Mark Richt had to have been priceless.
When LSU ran two pass plays in four seconds against Ole Miss in 1972 to win 17-16, there was a sign on the Mississippi side of the border with Louisiana that read: "You are now entering Louisiana. Please set your watch back four seconds."
Ole Miss had a creative response to the game's outcome, the authors of the 1973 Rebel football guide listing the final score "Mississippi 16, LSU 10 + 7."
The Kentucky folks will never forget the ending of the 2002 LSU game. With but a couple of ticks left on the clock, the entire Commonwealth seemed poised to celebrate an upset win over the Tigers, including the team dumping Gatorade on head coach Guy Morriss.
As the game ended, LSU completed one of those Hail Mary passes for a score that shocked everyone in blue.
Someone in the Kentucky press corps headlined the frantic finish "Christian Laettner in Cleats," referencing the game-winning shot in the East Regional Finals at the Meadowlands in 1992, one that also sent the Commonwealth into collective apoplexy and Duke into the Final Four.
Here's a lesson for the ages. Everything in the Commonwealth, even the bad moments, has a parallel in basketball.
In the 1972 Iron Bowl, Auburn had the "Punt, 'Bama, Punt" win. That was the day Bill Newton blocked two punts, and David Langner returned both for scores, on plays that looked identical.
Alabama won the next year, and the next year, and the next year, not losing again until 1982, a year after Pat Dye became head coach on the Plains.
Arkansas lost the 1971 Liberty Bowl game against Tennessee, 14-13, when someone in the line was detected holding on a successful field-goal attempt and the Vols later recovered what appeared to be a phantom fumble to set up the game-winner. In 1992, Arkansas won in Knoxville, 25-24, when a first-down run by Heath Shuler was nullified by a holding call and the Vols couldn't handle an onsides kick moments later.
Here's another lesson. The "make-up" call sometimes takes a while to arrive.
Then there was the line tossed out in North Carolina that brandished the name of the Deity. "If God isn't a Tar Heel, they why is the sky Carolina blue?" say North Carolina boosters. The response from everybody else is, "If God is a Tar Heel, it's the only mistake He ever made."
Here's a bit of perspective about all this wondrous stuff surrounding the game. When your side does it, it's part of the ambience and camaraderie of the game, but, alas, when the other side does likewise, it's often perceived as poor sportsmanship, being a "poor winner."
We all understand that, don't we?
Tom Mattingly is the author of "The Tennessee Football Vault: The Story of the Tennessee Volunteers, 1891-2006" (2006), to be published in second edition in 2009, and "Tennessee Football: The Peyton Manning Years" (1998). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His News Sentinel blog is called "The Vol Historian."