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Bitter rivalry makes winning that much sweeter

POSTED: November 6, 2013 9:00 a.m.

Ah, rivalry games, the bread and butter of athletic competition.

Every rivalry is different, and every rivalry is steeped in tradition and history. After all, history is what makes a rivalry exist at all.

If not for history, then you’re just playing another game.

In just a few days, Winder-Barrow and Apalachee will renew their storied rivalry for supremacy in Barrow County football. While the records are grim and neither team will be leaving this season with delusions of grandeur, winning one last game against a hated rival could be just what they need to at least stomach the season that was.

The real beauty of rivalry is that you have to live with the results for a whole year to come, or a few years to come in some cases.

As a Georgia fan, one of my most hated rivals is the Florida Gators. I loathe the reptilian scum. I abhor the jean-shorted ones. I hate them. They’re a rival.

For an awful stretch of 20 years, Georgia fans had to live with annual disappointment at losing the unmentionably named contest in Jacksonville. For the short stretch of time I have been involved in this rivalry, I can tell you how much I hated leaving Jacksonville with a loss.

My first experience in Jacksonville was 2007, one of the good years. That was the year of the infamous dance in the end zone that propelled Georgia to a number two ranking at season’s end. It was a glorious occasion.

Side note, one of my favorite memories was going to a theme park in central Florida with my family that Thanksgiving. When I got out of the car proudly wearing my “Beat Florida” shirt, an entire family decked out in orange and blue got out of the truck by us in the parking lot. One poor little girl, who was trying so hard to practice her reading skills, read my shirt and dropped her head in visible discomfort. Yes, I am a sadist.

I fortunately missed the 2008 beatdown, but I was there in 2009 when we were similarly handed our posterior selves in defeat. As terrible as it was leaving the stadium amidst a crowd of orange and blue troglodytes, celebrating their idols Timmy Tebow and Urban Meyer, the worst of it always came later. The worst of it came weeks or months later when I would see a sticker on someone’s car or I’d see a kid wearing a sweatshirt. I was the little girl reading someone else’s victory t-shirt (maybe don’t spend too much time thinking about this analogy).

It was a constant reminder that we had lost that ever-important contest.

The same thing happened in 2010 when we lost in overtime after Aaron Murray’s interception was nearly returned for a touchdown.

It was another year of dreading traffic where some Neanderthal with poor fashion sense would merge into your lane with that Florida emblem on their license plate. It was another year where that cloud would linger over us like a pall.

But then came the sun.

In 2011, I was there for the comeback of the year when Richard Samuels IV filled in for the all-too-unreliable Isaiah Crowell and literally gave his own body to beat the Gators. Then again I was present for the 2012 edition where Jarvis Jones saved our season by forcing a fumble to seal the game and send us to the SEC championship game for the second straight year.

I’m still not ready to talk about that game, but let’s focus on the matter at hand.

I stayed home this year, spending a Saturday with my wife and friends, but we reveled in the win and will continue to revel in that win for another 360 days or so. That is the incredible beauty of rivalry. It isn’t about what happens on the one night of the year where your team is tested and your mettle checked.

Rivalry is about what happens for the next 52 weeks when opposing fans will gloat or cower at the sight of their foes. Rivalry is about getting to rub dirt in your enemy's face as they have no recourse but to take it, simply because your team beat theirs.

I am not foolish enough to think that my Dawgs will beat Florida every year. I know things will change. College football is a fickle and cyclical mistress, and favor will inevitably swing back Florida’s way. When that day comes, I will take my lumps and endure the misery like a good fan, mostly because I know I have similarly enjoyed doling it out for the last two, now three years.

Winder-Barrow fans know exactly what I mean when I talk about lean years in a major rivalry. The Bulldoggs have fallen to the Wildcats of Apalachee in five straight football games. Two classes have started and graduated high school without knowing what it means to defeat that cross-town rival.

What makes a rivalry like this one so unique is that you all live in the same towns and go to the same churches and eat at the same restaurants. Sure, there are college fans who have the same problem, but this is your town. These are your teams. There is no border or separation here. Apalachee is in the county their rival is named after, and some of those students and fans share an address with the city that the rival is named after.

I grew up in Dacula, and our biggest rivals were schools like Parkview and Brookwood and Collins Hill (yuck). Of course, my last two years at Dacula introduced a new rival to the scene: Mill Creek.

Mill Creek was difficult for me because some of my best and closest friends were at Mill Creek. My eventual best man went to Mill Creek. But as close friends as we were, there was a certain thrill in that occasional detestation. There still is as we talk about football between our old schools.

That is what rivalry does. It gives close friends a reason to tear at each other’s throats, and it gives bitter enemies just another reason to be bitter enemies.

This week’s Battle of Barrow will be no different, as one team or another will come away the winner of a very important game. To the winner I say this: be kind to your fallen opponents and remember that the greatest victory cheer is the one you don’t even have to yell, for it rings loud and true in your enemy’s ear.

In all that Sun Tzu speak, I am essentially saying that wearing your favorite team t-shirt will be enough to burn up your enemy’s insides.

To the loser I simply offer this one condolence. There’s always next year.

 

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