The cities of Tuscaloosa and Knoxville have a proverbial “save the date” for the Third Saturday in October. The card has been on the fridge for generations, spanning back to 1928. Everyone who’s anyone is going to be there.
The renewal of the vows between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Tennessee Volunteers is a heated rivalry that carries as much animosity now as it did back then. Tennessee fans haven’t ruled out giving their first born child to beat the Tide. Alabama fans would rather go deaf before hearing “Rocky Top” again. There’s no love lost.
A rivalry as tense as this one means a loss can be haunting while a win can be the highlight of the season. What better way to celebrate a signature win than with a victory cigar?
The Alabama-Tennessee Cigar Tradition
The Tide and Vols first squared off in 1903. The cigars entered the picture in 1961 thanks to Alabama athletic trainer Jim Goostree. Goostree had ties to both sides of the rivalry. He graduated from Tennessee and worked under Bear Bryant at Alabama. His allegiance shifted to his employer.
Tennessee had a five-game winning streak heading into the game (the 1959 matchup was a 7-7 tie) and Goostree wanted to give ‘Bama some extra motivation. He told the players that if they beat the Vols he would dance around the locker room naked. The bet was all the Tide needed. They went out and crushed Tennessee 34-3 in Birmingham.
Goostree, ever a man of his word, upheld his end of the bet and danced with a cigar in his mouth. Players wanted to join in on the festivities and grabbed cigars, too. The cigar tradition has been a staple of the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry game for both fans and players ever since.
“It was just something that happened,” former Alabama player Hootie Ingram, who played in the 1950s, told The Tuscaloosa News. “It wasn’t any kind of organized deal. It carried over with some of the players.”
In the subsequent years, the victor had to be secretive about the cigars due to NCAA rules against tobacco products and extra benefits. Then, in 2005, Alabama went public with the tradition again and self-reported a secondary violation in honor of the tradition. The winner files a report every year and the NCAA complies without any consequence.
Although Alabama started the tradition, Tennessee wasn’t going to let them have all the fun. They joined in, too, and the Vols light up a stogie whenever the defeat the Tide. Sadly, Tennessee hasn’t had a chance to do so ever since Nick Saban took the Alabama job in 2007. The legendary coach hasn’t dropped a game to the Vols in his tenure so far.
Saban doesn’t smoke himself, but he respects the tradition whenever Alabama wins the Tennessee game and allows players to enjoy a cigar. He elaborated in 2013:
“I know it’s something that a lot of people really enjoy,” Saban said. “It’s not a tradition I started. It’s a tradition that was here that the players have continued. I think it’s something they have fun with. I’m happy that they do. Not really something that I’m interested in.”Advertisement
Many players will post pictures of the team enjoying the victory with their head coach on social media. NFL star running back and Alabama football legend Derrick Henry posted a pic with Saban during his Heisman season in 2015. Maybe the cigar kickstarted his success in the pros.
Alabama Players Who’ve Lit Up Cigars
The tradition goes beyond the Alabama border. Former Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts took part in the tradition in 2019 even though he transferred to Oklahoma.
Like Goostree, former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is another guy with ties to both sides. Jones coached Tennessee for five years and was let go at the conclusion of the 2017 season. He joined Saban’s staff in 2018 and enjoyed three victories over his former team before taking the Arkansas State head coaching job.
Sure, there are bigger college football rivalries out there. Those rivalries don’t have smoking cigars instilled in their history like Alabama and Tennessee do. The forecast over Bryant-Denny Stadium or Neyland Stadium will be cloudy come a Saturday night game during the third weekend in October.