Asked Wednesday morning about playing Alabama every year, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said it’s those kind of rivalry games that add to the pageantry of college football and make the sport “very, very special.”
“Obviously that game means a lot to a lot of individuals, including us — also known as ‘The Cigar Game,'” Jones said during an appearance on The Opening Drive on WJOX-FM in Birmingham, Ala.
A column written by the Knoxville News Sentinel’s John Adams last week saying Tennessee shouldn’t have to play Alabama every season sparked debate among college football fans about whether or not the SEC cross-divisional series should be renewed annually.
Tennessee hasn’t won in the Third Saturday in October rivalry since 2006, with Alabama winning the last 10 meetings by an average of 23.2 points per game.
“We talked about when we came here four years ago of getting back to being competitive and finding a way to win some of these rivalry games,” said Jones, who has led Tennessee to two straight wins over Georgia and a win over Florida last season that snapped a streak of 11 straight losses to the Gators.
“Obviously we have a tremendous amount of respect for Alabama and what coach (Nick) Saban has been able to do. They’ve kind of set the bar and the standard, not only for the SEC but I think for all of college football.”
Jones is 0-4 against Saban and the Tide. Alabama won 49-10 at Neyland Stadium last season, after a 19-14 Tennessee loss in Tuscaloosa in 2015 that came down to Tennessee’s final drive. Alabama won 34-20 in Knoxville in 2014 and 45-10 in Tuscaloosa in 2013.
“Obviously that’s a great, great rivalry for us and we take great pride in that game,” Jones said. “We’re very disappointed when we played them last year. The game before (in 2015) obviously went down to the very end in Tuscaloosa.
“It’s always a great challenge,” Jones added. “But it’s a game that it’s an honor and privilege to play in. I think it’s great for the Southeastern Conference and great for all of college football.”
Jones was given the chance to daydream as the interview ended Wednesday, when asked what his cigar of choice would be should Tennessee beat Alabama. The fifth-year head coach hasn’t thought that far ahead, though.
“You know what,” Jones said, “we just follow the process and whatever shows up shows up.”