- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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They're games that have enough history, pageantry and tradition to fill volumes of books. That's why it just wouldn't be rivalry week without the SEC.
An era is ending this week when Tennessee hosts Kentucky. Can Phil Fulmer end his career with the Vols undefeated against the Wildcats? Alabama has lost six straight to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. A win over a reeling Tigers team would be the perfect feather in the Crimson Tide's undefeated cap. And while there may not be conference championship or BCS implications on the line when Ole Miss and Mississippi State meet, you can be sure the Rebels want to rectify last season's fourth-quarter collapse in the Egg Bowl.
Here's a closer look at the SEC's three key rivalry games this week.
It's a rivalry that is played out 365 days a year in the state of Alabama.
Families are divided. Best friends are divided, even spouses.
Mike DuBose, the former Alabama player and coach, described it best in the book "A War in Dixie."
"It's the kind of game I didn't enjoy playing in. The game is never over. You keep repeating it and repeating it and repeating it. It's never over until you play it again next year."
Or that next week when fans on both sides crank up the vigorous and often heated debate from the previous Saturday.
Alabama versus Auburn is a way of life in the state of Alabama. Nicknamed the Iron Bowl, the game was played for much of the 20th century in Birmingham at Legion Field. Birmingham's reputation as a center for iron and steel production led to the nickname.
The first game in the series played at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium was in 1989 and a memorable one at that. Alabama was ranked No. 2 in the country and unbeaten coming into the game, but Auburn won 30-20.
Alabama leads the overall series 38-33-1, but Auburn has won the last six. Just in case the Alabama fans lost count, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville left the field a year ago after the Tigers' 17-10 win holding up six fingers.
And this summer, he reportedly flashed seven fingers after visiting U.S. troops in the Middle East and playing a little flag football.
Tuberville could sure use a seventh straight win Saturday over an unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Alabama team that has visions of playing for the national championship. It's been a forgettable season for the Tigers, and much of the storyline on the Plains has revolved around whether Tuberville would be able to keep his job.
Upsetting Alabama certainly wouldn't hurt his chances.
Legends are born in this game, whether it's Ken Stabler's Run in the Mud in 1967 or Bo Jackson's going over the top of the pile for the winning touchdown in 1982.
Football fans in Alabama remember what you do in the Iron Bowl. And while it may not be life-or-death, it's the next closest thing.
Mississippi State-Ole Miss
Just its name stirs curiosity.
Over the years, the "Battle for the Golden Egg" has been shortened to the "Egg Bowl."
And if you don't think Ole Miss versus Mississippi State means something to the folks in the state of Mississippi, consider how the rivalry got its nickname.
In 1927, student leaders came up with the idea to award a trophy to the winning team in the hope that it would help put an end to some of the fighting among fans. The trophy had a large football-shaped brass object mounted on a wooden base.
The brass football actually looked more like an egg. Hence, the Egg Bowl.
Rarely has a conference championship been at stake, and rarely have there been national implications, at least not lately, but the fervor on both sides has made this one of the South's most bitter rivalries.
Over the last two decades, it's been pretty even: Ole Miss has won 11 games, Mississippi State nine.
The Rebels, though, lead the all-time series 59-39-6. The first game between the teams was played in 1901, and in the early years, it was played all over the state: Oxford, Starkville, Columbus, Jackson, Greenwood, Clarksdale, Tupelo.
From 1973 to 1990, the game was played every year in Jackson. But since 1991, it has been rotated each year from Oxford to Starkville as the stadiums on both campuses grew large enough to accommodate the crowds.
One of the more memorable games in recent years was last season's, when Mississippi State scored 17 points in the final 7:51 to rally for a 17-14 win and secured a berth in the Liberty Bowl. Afterward, coach Sylvester Croom made a lap around Scott Field carrying the giant Mississippi State flag.
There was the giant brawl prior to the game in 1997, a game won by Ole Miss when Tommy Tuberville elected to go for the two-point conversion instead of playing for overtime.
In 1983, Ole Miss survived 24-23 when a huge gust of wind knocked back the 27-yard field goal attempt of Mississippi State freshman kicker Artie Cosby just short of the crossbar with 24 seconds remaining.
Both of Mississippi State's wins in 1976 and 1977 later had to be forfeited after the NCAA ruled that the Bulldogs had used an ineligible player.
And Mississippi State's first SEC championship came after defeating Ole Miss 6-0 in the 1941 Egg Bowl.
It was once known as the Battle for the Beer Barrel. Half of the symbolic barrel was painted blue and the other half orange.
Really, it's the only thing that has stood out about the Kentucky-Tennessee rivalry for much of the last quarter-century. The Vols have won 23 straight games in the series and haven't lost to the Wildcats since 1984.
The beer barrel was discontinued as the rivalry's unofficial trophy in 1998 after a member of Kentucky's football team was killed in an alcohol-related car accident weeks before the game.
Tennessee leads the all-time series 71-23-9 and has won 39 of the last 43 meetings going back to 1965.
Phillip Fulmer is coaching his final game against Kentucky on Saturday in Neyland Stadium. He's 15-0 against the Wildcats during his head-coaching tenure.
Losing 23 in a row has been hard enough to stomach for Kentucky. But some of the recent losses have been especially gut-wrenching.
One way or another, the Vols have always seemed to find a way to win. In some cases, it's almost as if the Wildcats have been cursed.
Last season, Tennessee prevailed 52-50 in four overtimes after Kentucky made a huge comeback in regulation. The Wildcats had a chance to win the game in regulation, but quarterback Andre Woodson dropped a shotgun snap at the 1-yard line and missed a wide-open Keenan Burton in the end zone. The Wildcats had to kick a field goal with one second remaining to force overtime.
The Vols' winning streak in the series has spanned five Kentucky head coaches.
Rich Brooks, in his sixth season at Kentucky, has seen heartbreak in each of the last two seasons. In 2006, the Wildcats had the ball second-and-goal at the Vols' 3-yard line in the final minutes but were hit with a delay of game penalty. They couldn't get the ball into the end zone on their next two plays and lost 17-12.
Kentucky's best stretch during this series in recent times was from 1976 to 1984, when the Wildcats won four of the nine games.
And from 1952 to 1964, Kentucky was 8-3-2 against Tennessee. Bear Bryant was the Wildcats' coach in 1952 when they played the Vols to a 14-14 tie. His last season in Lexington was in 1953, when Kentucky beat Tennessee 27-21.
Over the next several years, Bryant would continue to beat up on Tennessee. But unfortunately for Kentucky, it was somewhere else: He took over at Alabama in 1958.
Chris Low is ESPN.com's SEC football blogger. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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