Rules Be Damned: Somebody (Probably Alabama) is Smoking a Cigar Again This Saturday
The 3rd Saturday in October means Tennessee vs. Alabama football. Until the sad slide of Tennessee’s program this century into below mediocrity this was one of the best rivalries in college football. Two storied programs with rich history often at the top of the Southeastern Conference playing a game with conference, if not national, title implications. And the winner gets to light up a cigar. Right there in the stadium, breaking God knows how many rules. Oh yeah and fans get in on the act as well. Even if you don’t like college football or these programs are your bitter rivals (yeah you, Florida, Georgia, Big Ten Country, etc.), if you’re a cigar aficionado, you can’t help but smile, even begrudgingly at this wonderful tradition.
About the time the game is put away, meaning the winner is clear (and save the jokes about Alabama fans starting this year before kickoff…), fans inside the stadium will start lighting up cigars. Yes, right there in the stadium. Fans not lucky enough to be inside Bryant-Denny Stadium (Alabama) or Neyland Stadium (Tennessee) will light up in the parking lot where they were tailgating, in the local sports bar, at home or even thousands of miles away. Great pics from last year’s game
What Kind of Cigars are they Smoking After the Alabama vs. Tennessee Game?
For the fans it is a little bit of everything. From great stuff that has been proudly aging in the humidor all year to everyday sticks from the local B&M to absolute crap (think Swishers). Remember most of these tradition participants aren’t regular smokers and for many it is the only stick they smoke all year. Shop owners in Alabama report a 30% increase in sales the week of the game.
How Did This All Start? History of the Alabama/Tennessee Cigar Tradition
In 1961 Jim Goostree, then an Alabama athletic trainer, and University of Tennessee Alum, promised the Tide players if they won, snapping a six game losing streak in the rivalry, he’d dance naked in the locker room. Well not only did the Tide win, but Ol’ Jim did in fact dance. Fortunately this is 1961 and they didn’t have iPhones, Youtube, or Facebook and there is no video footage of Jim in his birthday suit. But apparently during his naked dance, he also lit a cigar. And the players wanted a cigar, too. Boom…a tradition was born.
The tradition went on for years then took some breaks amid political correctness on campus. Then in 2005 somebody at Alabama said F&^% It! and the tradition was rekindled, with the Alabama athletic department self-reporting to the NCAA a minor violation.
Does Nick Saban Partake?
Just How Many Rules/Laws Does This Violate?
For starters, since 2015 the entire University of Alabama campus, including the Stadium, is a smokefree environment. So all the players, staff, fans etc. are breaking a law that is a minor criminal offense and any other day of the year would result in a citation and a fine.
The NCAA expressly prohibits the use of tobacco products by any player, coach, member of athletic personnel etc.
The actual cigar itself that is given to a player is an “impermissible benefit” that could subject the player to all kinds of trouble including loss of scholarship, forfeited games, ineligibility etc. Even though the cigar seems like a small thing ($10-20 value?), players have gotten penalized for taking less (USC and Ohio State fans am I wrong?).
But on this one day in October, the normally rule-based NCAA does something is rarely does: it exercises common sense. Nobody is being hurt by this tradition. It’s fun. The fanbases enjoy it.
Bringing It Together
There are so many wonderful things about cigars and football. This is certainly one of them. Cigars really are about relationships and the relationships that are strengthened over a shared cigar. The winners of this athletic contest will tell their grandchildren about the three to five 3rd Saturdays in October they got to be a part of and the ones that involve a cigar will be much better ones about which to reminisce.