"Say it ain’t so." The Oxford-Auburn Thanksgiving Day football game is over. The holiday football tradition between the two neighboring schools is over after 41 years of turkey, cranberry sauce, Drury Square, and the Yankee Doodle Dandies.
The Oxford Pirates told Auburn bon voyage last Friday as WGFP’s Matt Morway became the first responder of this untimely death of a one sided football series. "It’s always hard to see a long tradition end. By the numbers, Oxford athletic director John Doldooorian did what he thought was best for the kids at Oxford.
My biggest hope now is that the Auburn kids get a Thanksgiving Day opponent. They deserve one. Auburn athletic director Bill Garneau is a very good man. He is always good to me. He will find someone for his student athletes to compete with. "I wish both sets of kids much success," said the radio voice of high school sports in the South County over the past 27 years. Oxford based their decision and hung their hat on the safety issue of their athletes (low numbers on the roster) who competed on the most important day in high school sports. Oxford is very thin on the number of participants who play football according to Doldoorian.
Thanksgiving Day, my friends, is all about pomp and circumstance and most of all pride and tradition. Scores and series standings do not count on Thanksgiving Day. "Throw the records out on turkey day," they say. However, safety is the key element that will keep Oxford off the hook on this decision as they keep pointing at the scores over the past 41 years. The safety card that Oxford will play throughout this untimely controversial move is correct in the big picture. However, the flashlight of common sense and ethics is shining on both Oxford and Sutton today. Both schools should have made Auburn part of their decision. You cannot argue with the safety issue with kids. End of story. I don’t care what the series standings are in this rivalry because I looked at the scores over the 41 years these rivals played. Auburn leads the series 33-8, but 15 of those games won by Auburn were by a touchdown or less. If Oxford won 10 of those games, the series would stand in favor of Auburn 23-18. Now that’s a pretty good rivalry. That’s why scores and series standings never tell the whole story. Safety trumps everything. Always does and always did. Safety first.
Since we established safety as the priority for dropping this series, let’s get to the timing of these 41 years. Paul "the Bear" Brissette started this series when he became the very first football coach at Oxford High in 1968. The Pirates played a junior varsity schedule in 1968, 1969, and 1970 before they became a varsity team in 1971 and played Auburn on Thanksgiving Day 1971 for the first time and lost 10-6. Oxford athletic director Ernie Boss was also instrumental in starting the series. 41 years have come and gone and Oxford made the decision to severe its ties with Auburn and schedule Sutton as their holiday date for 2013. Sutton has never played a football game ever. They never warmed up in the endzone. Please remember the safety issue of a first year team trying to play on the varsity level.Oxford has 41 years of football under their belts and went through 36 serious months before they made the leap to varsity football. That’s 44 years of football. Now for etiquette, Sutton doesn’t skate through this as an innocent bystander. The Sammies needed to communicate with Auburn in the spirit of sportsmanship. The Sammies did the end around on Auburn. How did Sutton get talked into this football triangle? Did Sutton make a courtesy call to Auburn and ask them if all was on the up and up with Oxford regarding their 41 year relationship on Thanksgiving Day? Sutton doesn’t seem too concerned about safety issues in the same regard as Oxford. Maybe Sutton has the remakings of the "four horsemen" up there on Central Turnpike and are confident they will be playoff bound in their first year of football in 2013.
41 is not a lucky number for Auburn. Shepherd Hill stopped Auburn’s state record winning streak at 41 games in 2012 and now Oxford drops them after 41 years for a team that has never kicked off or moved the chains for a first down. The timing issue fascinates me on how fast Sutton said "yes" to Oxford’s invite. Oxford played the Dandies for a lot of years and now they get to play the Sammies. I can’t make these thing up. My curiosity is peaked by the fact that Auburn said no to two possible Thanksgiving Day opponents two years ago because Oxford would be left without a Thanksgiving Day partner. Auburn considered Oxford’s position before closing out the 41 year rivalry and took a wait and see approach. Auburn feels Oxford should have shown the same courtesy before they signed a contract with Sutton. This whole situation has a very uneasy feeling to it.
By the way, I always said that Oxford’s football schedule never gave the program a chance to rebuild or reload. Auburn was not the villain on Oxford’s schedule over the past 10 years. The MIAA threw Oxford to the wolves. The Pirates were behind the eight ball constantly. They were always over-scheduled the past 10 years. Auburn is only one tenth of the problem, but the Oxford kids liked playing Auburn. It was a tradition. Auburn was very sensitive and paid attention to Oxford’s football woes over the past 10 years. Auburn was never malicious and was an outstanding rival on Thanksgiving morning. Let’s tip our hats to Auburn for having the wisdom and the awareness of Oxford’s situation.
I find it hard to believe that this really happened without 3 way conference calls with the 3 schools involved. Auburn got penalized on this one because of their recent history. I have taken shots at Auburn in the past, but I can honestly say they were left out in the cold on this decision. Should the Oxford-Auburn football series end because of the directions that both schools are taking? Maybe. Lack of communication and punishing Auburn for running a first class program over the last decade has no place in the spirit of competition. The solution to this unfortunate mishap is for the powers at the 3 schools to get together and have Sutton and Oxford play the week before Thanksgiving until Auburn finds an opponent to take Oxford’s place on Thanksgiving Day. As they say in the Nike ad, "Just do it!"