Arts & Culture

A Former SEC Football Player’s Guide to Not Watching Tonight’s Big Game

Novelist Ace Atkins, a member of Auburn’s undefeated 1993 team, on college football rivalries and alternative game-night entertainment

Atkins on the cover of a special edition of Sports Illustrated commemorating Auburn's 1993 season.

Before we go any further, let me get one thing straight: As a former Auburn football player, I do not harbor any hate for the Alabama football team (although I can’t say the same for its fans). Truly. The ESPN myth conjurers—who love nothing more than a three-legged momma story—want you to believe the in-state rivalry ranks somewhere between the Civil War and the Battle of Jericho. But I promise you that most ex-players have nothing but respect for anyone who plays for the team in Tuscaloosa. Many college athletes—even rivals—know each other, have a friendship, and appreciate the sacrifices and dedication it takes to play at that level.

Ace Atkins.

However, as much as I’d like to tell you that I’ll be sitting down on Monday night with a cold beer and a bag of Doritos to cheer on a big ole SEC super spectacular on the national stage, I cannot. I have absolutely no intention of watching the Bulldogs square off against the Tide. Truth be known, and no disrespect to those in Georgia, watching Alabama play for the National Championship is like watching Rocky IV for the hundredth time and wondering if Apollo Creed will finally prevail against Ivan Drago. Hats off to Nick Saban for creating a machine that could compete with most NFL franchises. Game after game. Year after year. 

I think I’ve seen this picture before.

So while most of my fellow Southerners will be glued to the action in Indianapolis, I’ll be seeking other options for Monday night entertainment. Even when I played football, I spent most of my downtime watching classic movies and devouring books. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why I made the decision not to follow some of my teammates or my father, a thirty-plus-year NFL employee, into the world of coaching. I’d much rather study the work of Hitchcock or Welles than the thick NFL playbooks my dad used to consume. 

Who’s with me? Not many. No worries. But the rest will thank me. Let’s start off with the stellar lineup of pre-code classics on Turner Classic Movies on Monday night. Mandalay (’34), One Way Passage (’32), and British Agent (’34). I’ll take the verbal acrobatics of William Powell a thousand times over watching Bryce Young scramble in the pocket only to throw touchdown after touchdown. How could you pass up Powell in a story described as “A debonair killer facing execution and a terminally ill socialite fall in love while crossing the Pacific”? And what about that Kay Francis, the lead in all three films! An imposing 5-foot-9-inch lanky brunette with a wicked jaw, Francis became one of the top players at Warner Brothers in the ’30s. Some might even call her the go-to linebacker of early Hollywood. Others might even call the Warner Brothers hit machine the Alabama football of golden-age Hollywood.

Who are those people? Well, pretty much just me.

While I’m at it, and it’s morning and I promise I am not drinking, I’ll go ahead and compare the great Michael Curtiz, director of both Mandalay and British Agent, as classic Hollywood’s Nick Saban. After all, what else is a director but a coach? And great actors can only see their full potential with a great director tying it all together. Just a reminder, but the Hungary-born Curtiz directed a little film called Casablanca, possibly the greatest movie of all time. Not to mention Robin Hood, Mildred Pierce, and even Elvis Presley in by far his most ambitious movie, King Creole! The man made Elvis a great actor.

So if you’re looking for Excitement, Thrills, and Danger, there are alternatives to the big game Monday night. Gunrunners, prostitution, and murder in Mandalay. Death, secrets, and love in One Way Passage. And double crosses and intrigue during the Russian Revolution in British Agent. Who doesn’t want to see the big showdown between the White and Red armies?

But what about the kids? Well, what kid doesn’t want to see Warner Oland, Charlie Chan himself, as a murderous pimp in Mandalay? Or how about versatile character actor J. Carrol Nash as Trotsky in British Agent! Kids love Trotsky stories.

And don’t fret about the snacks. I’ll have copious amounts of bourbon and popcorn on hand for Monday night. Maybe even some M&Ms and Milk Duds. After all, it may be life and death for some, but for me, it’s all just good old-fashioned entertainment. Roll ‘em.