The history behind cigars and the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — If there is one thing Alabama fans are hoping for more than a win over the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday night, it’s the chance to smoke a cigar, a tradition going back decades.

“This is the one time a year that somebody will smoke a cigar with a lot of people and this is the weekend that they do it,” said Reagan Starner, owner of R&R Cigars told CBS 42 back in 2015.

The rivalry between Alabama and Tennessee is better known among fans as the “Third Saturday in October” and has been going on since 1901. Currently, Alabama leads the rivalry 57–37–8. However, the tradition of the winning team and its fans smoking cigars has only been going on the last 60 years.

The cigar tradition mostly started with Jim Goostree, a Tennessee alumnus who served as the athletic trainer at Alabama for 27 years. The common story repeated by many is that leading up the 1961 match, Goostree told players he would dance around naked in the locker room if the Crimson Tide won.

The team ended up trampling the Volunteers 34-3. From there, a storied tradition was born.

“Goostree danced while smoking a cigar,” according to a 2017 piece in The Tuscaloosa News. “Players wanted a cigar to celebrate, too.”

Although there is no smoking allowed either in Bryant-Denny Stadium or the locker rooms, that has not stopped both players and fans from lighting up a stogie.

“It’s fun,” Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said about the tradition during a press conference earlier this week. “It’s just hard for me to breathe because it’s not an environment you want anyone in after you win a game.”

Even Tennessee fans get to enjoy the tradition, even though the last time the Volunteers beat Alabama was in 2006. This year, one Tennessee fan is hoping for a win so he can pull out one of his last remaining Cuban cigars he got during a trip to Mexico in 1998.

“Right now, I’ll settle for an SEC championship or a division championship,” Chuck Hickey told the Knoxville News Sentinel Friday. “I think I’d pull one out for the Alabama game, for sure.”

Although Alabama is favored to win Saturday, the tradition is something both sides have come to appreciate more and more with each generation.

“When we came here it was an educational process of trying to educate our players of what it means, from the date in October to cigars to everything that goes into it, everything that’s been associated with it, and then getting back to making the rivalry relevant again,” former Tennessee had coach Butch Jones told The Tuscaloosa News back in 2017. “This rivalry means so many things to so many people.”

Kickoff is at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.

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