Tony Barnhart, an analyst for the SEC Network, is one of the best journalists in the Southeastern Conference and he just happens to be a graduate of the University of Georgia.
Barnhart is not prone to hyperbole. So, when he talks about Mobile native Nick Fairley changing the entire complexion of the Deep South’s Oldest Football Rivalry, a rivalry that dates back 127 years, then it’s worth considering.
Barnhart said that Fairley’s dominating and vicious treatment of Georgia all-star quarterback Aaron Murray in 2010 changed the nature of the rivalry from competitive but friendly to bitter and hated.
“That game in 2010 and those hits that Nick Fairley put on Aaron Murray, hits that Georgia fans believe were dirty, completely changed that game,” Barnhart told me at SEC Media Days in Hoover last week. “Auburn and Georgia used to be a friendly rivalry with respect on both sides. It’s not that way anymore. And that dates back to that 2010 game.”
Barnhart isn’t the only one who remembers that 2010 game as a turning point in the Auburn–Georgia rivalry. Murray was also at SEC Media Days, and it’s safe to say he hasn’t forgotten his first visit to Jordan–Hare Stadium as a player.
“If he did that outside the football field, he’d have been in jail for three years,” Murray said of Fairley on WJOX-FM in Birmingham. “That was actually the first time in my life I was like ‘I don’t know if I want to play football anymore.’ I’m not kidding either. I was on the sideline, and I had six stitches, my jersey’s covered in blood, I had a fractured sternum and can’t feel the left side of my body. I got whiplash in my neck, and I can’t really move my neck. I was like, ‘Is this really worth it? It’s my freshman year, I can quit now and save myself a lot of punishment.’
“I had to sit up sleeping the next two weeks. I couldn’t even lay down. It was tough.”
Murray went on to describe what happened in the aftermath of him being injured. The story is entertaining, even if it does stretch the limits of credulity.
“Ben Jones ripped the dreads off the middle linebacker’s head,” Murray said of his offensive lineman. “I’m in the huddle and have a fractured sternum. Ben hands me the dreads in the middle of the huddle. I’m like, ‘Ben, what do you want me to do with these?’ I have to call a play in like 10 seconds. So, he sticks them in his pants, and then, at his house in Athens, he attached it to the ceiling fan.”
I’m not sure about the dreadlocks and the ceiling fan, but it’s a colorful story. It’s one of many connected to the Auburn–Georgia rivalry. Round 123 will be back in Jordan–Hare Stadium in November.
A star by any other name
I had time for only one question for Auburn’s star offensive tackle before he boarded a seven-seater plane (that could transport only five people because of the size of the travelers) and headed home from Hoover and the SEC Media Days.
I wanted the star player from Delta State, Nigeria, to clear up the pronunciation of his name once and for all. “Prince Tega Wanogho Jr.,” he said. Yeah, three of those I never had questioned. The last name, he against pronounced slowly, is Wuh-NO-GO. It’s like if a defensive end tries to get around the 6-foot-7 senior with the 7-foot wingspan. It’s usually going to be a no go.
Just hours earlier I had heard a fourth, different pronunciation from someone associated with the Auburn program. So, it’s good to finally clear that up before his final season with the Tigers on his way to the NFL.
The Wanogho name confusion comes just one year after former Vigor star Deshaun Davis completed his Auburn career. Despite being named All-SEC while establishing himself as one of the most popular players in Auburn history, Davis played his entire college career being known as Duh-sean, instead of his actual name of DAY-sean.
This phenomenon of football players being called by the wrong name goes back decades. The Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Pittsburgh was Tony Door-set. Only after he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys did he decided to inform the world that his name was Tony DOOR-set.
Going back even further is the curious case of Joe Theismann, pronounced THEES-man until he and the Sports Information Director at Notre Dame thought it would be great for his career if his name rhymed with Heisman. Alas, Theismann still finished second to Stanford’s Jim Plunkett in the 1970 voting.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station. Follow him on Twitter: @Kennedy_Randy
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