They call this week’s “rivalry” game between Central High and Smiths Station High “The Backyard Brawl.” In truth, there has not been a game worthy of that title since the 20th century came to an end and it will not be one again until who knows when?
Central High has won the last nine Backyard Brawls in a row. That is nine senior classes of Red Devils who have not known the bitterness of a loss to their rival school just up Old Opelika Road and nine consecutive classes of Panthers who have never known the taste of victory in the series.
Back when this game began in 1992, it was exciting to watch. Fans filled Garrett-Harrison Stadium to overflow capacity. The games were close. Central won the first one 10-0 and the second one 18-13.
Smiths Station got its first victory in the game in 1994 with a 7-6 victory decided by an extra-point kick by Tripp Henderson.
The two teams split the next two games with Central beating Smiths Station 21-7 and then the Panthers beat the Red Devils for the second time 7-6.
Central won the next two games 21-7 and 10-0 before Smiths Station managed a 17-13 victory. Central began a string of six consecutive victories at the close of the 20th century with a 31-3 win. Central led The Backyard Brawl series 6-3. And that folks was the end of the brawl.
Central opened the 21st century with five consecutive victories over Smiths Station. Central outscored Smiths Station 174-34 during that stretch of games from 2001 to 2005. Central led the series 11-3.
The Panthers won two of the next three meetings between the two rivals. In 2006, Smiths Station collected a 12-7 win. Central won in 2007 by a 21-13 margin. Then the Panthers won 27-24 in 2008. But, Central still led the series by 12 games to five.
Since that 2008 loss to the Panthers, the Red Devils have pressed the pedal to the medal – so to speak – and have not looked back. Central has put 412 points on the scoreboard to Smiths Station’s 121 during that span of games. And Central will enter Friday night’s game with Smiths Station with a 21-5 advantage – 16 more victories than the Panthers – in the series.
Even with both teams entering the game undefeated – both are 2-0 – there is little to no chance whatsoever that the stands surrounding T.C. Britton Field will be overflowing as they were back in 1992 when extra seating was added to accommodate the crowd of fans of both teams. The stands may be filled – which is my hope for the game – and that will be a first in quite a while even if it is barely half the number of fans who viewed that first game.
But, the Panthers are entering a new era. In fact it is the sixth new era of the 21st century for Smiths Station. Since Shaun Bonds left the school after the 2001 season, the Panthers have had six coaches during those 16 years – Trey Holladay, Woodrow Lowe, Mark Rose, Jason Dukes, Adam Fossett and now Mike Glisson. Before Glisson arrived to take over the Panthers this season, the group of coaches produced a 69-96 record at the school and a 2-14 record against Central. The last two coaches lasted just two years each. Maybe Glisson will be given more time to rebuild a once proud program and rekindle the fire that once burned in The Backyard Brawl.
Before the season began, Glisson – in an interview for the Citizen of East Alabama’s annual football guide – said he felt he would be given that opportunity. I certainly hope so for the school’s future in the sport of football and in its future in The Backyard Brawl. There is nothing worse than watching a rivalry that is not a rivalry at all.
After last Friday night’s Central game with Meridian (Miss.) High, Red Devil coach Jamey DuBose gave his team a warning – “Do not letdown. A game you might think should be an easy win on paper can sneak up on you.” DuBose knows games are not played on paper and never have been. Upsets happen.
The worst thing that could happen for Central is a letdown and a loss to Smiths Station. Central has its eyes on something much more than a victory in a single game in a passé rivalry. For Smiths Station, the best thing would be a victory over Central to take the first step at making The Backyard Brawl relevant again.
Until the rivalry returns from its hiatus, all we can do is sit and watch to see how far Central can stretch this string of victories over the Panthers. It will not last forever.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for
The Citizen of East Alabama.