No smoke without fire: Players discuss the cigar tradition

No smoke without fire: Players discuss the cigar tradition

CW File

Don’t let Jonathan Allen fool you.

The University of Alabama defensive lineman isn’t a fan of cigars. He doesn’t even smoke one on the third Saturday in October after a good ole football game against Tennessee while the rest of his team does, that is if Alabama won.

Instead of ignoring the tradition, though, Allen just holds the cigar.

“It’s very important for the players,” Allen said. “It’s traditions, so whenever you get the cigar, it’s always a good thing because that means you won the game. That’s the biggest thing when it comes to that tradition.”

As a senior, Allen has had the opportunity to snag a cigar each year of his career. The last time Alabama lost to Tennessee was in 2006. Allen was a sixth grader at the time.

Rather than throw the cigars away, Allen keeps a stash of them in his house, as a form of memorabilia. He should have a total of three by now, unless he snatched more than one at a time. He could add a fourth after this weekend, as No. 1 Alabama heads to No. 9 Tennessee’s stomping grounds.

Unlike Allen, linebacker Rashaan Evans does smoke the cigars. He has experienced the smoke-filled locker room twice now, dating back to 2014 at Neyland Stadium after Alabama defeated Tennessee, 34-20.

“That was my first [cigar] ever,” Evans said. “And honestly, that’s something I will remember for the rest of my life and hopefully I get to do it again.”

At the time, Evans was just a freshman out of Auburn, Alabama. Somebody had to show him how to light the cigar.

Evans learned. After the last year’s matchup in Bryant-Denny Stadium, Evans knew what he was doing and was able to effortlessly participate in the festivities after the Crimson Tide squeaked out a 19-14 victory over the Volunteers.

If he finishes out his four years at the Capstone, Evans, a junior, has two more opportunities to possibly light one up in the locker room. If all works out in Alabama’s favor, Evans’ last cigar experience with the Crimson Tide will also be at home.

“We’re just going to see what happens,” he said.

The cigars only come out after a win against Tennessee. Not everybody knows that.

As an Iowa native, offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher didn’t always think of Alabama and Tennessee as a large rivalry. Before actually venturing down to Tuscaloosa, he immediately thought only of LSU or Auburn as rivals, but he quickly learned better.

The third Saturday in October is a day the Crimson Tide looks forward to.

“It’s just something different, definitely, to be smoking a cigar with your coaches and stuff like that after a game,” Pierschbacher said. “I’d never experienced that before.”

Pierschbacher’s friends and family back home in the Midwest didn’t fully understand at first either. They thought the unorthodox celebration was a weekly thing, and Pierschbacher had to explain that Alabama only smokes cigars after Tennessee.

It’s a tradition that dates backs to legendary former coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant. In fact, it was former head trainer Jim Goostree who handed out the first cigars in 1961. Both Alabama and Tennesse had kept their cigar-smoking a secret until 2005.

Although the cigars are considered an extra benefit and technically an NCAA violation, that doesn’t stop the them from being in the locker room after the game. No one really knows - or admits - how the reward got there.

“It just shows up,” Pierschbacher said, “and I don’t ask any questions.”

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