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William Hazlitt, the 19th-century British essayist, believed a good nickname could slice through every layer of pretension and boil a man down to his essence. "Of all eloquence a nickname is the most concise; of all arguments the most unanswerable," Hazlitt wrote.
Clearly, Hazlitt would have adored college football rivalries. Few other events have inspired the sheer, minimalist eloquence as end-of-season showdowns between intrastate and interstate rivals. The names roll decades of hate, mistrust, frustration and jubilation into a tight, two-, three- or four-word grenade that typically explodes either shortly before or shortly after the Thanksgiving turkey hits the table.
Today, we'll look at some of the best end-of-season rivalry nicknames. The Apple Cup (Washington vs. Washington State) and the Egg Bowl (Mississippi vs. Mississippi State) are excluded not because of the lameness of their combatants but because of the lameness of their nicknames. Meanwhile, the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (Florida vs. Georgia) and the Red River Rivalry (Oklahoma vs. Texas) are disqualified for temporal reasons; they take place too early in the season.
10. The Backyard Brawl (Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia): The name evokes images of neighborhood fisticuffs on chilly days amid piles of fallen leaves. In this case, West Virginia recruits western Pennsylvania heavily, and some of these players may actually have fought one another in their backyards growing up.
9. The Biggest Little Game in America (Williams vs. Amherst): You have to admire the pluck of two small, Division III schools who would slap such a grandiose moniker on their annual meeting.
8. The Border War (Kansas vs. Missouri): A general disdain toward unnecessary war analogies has forced a change to "The Border Showdown" in recent years, but Kansas-Mizzou should get a pass because the name has roots in actual hostilities between the free state of Kansas and the slave state of Missouri in the years leading up to the Civil War. In 1856 and again in 1863, raiders from Missouri sacked Lawrence, burning down buildings and attacking residents.
7. The Big Game (Cal vs. Stanford): The rivalry that gave us The Play has a simple, elegant nickname. Less simple are the annual pranks, including this doozy from 1982.
6. The Holy War (BYU vs. Utah): A fitting name for the game between the flagship state school and the school run by the state's dominant church. Of course, BYU-Utah would be ranked even higher if it went more often by its alternate nickname: Church vs. State.
5. The Iron Bowl (Alabama vs. Auburn): The sheer hatred of the rivalry seems forged in iron. In fact, the schools disagreed so vehemently on so many aspects of the game after the 1907 meeting that the series didn't resume until 1948 -- after the state house had passed a resolution encouraging the schools to play.
4. The Brawl of the Wild (Montana vs. Montana State): Even though he went to Cal, and even though his favorite sporting event -- had he lived long enough -- would have been the Iditarod, Jack London certainly would have appreciated the homage.
3. The Game (Michigan vs. Ohio State): Few schools could get away with such an emphatic statement of superiority. This season notwithstanding for the Wolverines, Michigan and Ohio State qualify.
2. Bedlam (Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State): The name actually came from the rivalry between the schools' wrestling program, but no matter. No one-word nickname better describes a rivalry.
1. Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate (Georgia vs. Georgia Tech): Author Bill Cromartie wrote the book on this 115-year-old rivalry in 1976, and the name stuck. It's fitting, too, considering that to this day the password at frat houses on both campuses is "To hell with (the other school)."