A new era rivalry

Published 12:02 am Friday, September 28, 2012

Greg Henderson (left) as an Opp Bobcat and his son, Daniel (right), as an Andalusia Bulldog. | Courtesy photos

The temperature was just right and the setting couldn’t have been more perfect for a Friday night in the fall of 1978.

Andalusia had been riding a 58-game win streak, but got beat by Elba the week before. Opp was still undefeated and had the No. 1 ranking in Class 3A. There were only four classifications in high school football.

It was top-ranked Opp versus second-ranked Andalusia in a winner-take-all game for a spot in the playoffs. The stadium at AHS was packed with an estimated 10,000 spectators.

The intensity in the 46-degree air was palpable, and Opp senior middle linebacker Greg Henderson and the Bobcats were about to play a mad Andalusia football team.

Andalusia won the game, 41-27, but didn’t go to the playoffs. Instead, Opp did because of a tiebreaker rule.

The Bobcats went on to play in the first round of the playoffs, but fell to eventual state champion, Eufaula, to end Henderson’s high school football career.

Fast forward to tonight and Henderson’s son, Daniel, who is a junior middle linebacker for the Bulldogs, will play Opp for the schools’ 69th meeting at AHS.

Henderson will be in the stands with his wife, Doty, along with Daniel’s grandparents and close relatives, cheering for Andalusia because as he says it, “family trumps everything else.”

The Opp native, who has lived in Andalusia for the past 26 years, said he believes the intensity between the two teams is “just as much now as it was then.”

“I don’t believe there is animosity because back then, you didn’t do a lot cross-county lines,” Henderson said. “The boys didn’t know each other except to play against each other. Now, my son and boys from Opp, play on the same teams in the summers in baseball and other sports. I think that’s done a great thing to tear down the bitterness of the game.

“I don’t think that’s there,” he said. “I think it’s every bit of intense, the rivalry is, and it’s typically more intense for the team that lost the year before because you want to prove something.”

Daniel will not be playing in the game tonight because of a shoulder injury and said he’s thankful this is not his senior year. The junior said he really appreciates how his relatives support a team that has been a rival for them for a long time.

“It’s tough (not being able to be out there tonight),” Daniel said. “It feels great to know that they can pull against the school they’ve been pulling for for the better part of their lives, whether it’s a rivalry or anything like that.”

Even though Henderson went to OHS and played for the Bobcats, and Daniel now plays for Andalusia, the 1979 Opp graduate said there is no banter back and forth between them.

“I love Opp,” Henderson said. “I love the people in Opp, but I pull for my family. I am intensely wanting Andalusia to win because my son plays on the team. What you’ll always find out is that family trumps everything else.

“What happened to me in growing up in Opp and moving to Andalusia was that I got to know all of the boys through baseball and little league because I coached baseball and softball when I moved here in 1986,” he said. “The boys that play in Opp, I know their parents, not necessarily their boys.”

Daniel said his father would always tell him that Andalusia was the better team back then, and that no matter who the Bulldogs play, he’ll be his No. 1 fan.

“My dad always treated Opp and Andalusia like Auburn and Alabama. It was a big rivalry,” Daniel said. “He’s always supported me whoever we play.”

What made his move to Andalusia easier back in 1986 was the fact that Henderson played on a senior Babe Ruth baseball team with area players Tim Nall, Leon Hattaway, Van Starnes and Jeff Martin, to name a few.

“That helped me take the edge off of the animosity,” Henderson said. “I have always appreciated the generosity of the people in Andalusia. When we moved back to Andaluisa, (wife) Doty and I decided to raise our family here.

“My parents still live out in Cedar Grove,” he said.

After watching more than three decades of the Andalusia-Opp rivalry after graduation, Henderson said he can still see a lot of similarities between the team he played on and the team Daniel is on now.

“I think high school football pulls towns together — the town spirit — probably as much as any sport I know,” he said. “It encompasses so many people that everybody can identify with it.”

When asked where they think the rivalry is going, both said it will remain a big game.

“I see it staying as as a big rivalry,” Daniel said. “It’s a cross-county rivalry. You always want to be the best in the county, no matter who you’re playing.

“To be the best in the county, that’s what we strive for in Andalusia every year,” he said.

Any “bitterness” Hendersonmay have felt a long time ago when he played for the Bobcats against AHS is long gone.

“I think it’s gone well,” Henderson said about the rivalry. “I think a lot of any past bitterness that may have been there — I don’t feel it among the boys — I don’t feel it among Daniel or friends, whose sons play for Opp.”

Daniel has a sister, Anna, who is an Auburn grad and is in physicians assistant school at UAB. Anna was also a star athlete for AHS, playing volleyball and softball for the Lady Bulldogs.

The 69th meeting between Andalusia and Opp will kick off tonight at 7.