'I'm never going to live this down': NFL players share tales of thrill and agony over college rivalries

ASHBURN, Va. — The shirt did not look right on Washington Commanders receiver Terry McLaurin, but a bet’s a bet.

He put on Michigan colors. A player reared in scarlet and gray now had to don maize and blue thanks to Ohio State’s loss to the Wolverines last year. Two days after the game, McLaurin showed up in a team meeting wearing the Michigan top with teammate Khaleke Hudson’s name and No. 7 on the back.

It’s a ritual that plays out in every NFL locker room during the season, a player losing a bet because the college he played for lost to another teammate’s school. It’s not about money changing hands; it’s about pride. It’s about showing up in another team’s shirt — or overalls. Maybe it’s the joy of seeing another player proclaiming on video that the other side is the best. Or maybe it’s seeing even the GOAT can be humbled.

Mississippi St. at Ole Miss 7 Thu.
NC State at North Carolina 3:30 Fri.
Nebraska at Iowa 4 Fri.
Florida at Florida State 7:30 Fri.
Michigan at Ohio State Noon Sat.
Georgia Tech at Georgia Noon Sat.
Louisville at Kentucky 3 Sat.
Auburn at Alabama 3:30 Sat.
Oregon at Oregon St. 3:30 Sat.
South Carolina at Clemson 7 Sat.
UCF at South Florida 7 Sat.
Notre Dame at USC 7:30 Sat.
Kansas at Kansas St. 7:30 Sat.
Tennessee at Vanderbilt 7:30 Sat.
Washington at Wash St. 10:30 Sat.
Kickoffs are Eastern Standard Time

“For me to pose in Michigan blue? That’s nasty,” McLaurin said, repeating the last line a couple of times for emphasis.

Of course, one of the first teammates to comment on McLaurin’s shirt was Commanders long-snapper Camaron Cheeseman, who also played at Michigan.

“You look good wearing our colors,” Cheeseman told him.

Even now, McLaurin shudders when retelling the story.

“It was kind of embarrassing,” McLaurin said. “But that’s why guys do it, because your money, that comes and goes, but the bragging rights, you wearing the other team’s gear and possibly having to post it on social media. … I definitely would rather lose my money than come in here in that Michigan blue, like last year.”

McLaurin eventually got the last laugh, though, pointing to the number of times he beat the Wolverines over his five years in Columbus.

“I hate to be this guy, they beat us, but I’m like, ‘When I was there you didn’t beat me Khaleke.’ I ride with Ohio State, so they lost. But when I was there, I got five gold pants if we’re going to really count it,” McLaurin said, referring to the gold charms given to Buckeyes players for beating Michigan.

McLaurin is hardly alone in having to honor a bet. And while these scenes go on throughout the season, it intensifies this week with a number of big rivalries — such as Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn and even Iowa-Nebraska — kicking off.

From left to right, Nate Ebner, Tom Brady, Chase Winovich and John Simon spell out “Ohio” in the New England Patriots’ locker room in response to Ohio State’s 2019 victory over Michigan. Nate Ebner/@NateEbner/Twitter

‘Schmediums look good’

THE TRASH TALK and bets start because of a simple fact about NFL players.

“We have a competitive nature, that’s why we play this sport,” Atlanta Falcons corner Darren Hall said.

Competition is a part of being in the locker room — whether it’s arguing over basketball skills, cornhole games or even putting contests. When it comes to their schools, it gets more intense. NFL teams pick their players, but the players picked their colleges. Even though some players mention bets that could reach four figures, almost all said it wasn’t about money. They’re prideful; they’re loyal.

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“Somebody at that program had to believe in you to get you in the school,” Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither said. “And that translated into you getting to the NFL. It works hand in hand to me.”

Bengals coach Zac Taylor allows players to wear their college swag during Saturday walk-throughs, and it’s obvious who lost a bet from the previous week.

Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Zach Allen, who went to Boston College, had to wear a Wake Forest T-shirt, courtesy of wide receiver Greg Dortch, after BC lost to Wake last month

“The shirt was like a frickin’ medium,” Allen said. “I made it look good though. … There are no examples of Dortch and I going against each other, so it’s cool stuff like that, it brings the whole 53[-man roster] together. People get invested because they enjoy seeing a 285-pound guy in a size medium.”

But, as teammate Maxx Williams said, “Schmediums look good.”

Williams should know: The former Minnesota Golden Gophers tight end lost his own bet to teammate Trace McSorley, a former Penn State quarterback. So he, too, wore a skin-tight shirt that was one size too small and therefore a tight medium — hence “schmedium.”

“It’s fun,” McSorley said. “It lightens it up.”

Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy, a Texas alum, looked glum while wearing a Texas Tech shirt on social media earlier this year — thanks to a bet lost to a pair of Arizona teammates.

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Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who coached Tech from 2013 to 2018, was not one of those who wagered with McCoy, however.

“I’m not wearing that burnt orange s—, I can assure you,” Kingsbury said.

But he saw the pain in McCoy’s face in the photo.

“He looks like his dog died, man,” Kingsbury said.

In 2018, when McCoy played for the Commanders, he got to see former Oklahoma punter Tress Way wear a Longhorns shirt every day in and out of the facility. They also had a standing bet every year: a six-pack of their choice.

“It was painful,” Way said about wearing the shirt. “But that’s the fun of it; college ball is the best.”

Hall lost a bet to Falcons running back Avery Williams when Boise State beat San Diego State. Hall was going to give Williams an Aztecs backpack, maybe a hat. As he said, “Nothing crazy.” But Williams showed up with his Boise State jersey, so Hall wore it all day.

“I sported it because he’s my favorite player,” Hall said.

“I could have given him my helmet, too, but I wouldn’t do that to him,” Williams said. “His big head probably couldn’t fit in my helmet.”

Players watch games together in the dining room during team meals Saturday night at the hotel. The Commanders, for example, have three TVs set up during team meals. Other times individual groups will gather in hotel rooms to watch games.

“You don’t want your team playing and losing,” defensive end Shaka Toney said.

If you’re from, say, Georgia, all comers are welcome. If they dare.

“That’s the worst part, because we all get paid pretty well, so a $20 bet here and there is not as bad as having to wear the other team’s colors,” said Falcons linebacker Lorenzo Carter, who played at Georgia. “It’s hard being a Georgia Bulldog. People see us and get intimidated and don’t want to make those bets. I haven’t won as much as I wanted because everyone’s pretty scared.”

‘Everybody hates Bama’

IT’S ALMOST UNIVERSAL in NFL locker rooms: Players root against Alabama. What’s also true: The Crimson Tide players have the trump card in many cases that quiet conversations even after a rare loss.

After all, they’ve won six national championships since 2009 under coach Nick Saban.

Take New England Patriots linebacker Mack Wilson Sr., for example. When the former Crimson Tide standout played with the Cleveland Browns, he had to pay off his bet to teammates Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. after Alabama lost to LSU in 2019. So, Wilson showed up later that day wearing an LSU T-shirt to team meetings.

But he also wore something else: jewelry. He snapped a selfie wearing four championship rings, two on each hand, from his time at Alabama.

“Before I left the house to go to the team hotel I made sure I grabbed all my rings and brought them to the hotel,” Wilson, who won a national championship, two SEC championships and an SEC West title in his three years at Alabama, said. “I wore them and I was messing with them the whole day.”

LSU defeated Alabama again this season. Two of Wilson’s Patriots teammates played at LSU: cornerback Jalen Mills and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux. But Wilson was ready for them.

“I went 3-0 against them,” Wilson said.

Toney, a former Penn State standout now on the Commanders practice squad, summed it up: “Everybody in the NFL hates Bama. I like success. I respect what they’re doing, but everybody hates Bama.”

The Commanders have four players from Alabama — defensive linemen Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, as well as running back Brian Robinson and receiver Cam Sims.

Despite Alabama losing two games this season and the national championship game last year, it will take more to kill the Tide’s vibe in NFL locker rooms.

“They’re Bama until they’re not Bama no more,” Toney said. “People give Bama slack for their losses. But until you see consecutive years — and it has to be multiple years; it has to be Bama don’t look like Bama. It’s tough.”

Teammate James Smith-Williams, a defensive end, summed it up: “Jon and Payne have like five national championships. What can you say to that?”

Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Cam Robinson — another ex-Alabama player — said he knows who reigns supreme in the Jags’ locker room, even though rookie linebacker Travon Walker played on Georgia’s national championship team last year.

“You’re talking about probably the greatest college football dynasty ever,” Robinson said of Alabama. “It’s me and only me if I’m being honest. Josh [Allen] runs his mouth [about Kentucky]; I don’t know why, it’s a basketball school. Travon can talk a little bit. Daniel Thomas [from Auburn] likes to talk a lot. Who knows why? He can’t really say much.”

Falcons linebacker Rashaan Evans, who played at Alabama from 2014 to 2017, said in the past teammates were “too scared” to bet him when their school played Alabama. But running back Cordarrelle Patterson had no such qualms before his Tennessee Volunteers beat Alabama on Oct. 15.

Evans had to wear orange and white checkered overalls. It made him laugh. He also revealed, once again, the mindset of the Alabama players.

“It was bound to happen eventually. It was fun for me because finally someone beat us. It gets boring winning sometimes.”

‘Undefeated on the mic’

FALCONS LINEBACKER WILL Compton developed a reputation in the NFL for one thing in particular: defending Nebraska, which is where he played from 2008 to 2012.

Compton turned his orator skills into the popular “Bussin with the Boys” podcast, where he made the case this summer for an 11-1 season by the Cornhuskers. They’re 3-8. Last year, he dubbed them the best three-win team in college football history — it didn’t win any bets, but it did shut down some arguments.

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While Nebraska was 48-20 during his five years in Lincoln, the school has only three winning seasons since, and none since 2016.

“One thing I always said about Compton: He was undefeated on the mic,” Way, who was teammates with Compton in Washington, said. “He could be dead wrong and find a way to win the argument. It would be him against the whole locker room. He was the best in that regard.”

Here’s how Compton did it:

“A group would gather around me and I’d catch one person who laughs or chuckles whose team got destroyed,” he said. “I’d defend myself and immediately point at the other loser in the room and get the spotlight on him and throw seven different kinds of smoke on that guy until nothing was said about Nebraska.”

But even Compton has to pay up on his bets. And he knows the payoff might occur again this week when Iowa plays Nebraska, courtesy of his yearly wager with San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle.

If Nebraska loses for the eighth consecutive time to the Hawkeyes, Compton will record yet another video. In it, he’ll have to proclaim Iowa’s superiority and shout out the Hawkeyes on social media once again.

In 2020, Compton looked as if he was being forced to read a statement on video. After declaring he wasn’t going to “talk about me being 2-0 [against Iowa], getting player of the game one year; that’s irrelevant,” Compton took a deep breath and looked away from the camera.

“They are the big brother of the border. They are the more superior program.”

Nine seconds passed before he continued.

“I wish I had committed to Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes back in 2008, and I wish I had never went to Nebraska because Iowa is the better football team.” He then called Kittle a “sick SOB” for making him do the video.

But Compton isn’t about to change.

“I s— talk,” he said. “I still get texts from guys I played with. They’ll tell me they tune in to see what Nebraska is doing — when they’re doing bad they’ll shoot me a message. They’ll tell me they want to see if they’re winning or losing to know what state of mind I’ll be in.”

Nor are players on other teams about to change. They enjoy it too much.

“Definitely it’s fun,” Wilson said. “It’s almost every day someone brings up some story from college, whether it’s about them or in general. We’re always talking trash.”

Undefeated against the GOAT

IN EIGHT SEASONS playing with Tom Brady in New England, there’s one game former NFL safety Nate Ebner never lost: the Ohio State-Michigan game. Every year, Brady, perhaps Michigan’s most famous football alum, was convinced it was The Year. It wasn’t. So, eight times he had to pay off a bet to his teammate from Ohio State.

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After a while, Ebner, who played with Brady from 2012 to 2019, wanted to be more creative in what he asked Brady to do after a Michigan loss. And because there were two Ohio State players and two Michigan players involved, Ebner knew what to do: Have them strike an O-H-I-O pose. Brady formed the H; defensive lineman Chase Winovich was the I, and ex-Buckeye John Simon bookended the O’s with Ebner.

“[Winovich] is probably one of the most annoying Michigan players of all time,” Ebner said. “There was nothing better than to see him do it with us.”

It led to a photo Ebner posted on his Instagram page. It wasn’t the first time Brady had to swallow his pride after a bet, either: In 2012, he wore then-teammate Mike Vrabel’s Ohio State jersey over his pads in practice.

Seven years later, it was Ebner’s turn to strike a pose with Brady that Ohio State fans adored. He said Brady was a good sport for paying off the bet. He says Brady is the best quarterback of all time, but Ebner knows he has an upper hand in one area. And by the time Michigan beat Ohio State last year — its first win since 2011 — Ebner was on to the Giants and Brady was with Tampa Bay.

“You can see the look on his face like, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this right now,'” Ebner said of the 2019 photo. “He didn’t have a lot to say, but he did say, ‘I’m never going to live this down.’ … Maybe I could get with some charities around Columbus to raise money with that picture because it’s such a special Ohio State picture. Maybe one day I’ll get Tom to sign a copy for me.”

Mike Rothstein, Ben Baby, Mike Reiss, Josh Weinfuss and Michael DiRocco contributed to this story.

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