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Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy smiles near the end of a game against Georgia State on Nov. 18, 2010, at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

If getting a chance to see former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix and former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy on the same stage at the same time isn't reason enough to take in Red Bank Baptist Church's "A Night of Champions" this Friday, perhaps the following fact will be.

Thanks to the extreme generosity of several corporate and individual sponsorships, hundreds of Hamilton County middle and high school football players and coaches will be able to attend the event for free.

Yes, free.

As for everyone else, a chance to hear good guys McElroy and Nix should be more than worth the $20 general admission or $50 VIP tickets, which will include an autograph session with either McElroy or Nix, as well as a meal from Edley's Bar-B-Que.

some text Georgia Tech offensive coordinator and former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix directs his players during a team workout on Aug. 23, 2005, in Atlanta.
some text Mark Wiedmer

"Patrick is my partner in crime," McElroy said Thursday by phone from Birmingham, Alabama, where the SEC Network analyst was wrapping up a busy week of work at the league's annual preseason football media days event. "We've done several of these together. It's a footprint I'm comfortable with. I've only been out of high school for 13 years, so I feel I can still relate to what these young athletes are going through."

Said Nix a few days earlier: "Greg and I just tell our stories. Everybody's story is different. Christ is a very big part of both of our stories."

Red Bank Baptist has sponsored similar events the past two years, headlined in 2017 by former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer — who has since become the school's athletic director — and last summer by former Volunteers quarterback Josh Dobbs. Now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dobbs' appearance led him to sponsor a free shopping spree at Dick's Sporting Goods at Hamilton Place last month prior to a youth football camp he hosted at McCallie School.

"A Night of Champions is a high-energy night for football players, coaches and families,'' said Dr. Sam Greer, senior pastor at Red Bank Baptist, in a news release.

"There will be great stories about football rivalries, maybe even some laughs and tears, but most importantly we will hear about personal faith that makes all the difference.''

Both McElroy and Nix have experienced the highs and lows of earning a living after enjoying tremendous collegiate athletic success.

Subbing for an injured Stan White against Alabama in 1993, Nix wrapped up the final and most important win of Auburn's 11-0, probation-strapped 1993 season. A starter the next two years, Nix was an important reason the Tigers went 17-5-1 over that time, graduating as the program's career leader in passing efficiency.

As with most coaches, his professional life hasn't been quite so smooth. After early success as an offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, Nix was fired from the same position at Miami in 2008. But he has found his niche in Alabama high school ball, winning the Class 6A state title the past two seasons at Pinson Valley with a little help from his son Bo, a QB who enrolled early at Auburn this past winter to prepare for his freshman season.

"Every coach in America is on the hot seat," Nix said of the outsized expectations in college football. "Maybe four aren't, and two of them may retire at the end of the year. It's been that way for 30 years. High school ball is all about the players, though. You're trying to develop quality young men."

McElroy pretty much hit the pinnacle of his sport in January 2010, when the Alabama football team he had quarterbacked all season won the national championship over Texas. After that he spent parts of three seasons in the NFL before retiring to join the SEC Network in summer 2014.

What some may not remember about McElroy was that he was a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship during his collegiate days.

"Over the years I've gotten to know some of the people on the (Rhodes) selection committee," he said. "And they've told me if they could have picked three (recipients instead of two) I would have been chosen. But it's like that Garth Brooks song ('Unanswered Prayers') — 'Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.'

"If I'd gotten that, I might not have met my wife, might not have become a father. It all worked out for the best."

Depending on how you look at it, there is no better or worse rivalry in all of college football than Alabama-Auburn.

As former Crimson Tide coach Gene Stallings once said, "It's the only rivalry where they hate each other 365 days a year."

So how do McElroy and Nix coexist on the same stage at the same time?

"There's no love lost between the fan bases," McElroy said. "But there's a lot of respect between the players."

Added Nix, who admitted Bo probably owned an Auburn "onesie" before he was born: "The players get along a lot better than the fans."

Nix knows Chattanooga a little better than McElroy due to his wife Krista's family having lived here.

"We love Nikki's," he said of the iconic diner. "Have to get the fried shrimp and fried onion rings whenever we go there."

Said McElroy, who was born in California and played high school football in Texas: "I need to spend more time there. It's a beautiful city. We live in Birmingham now, and I feel like I'm growing more Southern by the day."

Yet the message on Friday will be about a lot more than football or where to get the best onion rings.

"High school is a tough age, especially with social media," McElroy said. "Your faith is important. So is self-worth. Your self-worth can't come from a cellphone, from what other people might text about you. I hope we can help with that."

That would certainly seem to be a fine start to developing quality young men and women the world over.

Note: Anyone interested in checking on free tickets for middle school and high school players and coaches or purchasing tickets should call the church office at 423-877-4514 and speak with Josh Lancaster, senior associate pastor.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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