Once a year, the rest of the world is oblivious to most folks in Alabama. The stock market can crash, a tsunami may wipe some country from the face of the earth, Old Faithful may forget to shoot water out of the ground and Niagara Falls may become a trickle–but none of that matters.
Because this is the week the football teams of Auburn and Alabama play one another in what Auburn Coach Shug Jordan long ago dubbed the “Iron Bowl”. For a handful of days, nothing else matters. Even the pathetic sight of Jeff Sessions groveling at the feet of President Trump. Every where you look, people will be wearing red and white or orange and blue.
I was a freshman at Auburn University in the fall of 1961 when I saw my first Iron Bowl. In those days this annual clash took place at Birmingham’s Legion Field. Bear Bryant was just beginning his 25-year reign as coach of the Crimson tide. He beat Auburn 19 times, including a stretch of nine straight in the 1970’s.
But Auburn hired Pat Dye, a Bryant disciple, in 1981 and the series became competitive again. During his career at Auburn, Dye beat Bama seven times and lost six. However, Dye is remembered as much for getting the annual contest moved from Legion Field to Auburn as for his success against the team from Tuscaloosa.
The first game on Auburn’s campus was in 1989. I was there. Alabama was ranked No. 2 in the country. Auburn won 30-20. The first game in Tuscaloosa during the modern era was in 2000. I was there with my son Kevin. Auburn won 9-0. It was a beastly day with the temperature in the mid-30s and sleet falling. (The game was also played in Tuscaloosa in 1895 and 1901. Auburn won both.)
Since the game left Birmingham and moved to Auburn and Tuscaloosa, it has been played ten times in Tuscaloosa and 14 times in Auburn. Auburn has won five times in Tuscaloosa and nine times in Auburn. Tommy Tuberville, who wants to be one of Alabama’s U.S. senators now, was the Auburn coach from 1999 to 2007. He beat Bama seven out of the nine times he coached against them.
I don’t know how many Auburn vs. Alabama games I have seen in person. A lot for sure. I was at Legion Fiend in 1969 when Auburn won 49-26 and late in the game Auburn punter Connie Frederick ran more than 80 yards on a fake punt to score. I was there in 1972 when Auburn blocked two punts and won 17-16. I was there in 2013 when Chris Davis ran a field goal attempt 109 yards on the last play of the game for a 34-28 Auburn win. I watched in disbelief on TV in 2010 when Auburn quarterback Cam Newton engineered a 28-27 win in Tuscaloosa after falling behind 24-0.
Is this obsession healthy? I’m sure many people in faraway places would say it is not. No doubt they probably belittle our devotion to a GAME. But this is OK as they don’t understand the collective psyche of this state–for good or bad. Nor do they know much about pot likker, fried green tomatoes, boiled peanuts, dinner on the grounds and all night singings.
So bring on the Iron Bowl. It is uniquely ours.