The Iron Bowl

CrimsonTideAlogo

 

250px-AULogo

 

This rivalry goes by the title of “The Iron Bowl.” The name conjures images of gritty blue-collar men working in blazing hot steel foundries. In fact, the name comes from the iron and steel industry located in Birmingham, the home of the rivalry for 44 straight games, and the intensity and heat associated with the rivalry make the name even more appropriate. The University of Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn University Tigers battle one another to the death each season in the Iron Bowl game. Auburn College Football Hall of Fame coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan came up with the moniker before the 1980 contest. The venom and disdain that the fans from one side have for the other do not just commence during the days leading up to the game, as in most rivalries, but rage on every day of the year. Alabama fans refer to Auburn people as “Barners,” in reference to Auburn’s early years as an agricultural school, while Auburn fans claim that Alabama’s most famous graduate is Forest Gump.

Justin Hokanson, in a 2008 article for “bleacherreport.com,” breaks down the rivalry within families.

Brothers and sisters watch the game in separate rooms, maybe even separate houses,

because they don’t want to kill each other in the process. Parents and children don’t

talk to each other. There are even parents that don’t allow their children to go to one

school or the other simply because they graduated from the rival school.

Alabama leads the series 45-35-1. Auburn won the first two games in 1893 in Birmingham, then Montgomery. Alabama picked up its first win in 1894 in Montgomery while Auburn took the next two in Tuscaloosa and Montgomery. The series took a brief hiatus from 1896 through 1899 before resuming in 1900. The schools then met every year through the 1907 game, after which the series ended for almost 40 years. At that time, Auburn led the series 7-4-1 and the games had been played in Birmingham the last four years. The University of Alabama is much closer to Birmingham than Auburn and Auburn officials demanded more per diem for the players. Auburn also wanted to allow more players to travel for the game and a different process for choosing the officials for the game. Alabama officials would not agree to any of Auburn’s demands and the series ended.

After pressure from the state legislature, the two school presidents agreed to re-start the series in 1948 in Birmingham because 44,000-seat Legion Field was the largest stadium in the state. Before the game, the presidents of the respective student government associations buried a hatchet in Woodrow Wilson Park to represent the end of the argument. Alabama proceeded to win the game 55-0, the most lopsided victory in the series.

The game remained in Birmingham through the 1988 contest, after which Auburn moved its home games to Auburn. Alabama continued to hold its home game in the series at Legion Field through 1998 but began hosting Auburn in Tuscaloosa in 2000 after the expansion of Bryant-Denny stadium to over 80,000 seats. The games have rotated between the two campuses since then. Alabama owns a 34-18-1 record in games played at Legion Field, while Auburn is 7-4 in Tuscaloosa and 8-5 in Auburn.

The winner of each game receives the Foy-ODK Sportsmanship trophy, named after James E. Foy, a former dean at both schools and the Faculty Secretary of  Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society at both schools. The trophy is presented at halftime of the winner’s home basketball game against the loser. After the presentation, the Student Government Association president from the losing school sings the winning school’s fight song. Granted, the singing sessions may have had many memorable moments over the years but probably will not top any of the memories from the gridiron battles.

The 1967 game at Legion Field became known as the “Run in the Mud.” With Auburn leading Alabama 3-0 in a torrential downpour in the fourth quarter, Tide quarterback Ken Stabler broke loose for a 53-yard touchdown that gave the Tide the lead and an eventual 7-3 victory.

The 1981 game, also at Legion Field, became the 315th career victory for Alabama Hall of Fame coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.  Alabama won 28-17.  Bryant passed Amos Alonzo Stagg for career wins for a Division IA coach.

Freshman Bo Jackson broke Auburn’s nine-game losing streak in the series in 1982. With the Tigers trailing 22-17 late in the fourth quarter, Jackson, on fourth-and-goal, took a handoff from quarterback Randy Campbell, then leaped on top of the Tide defense before stretching the ball over the goal line. Auburn broke the streak with a 23-22 victory.

For Auburn fans, the second most memorable game in the series may have occurred in 1989. With the addition of the west upper deck in 1980 and the east upper deck in 1987, Jordan-Hare Stadium reached a capacity of over 85,000 seats, the largest stadium in Alabama at that time. Auburn fans always felt Legion Field was a home-field advantage for the Tide. Now that the school had a stadium bigger than Legion Field, the time was right to move their home games in the series to Auburn. After the 1987 game, Auburn athletics director and coach Pat Dye requested that all future Auburn home games in the series be moved to Jordan-Hare. The first game in Auburn took place on December 2, 1989. With over 85,000 rabid Tiger fans in attendance, Auburn beat Alabama, 30-20. After the game, a member of the media asked Dye what it felt like leading the team on to the field. Dye responded, “I’m sure that (the scene) must have resembled what went on the night the wall came down in Berlin. I mean, it was like (Auburn fans) had been freed, and let out of bondage, just having this game at Auburn.”

The 2009 game in Auburn was a different story. Undefeated Alabama trailed a 7-4 Auburn team into the fourth quarter, but the Tide went on a seven minute, 15-play, 80-yard drive to take the lead, 26-21. Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy hit receiver Julio Jones four times during the drive and finished it with a four yard pass to running back Roy Upchurch for the go ahead touchdown with 1:24 on the clock. The Tide defense turned away a last minute Auburn drive to secure the victory. Alabama then beat Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship (SEC) game before besting Texas for the national title.

Finally, the most memorable game for Auburn fans and arguably the most memorable game in series history is the game known as the “Kick Six.” With the 2013 contest tied 28 all at Jordan-Hare, Alabama lined up for a 57-yard field goal with one second on the clock. A Tide victory would send Alabama to the SEC Championship game and a possible chance for a fourth national title in five years. Alabama kicker Adam Griffith’s attempt fell short and Auburn corner back Chris Davis caught it. As Davis began to run up the field, Alabama’s defenders seemed to be caught off guard, unsure if the play was still live. Indeed it was. Davis outran the few defenders trying to stop him for a 109-yard touchdown with no time on the clock. Auburn won the game 34-28, shocking the Tide and the rest of the college football world.

Intensity, heat, bitterness, and pride are some of the words that describe the emotions of the Iron Bowl. This rivalry is more than just a game. It is a way of life for people in the state of Alabama. For the victors, a certain satisfaction and euphoria permeate their souls for the next 365 days. For the vanquished–bitterness, rancor, and a sense of doom live with them until the possibility of redemption associated with the next game. Of all the great Deep South rivalries, the Iron Bowl may be the greatest of all.

 

 

Speak Your Mind

*