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Iron Bowl: Why Alabama and Auburn own the greatest college football rivalry in America

Iron Bowl: Alabama and Auburn have the most intense college football rivalry in America


“I love”

… Alabama football coach Ray Perkins to kicker Van Tiffin moments after his 52-yard field goal as time expired to upset No. 7 Auburn 25-23 on November 30, 1985 in front of 75.808 at Legion Field, Birmingham.

At the age of 24, I fell in love with my first husband. This was my first Iron Bowl.

Alabama beat writer, Montgomery Advertiser. I was one of about a dozen reporters covering the event. Tailback Bo Jackson gained 142 yards on 31 carries and scored two touchdowns against an Alabama defense with linebackers Cornelius Bennett and Derrick Thomas and despite – it was revealed later – two cracked ribs. He received the Heisman Trophy just one week later.

It was Perkins’ second straight win over Auburn and put his unranked team at 8-2-1, while Auburn fell to 8-2. Perkins’ first coach job was lost in 1983 when he replaced Paul Bryant. This partially explains Perkins’ love for the position. Perkins then fell to 4-6 in 1984 for the Tide’s first losing season since 1957 – the year before Bryant’s arrival – and was in danger of being fired. Perkins was then beaten by No. He then defeated No. 11 and Auburn 8-3, 17-15 to make it 5-6. Und he was wrong.


Bryant had won nine straight over Auburn, which he called “that farm school,” from 1973 through 1981 before his former assistant, Pat Dye, beat him, 23-22, in 1982 in Dye’s second season as coach. Before retiring, Bryant coached only one more game – a 21-15 win over Illinois in the Liberty Bowl. Bryant, who was 69 years old, died Jan. 26, 1983. He won six national titles at Alabama. He is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham – two miles from Legion Field.

Since 1985’s Iron Bowl, the Legion Field crowd noise has stayed with me. Even in periods of calm play, the crowd noise was constant and sustained, with occasional roars from the stands depending on the event. And a lot happened in the ’85 game in a back-and-forth affair. In the fourth quarter, there were four leads changes and in the last minute, two.

“It’s still the greatest game I ever saw,” said the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum, who covered it that day for the Birmingham Post-Herald.

It was then over in no time. It was the end of football’s regular season. Football Christmas was also over.

That’s how it will be Saturday when No. On Saturday, No. 3 Alabama (11-1, 6-1 SEC), plays Auburn (6-7, 3-4 SEC), at 2:30 PM on CBS. And it won’t matter that Auburn comes in struggling and on a three-game losing streak without starting quarterback Bo Nix for the second straight week because of an ankle injury.

The Tide is a 19-point favorite by FanDuel, but that doesn’t always matter in this one. Recent weeks have seen Alabama look human, and less relevant than in wins against a poor LSU team or an average Arkansas. New Auburn quarterback TJ Finley could improve drastically in his second start, mainly if Alabama’s defense plays as poorly as it has at times this season.

Iron Bowl No. Like many Christmases, 86 will be memorable and unique.

These are the five main reasons Alabama-Auburn rivalry is so great in college football.

5. THE IRON BOW NAME: It’s the best name of a game in history – next to the Super Bowl. Before I knew the reason it was called the Iron Bowl, I assumed the name came about because it’s a hard game, requiring young men of iron to win it. It is, in some ways. The game actually got that name because it was played in Birmingham from 1904 through 1988 – a city near plentiful mineral deposits with a rich history in iron and steel production that is called “The Pittsburgh of the South.” This game is simple and easy, but it’s hard to miss.

4. BALANCE OF THE POWERSThis series is very close. Alabama leads 47-37-1. Alabama won 9 of the 13 previous championships, but Auburn took 7 of 8 before them. This includes six consecutive from 2002-07. National powers tend to favor both teams. From 2009 to last season Nick Saban has won six national titles. However, Auburn won the national title in 2010 and was a contender in 2013. Auburn finished also 13-0 in 2004. However, there weren’t any playoffs that year so the Tigers didn’t make it to the BCS national champion game. Auburn was also 11-0 in 1993, 10-0 in 1957 and did not make it to the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. In addition to its annual importance in the state, Auburn’s game is of national significance.

Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide during warm ups before playing the Texas A&M Aggies  at Kyle Field on October 09, 2021 in College Station, Texas.

3. The EQUALITY OF SCHOOLS: Unlike in many rivalries, one school is not seen as the hoity-toity university (Ole Miss in Oxford ) and the other as the farm school institution (Mississippi State in Starkville), regardless of Bryant’s jabbing comment. Or at least, they shouldn’t be. Auburn is an Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) College, and it is in a more rural area in Auburn than Alabama is in Tuscaloosa. Auburn isn’t just a school for the forest. They are very similar in their surroundings. These two facilities have identical football programs.

They are both public schools – Auburn one the eastern edge of the state and Alabama on the western edge with 159 miles in between, primarily on U.S. Highway 82. It’s almost like they are twin brothers. Both wealthy and poor go to each school. For undergraduate study, many people choose Auburn and later Alabama.

One of the reasons these two schools’ teams and fan bases fight and hate one another so much is because they are so much the same. Every year, the two schools meet on Thanksgiving at the football field to close the season. The in-state players fill both schools’ rosters, so former high school friends often play against each other. Sometimes the team gets along with the field players better than those in the stands.

Some coaches are capable of coaching both teams. Bill Oliver was a former Alabama coach. He served as an assistant coach at Alabama and the defensive coordinator for several years. Oliver also enjoyed making fun of Auburn. However, he retired from Auburn in 1998 as the interim coach. Pat Dye was an Alabama assistant coach under Bear Bryant, then became Auburn’s head coach. Mike DuBose was an Alabama assistant coach under Bryant. He was also a coach for the Tide many years. But, at times during his career, he became interested in coaching Auburn.

2. THE MEDIA IS SO INTO ITIt is no surprise that there are many Alabama-Auburn graduates who have become sportswriters. They tend to prefer the school where they were born or the school that they attended, regardless of how professional and talented they may be. It’s a mix of passionate media, homers and many others, but that’s true in all cases.

While I was covering Alabama for the Montgomery Advertiser in 1985 and ’86 and Alabama and Auburn at the Mobile Press-Register paper from 1993-98, I was always amazed at how much Alabama beat writers knew about what was going on behind the scenes at Auburn and vice versa. It seemed they had more information about one school than they did the other. Auburn writers in 1993 were constantly saying, “The NCAA’s about to come down on Alabama hard.”

Alabama’s sports editor was also an Alabama fan. He would wear Alabama belt buckles and hats when he went to Alabama games. He cheered on Alabama’s spring games. When Alabama defensive coordinator Bill Oliver left the Tide for Auburn, he couldn’t believe it and was so upset that he instructed his Alabama and Auburn writers not to write any columns about it because it was such a sensitive subject.

He said, “This is War,” one day at the office.

Auburn coach Bryan Harsin signals to players during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Akron on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Auburn, Ala. 

1. ONLY TWOAlabama-Auburn is the No. Alabama-Auburn’s greatest rivalry in college football is because Alabama has virtually nothing to offer other than sports. Alabama has not had an NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball team. The only major football program that can divert your attention is the two above. You can also say the Ole Miss Mississippi State Egg Bowl. However, Southern Mississippi is often better than the schools to its north. Alabama is not one of those places. It doesn’t matter if you are on the one or the other side. Everything else is irrelevant.

GUILBEAU POLL 1.Georgia (11-0, 8-0). 2. Alabama (10-1, 6-1). 3. Ole Miss (9-2 and 5-2). 4. Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3). 5. Arkansas (7-3, 3-4). 6. Mississippi State (7-9, 4-3) 7. Tennessee (6-5 and 3-4) 8. Kentucky (8-3, 5-3). 9. Missouri (6-5, 3-4). 10. South Carolina (6-5 and 3-5). 11. Auburn (6-5 and 3-4) 12. LSU (5-7, 2-5) 13. Florida (5-6, 2-6). 14. Vanderbilt (2-9, 0-7).


HOLIDAY TV SCHEDULE (CFP rankings, FanDuel point spreads, central times)


No. 12 Ole Miss (9-2 SEC, 5-2 SEC), at No. 25 Mississippi State (7-4-3, 4-3) is 2.5-point favorites, at 6:30 pm, ESPN.


Missouri (3-6, 3-4) at Number. 21 Arkansas (7-4, 3-4), 14.5 favorite, 2:30 p.m., CBS.


Florida (5-6, 2-6), 2.5 favorite, at Florida State (5-6, 4-4 ACC), 11 a.m., ESPN; No. 1 Georgia (11-0.8-0), 35.5% favorite at Georgia Tech (3-8.2-6 ACC), 11:00 a.m. ABC; No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1), 19.5 favorite, at Auburn (6-5, 3-4), 2:30 p.m., CBS; Vanderbilt (2-8, 0-6) at Tennessee (6-5, 3-4), 31.5 favorite, 2:45 p.m., SEC Network; Kentucky (8-3, 5-3) at Louisville (6-5, 4-4 ACC), 2.5 favorite, 6:30 p.m., ESPN2; No. 16 Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3), 6.5 favorite, at LSU (5-6, 2-5), 6 p.m., ESPN; South Carolina (6-5, 3-5) at Clemson (8-3, 6-2 ACC), 11.5 favorite, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network.


Alabama quarterback Bryce Young broke a school passing yards record that had stood since 1969 in the Tide’s 42-35 win over Arkansas Saturday. Bryce Young completed 31 of his 40 passes for 559 yard, surpassing Scott Hunter’s 484 yards record in Auburn’s 49-26 win on Nov. 29, 1969. Young is second in SEC history behind Mississippi State’s K.J. Costello, who toss for 623 against LSU in a win of 44-34 to begin the 2020 season. Young replaced Georgia’s Eric Zeier, who was No. Young was No. 2 in the 1993 NFL with 544 yards against Southern Mississippi.


“Oh, we’re going to beat Texas A&M. We’re going to beat them.”

—LSU linebacker Damone Clark after the Tigers’ 27-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.


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