When people mention the word “feud” in the state of Alabama, there’s no doubt about the reference, and it has nothing to do with an outdated game show.
Alabama vs. Auburn dates all the way back to 1893, and is so intense that among the many legendary anecdotes is that a local television station refused to interrupt the 2000 game for the results of the presidential election recount announcement.
But the “Iron Bowl” had essentially a four-decade gap, from 1908-47, when the schools refused to play each other.
Although there are numerous theories and misconceptions about the causes, both sides agree that it had nothing to do with a rumored fight that broke out after the 6-6 tie in 1907. Instead, the spark appeared to be due to something that occurred on the field, and spilled over into other areas.
In winning the 1906 game, 10-0, Alabama used an offensive formation that Auburn coach Mike Donahue thought illegal. Specifically, Tide coach “Doc” Pollard unveiled the “Military Shift,” which was described as every player except the center lining up on the line of scrimmage and joining hands, but then turning right or left to form an unbalanced line.
Donahue was so upset with the formation, which had never been seen before in the South (Pollard learned it at Dartmouth), that he threatened to cancel the series.
A year later, Pollard used a similar formation, the “Varsity Two-Step,” which only infuriated Auburn more, and to the point it demanded that the next game should be officiated by a referee from outside of the South.
Alabama thought the idea ridiculous.
Additionally, a debate over the per diem for players and referees was equally heating up, and proved to be the impedes for the series split. Auburn wanted to have 22 players on the roster, and the money per player increased from $2 to $3.50. Alabama wanted just 20 players for $3 each.
The sides argued for months, but by the time a compromise had been reached both schedules were already in place for 1908. Alabama suggested playing after Thanksgiving, which was rejected by Auburn’s Board of Trustees.
Attempts to revive the series in 1911, 1919, 1932, and 1944 all failed. The schools stopped playing in all sports.
In 1948, the debate on whether to renew the series finally came to an end after state legislators threatened to get involved despite objections from Alabama athletic director Frank Thomas and other school officials, who believed nothing could be gained by playing a team that had never finished better than third in the Southeastern Conference.
Citing problems, including brawls and other incidents, at rivalry games in Texas, Minnesota, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland, Kansas and Tennessee, the school’s Committee on Physical Education and Athletics report argued: “We hazard nothing in saying that the game would not make a single constructive contribution to education in the state.”
It concluded, “The fundamental question is: Do the people of Alabama need a tranquil, sane kind of athletics in their two major institutions, or an irrational rabid kind?”
Although Auburn claims to the contrary, Alabama athletic department notes and documents clearly show that the school was concerned about state representatives threatening to hold back funding to force the football game.
Among the final decisions was the neutral-site location, with Birmingham selected over Montgomery and Mobile.
With 46,000 in attendance, and another 2,000 at the Birmingham Armory enjoying a pay-per-broadcast, Alabama won 55-0.
Some of this post originated from "100 Things Crimson tide Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," published by Triumph Books