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Throwback Thursday: The Iron Bowl

There may be no bigger rivalry in college sports than Alabama vs. Auburn, who will play for the 86th time, and the 74th consecutive year since 1948.

For many Crimson Tide fans, there is no bigger day of the year than the annual Auburn game, although things like birthdays, weddings and Christmas come close.


Pick a random day of the year, and ask a random person in the state, “Who won the last game?”

Then ask who Van Tiffin is and wait for the reaction. If the person is a Tide fan, his or her face will probably light up and they’ll say something like: “You don’t know who Van Tiffin is? Oh bless your heart,” as if there’s something seriously wrong with you like having brain damage or being terminally ill.

If it’s an Auburn fan, expect the exact opposite reaction, because the 1985 Iron Bowl was decided by a 52-yard field goal as time expired, giving Alabama a dramatic 25-23 victory after the lead changed hands four times in the final 15 minutes.

Fans take this game so seriously that they annually start the countdown to the next one the day after the game. Heavy rains and the threat of a tornado didn’t stop the 1983 meeting when running back Bo Jackson had 258 rushing yards and two touchdowns to lead Auburn to a 23-20 victory.

The series actually dates back to February 22, 1893, when the two sides met at Birmingham’s Lakeview Park and Auburn claimed a 32-22 victory, and won the subsequent matchup, 40-16. 

The following year, Alabama won 18-0, and a football rivalry was well under way.

However, following a 6-6 tie in 1907, the two sides refused to play again for 41 years due in part because of animosity, and the series was revived only after the state legislature threatened to get involved.

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Yeah, it’s that extreme. Scott Brown wrote in his book “The Uncivil War” that he had “never felt anything more intense than the hatred between Alabama and Auburn. Period.”

ESPN analyst Beano Cook did it one better by referring to the rivalry as “Gettysburg south.”

“I was working the 1995 game at Jordan-Hare, which had zero championship implication, with a producer from another part of the country,” said ESPN’s Rece Davis, himself an Alabama graduate. “He said, ‘I can’t believe how intense this is.’ I said, ‘You should see it when they’re playing for something.’

“Actually, come to think of it, the intensity never changes with the circumstances.”

For 50-some years, the two sides met at the neutral site of Legion Field in Birmingham, even though Auburn continually argued that it provided Alabama with an unfair advantage since it was closer to the Tuscaloosa campus.

Only once have the two side met when both were undefeated, 1971. The No. 3 Crimson Tide posted a lopsided 31-7 victory over the No. 4 Tigers as Alabama halfback Johnny Musso outshined Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy. 

However, Alabama lost the national championship game to Nebraska at the Orange Bowl, 38-6.

“Any game that causes married couples to divorce, or even worse in some psychotic cases, must be a pretty big deal,” said Norm Wood of the Daily Press in Virginia.

“I went to Auburn for a basketball game in 1986 shortly after Alabama won the football game, and some Auburn football players told me they hadn’t shown themselves in public for three days,” said John Henderson, formerly of the Denver Post. “Enough said.”

Some of this post originated from "100 Things Crimson tide Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," published by Triumph Books.