This is it. This is Iron Bowl week. It’s what nearly 5,000,000 citizens in the Heart of Dixie (and millions more across the country) look forward to at the end of Thanksgiving week. It’s the renewal of the nation’s No. 1 rivalry … Auburn vs. Alabama.
This is the game coached by such legends as Heisman, Dye, Stallings, Bear, and Shug. Its the game that has made a player’s name recognizable for generations. Players such as Bo, Namath, Sullivan, Musso, Cadillac, Stabler, Ingram, and Cam. And it is a game that has made heroes out of the most unlikely. Players like Bill Newton, Mailon Kent, Van Tiffen, and Tre Smith..
Yes, when it comes to college football , it doesn’t get any better than this … well maybe that statement doesn’t apply to this year – when a 3-8 Auburn team has to face a No.2 Alabama team in Tuscaloosa.
Normally this writer would be transfixed all week on the upcoming showdown in T-Town. However, this year’s Auburn squad has imploded and the prospects of Auburn making a game out of it are less than the odds of winning the Publishers’ Clearing House Sweepstakes.
As Jay Coulter wrote yesterday, for Auburn fans, this will probably be, “An Iron Bowl Week To Forget.” So since I can’t bring myself to look forward to Saturday- I decided to go ahead and forget the expected beat down and instead remember some of the great Iron Bowls of the past.
There are so many great games that stand out that it’s almost impossible to say which are the greatest Iron Bowls ever? However, I have ranked what I see as the top 20 Iron Bowls of my life time.
Here’s my list:
20. 1963 – Auburn’s greatest running quarterback, All-American Jimmy Sidle, was injured and had to be relieved by unknown back up Mailon Kent. The No.2 QB led Auburn on two scoring drives, including the go-ahead touchdown to take a 10-8 win over Joe Namath and the Crimson Tide. The Tigers narrowly missed a chance at a national championship and finished with a top five ranking. Sports Illustrated picked Auburn to win the national championship in 1964.
The next year Namath led the Tide to a hard fought 21-14 victory over the Tigers and Alabama would go on to earn the national championship that preseason pundits had picked Auburn to win.
19. 2003 – Never mind Bama was 4-8, this game was significant because an embattled Tommy Tuberville was not expected to survive a loss to the Tide. Instead Cadillac Williams electrified the Jordan-Hare crowd by taking the opening handoff 80 yards for a touchdown. It was one of those moments in Jordan-Hare that I can see like it just happened last week. Cadillac went on to rush for more than 200 yards on the night and lead Auburn to a 28-23 win.
18. 2005 – Number 11 Auburn faced No. 9 Alabama. The Auburn defense put on a clinic, shutting down the Tide’s offense and sacking Bama quarterback Brodie Croyle 12 times. The Tigers would win the game 28-18 and a new bumper sticker became popular on cars across Alabama, “Honk if you’ve sacked Brodie.
17.1988 - What was probably the greatest Auburn defense in history … held Alabama to 3 points. Although quarterback Reggie Slack threw for 220 yards, and tailback Stacy Danley had 100 yards rushing, the Tide also was able to hold the Tigers to 3 points. Then late in the game, Auburn’s Ron Stallworth tackled David Smith in the end zone for a safety. After a field goal was added, Vincent Harris’ scored on a 1-yard run and Auburn earned a 15-10 victory.
16.2002- Auburn came into the Iron Bowl missing future NFL first round draft picks Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown. The Tide was ranked in the AP’s Top 10 and it didn’t look good for the Tigers. Because of injuries, Auburn was down to their fourth string running back, an unknown player named Tre Smith. Tre shocked the Tide with a 126 yard performance and sparked Auburn to a an improbable 17-7 victory.
15. 1994 – This game is the way the Iron Bowl should look every year as Number 6 Auburn took on No.3 Alabama. Auburn came into the game sporting a 21 game winning streak. Auburn appeared to be driving for a win late in the game when the referees made a bad spot (or good spot if your a Tide fan) and ended the Tigers drive when they were denied a first-down by one inch. The call infuriated me at the time and the Tide’s 21-14 win put Alabama in the SEC Championship game.
14. 1996 – Alabama came from behind to edge Auburn by one point 24–23 in the final minutes of Gene Stallings’ last Iron Bowl as Alabama Head Coach. The win also gave Alabama another berth in the SEC Championship game.
13.1997 – With less than a minute to play and Alabama leading the game 17-15, Coach Mike Dubose probably sealed his fate with the Alabama fan base by not running out the clock. Instead he had the Tide try a screen pass that resulted in a fumble which Auburn recovered. Then Jaret Holmes hit a field goal with 21 seconds left, sending the Tigers to the SEC Championship Game. I was standing on a concourse ramp in the south end zone and I thought it was going to collapse from the fans jumping up and down.
12. 2000 – Because of the dogged insistence of former Auburn Coach, Pat Dye, the Iron Bowl was played in Tuscaloosa for the first time in 99 years. It was cold, wet, and sleeting off and on during the game; but the Tigers warmed my heart by shutting out the Tide 9-0. And by doing so, earned another trip to the SEC Championship game. It was the final game of Coach Mike DuBose.
11. 1993 – This was the first college football game to sell out two stadiums. The game was not televised due to Auburn being on probation, but was shown on closed-circuit television before Tide fans at Bryant–Denny. Auburn was undefeated and ranked No.6, went on to defeat No. 11 Alabama 22-14.
The Tigers were not allowed to play in the SEC Championship game and the defeated Bama team was granted that privilege. Auburn finished the season undefeated and was awarded the National Championship by several selectors including the National Championship Foundation. It was one of eight national championship seasons the school does not officially recognize.
10. In 2009 - Everyone expected the second ranked Tide to not have much trouble with the Tigers. However, Auburn jumped out to a 14-0 lead and held on till late in the game when Bama QB Greg McElroy repeatedly found receiver Julio Jones on a six minute drive. McElroy completed a touchdown pass to Roy Upchurch with 1:24 left to take a 26-21 lead. But Auburn came back down the field and the Alabama defenders had to knock down Auburn’s final pass attempt in the end zone as time expired.
Even though Auburn lost, I have never been more proud of an effort from the Tigers. As the players left the field, I joined in with 80,000 other Tiger fans to shout, ‘Its Great To be an Auburn Tiger.”
9. 1985 – This game is famously named, “The Kick” by Bama fans. It was a game that I thought Auburn had won, then Mike Shula drove his team down the field to set up a 52 yard field goal attempt with six seconds remaining. Van Tiffin made a perfect kick as time expired. That game along with the ’88 earth quake game at LSU have been the most disappointing games in my lifetime
8. 1981 – Alabama had to rally to defeat Auburn 28-17 in the 1981 Iron Bowl. But what makes the game memorable was – it was the win that gave Crimson Tide Coach Bear Bryant his 315th career victory; making him the all-time winningest coach in Division I history.
7. 1982 - Auburn ended Alabama’s nine-game winning streak and handed the Bear a defeat in his final Iron Bowl. But perhaps more importantly the victory turned the rivalry around as the win would be the first of six Auburn victories during the eighties – a decade when Auburn would be the dominant team in the SEC.
6. 1986 – One of the most exciting endings to any Auburn game ever. With 32 seconds left, Auburn had the ball on the Alabama 7-yard line trailing 17-14. The play was to be a reverse but Coach Dye ran down the sideline shouting for receiver Lawyer Tillman to call a time out. He tried to call the timeout, but his signal was not seen by the officials. Auburn then ran the reverse, and Tillman scored the touchdown, giving the Tigers the victory 21 -i7.
5. 1972 – This one is easy. It’s may be the most famous Iron Bowl victory ever. Alabama came into the game undefeated and marching toward a league championship. While Auburn had surprised everyone with a good season one year removed from losing Heisman winner Pat Sullivan … they were still a heavy underdog.
With just over five minutes to go in the game, the Tigers were trailing 16-3 but Bill Newton blocked an Alabama punt and David Langner ran it back for a touchdown. With just over a minute left, (it looked almost like today’s instant replay) as Newton blocked another punt with Langner scooping it up and running it in for the score. After Gardner Jett made the PAT Auburn had upset Bama 17-16. “Punt Bama punt” has been a familiar phrase around Auburn ever since.
4. 1983 – Auburn defeated Alabama 23-20 at Legion Field. Bo Jackson set the Iron Bowl rushing record with 256 yards. The Tigers won the SEC Championship and was awarded the National Championship by Billingsley, FACT, Football Research, The New York Times, and Jeff Sagarin. However, it’s another championship the school does not officially recognize.
3. 1957 – Auburn gave the Tide a 40-0 beat down to give Coach Shug Jordan an SEC Championship. The AP pollsters also awarded Jordan and his Tigers a National Championship. It was the fourth consecutive defeat of Alabama by the Tigers and prompted Alabama to bring in Paul Bryant to take over the Tide program.
2. 2010- This game was a tale of two halves with Alabama dominating the first half 24-0 and Auburn dominating the second 28-3. Auburn completed the greatest comeback in Iron Bowl history as they took the wind out of the Tide with a 28-27 victory. Auburn went on to win both the SEC and National Championship.
1. 1989 – Most will probably wonder why I would rank a game above two that were instrumental in bringing national championships to The Plains. Well its simple. the 1989 Iron Bowl was more than a game. it was a deliverance from the oppression of not being allowed to play our home games at home. Up until 1989, no Iron bowl had ever been played at Auburn. That was one of the biggest reasons for the Tides dominance for over two decades. All anyone has to do is look at how the series has evened out since the home and home format has been instituted.
In 1989 Alabama was undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the nation. But at the end of the day, they left Auburn with a 30-20 defeat. I have attended Auburn games on campus since I was a child and I have never ever experienced any thing like the emotion, the unity of the fans, and the thrill of victory as I did that day. It was almost a spiritual experience. Until I die it will remain one of the five greatest moments of my life.
Well that’s my list folks. I would be interested in seeing yours.
War Eagle and Beat Bama!
Tags: AubTigerman, Auburn Football, Auburn National Championships, auburn Tigers, Bear bryant, Bo Jackson, Cam Newton, greg McElroy, Iron Bowl history, Jimmy Siddle, Joe Namath, John Heisman, lawyer Tillman, mark Ingram, pat dye, pat Sullivan, Shug Jordan, top 20 iron Bowls, Track 'em Tigers