A Bye Week to Work on Bama.
The Tigers prepare for the Tide!
(photo by Acid Reign)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s a much-needed open date for the Auburn Tigers, after playing on seven consecutive Saturdays, including two of the last three on the road in the SEC. Word from Auburn is that this week’s workouts are not full-contact, as the Tigers try to heal the nicks and bruises any team has at this time of year. I will be quite interested to see what surprises have been installed for the Tide during this extended practice time.
It has been a quiet week in terms of news from Auburn, but the Tigers do seem to be making hay in the recruiting department. Recruiting is not something I normally follow, as I’d much rather follow the guys that are actually on campus and making their name at Auburn, rather than speculating on which highschoolers will make it or not. Still, one has to be encouraged by the commitments this week from JUCO defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey and cornerback/safety Stephen Roberts, who originally committed to Alabama. Both have the talent to be immediate contributors next season.
The Iron Bowl has always been a tense time of year for me, and frankly, I enjoyed it best when the two teams would get the game over with the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The SEC changed the scheduling rules about 5 years ago, requiring every team to play on Thanksgiving weekend, so that no team will ever have a bye week going into the SEC title game. Still, I prefer having the thing over and done before Thanksgiving, and relaxing during that holiday. As it is now, I’m chewing nails for days before the game.
I consider 1974 the first year that I really knuckled down and started following every play of every Auburn game, either on the television, radio, or occasionally in the stadium. Before that, I was a kid who’d listen or watch occasionally, with a fairly small attention span. This is my 40th season of being an intense sort of fan, and I’ve chronicled my Iron Bowl experiences after the jump.
In 1974, I was supremely, arrogantly confident, and was shattered when we lost 17-13. I was convinced for many years that the officials robbed Thom Gossam of a game-winning TD. (They didn’t. It was called correctly.)
1975-1976: I had no confidence whatsoever. We were woeful, and Bama was awesome. We took 28-0 and 38-7 blowout losses.
1977: I was cautiously optimistic, as Fast Freddie Smith and the Tigers had blown UGA’s season out of the water with a huge 33-14 win in Athens. And Auburn did put up 21 points with a rookie sensation named James Brooks. Unfortunately, you couldn’t stop Bama with a one-player defense. Not the triple option. We took a 48-21 loss.
1978: I was in the Auburn band, making our second trip of the year to Legion Field, where we had earlier cleaned Johnny Major’s UT clock. We were beat up, though, and I was mainly hoping for a good showing. We had laid it all on the field in a 22-all tie with UGA, and I was not confident we had anything left. We lost, 34-16.
1979: We came in with a six-game Iron Bowl losing streak, and I had learned not to get my hopes up. I limped in on a student ticket with my broken foot, and pint of Bacardi. Screamed my lungs raw. Auburn gave us reason to hope after a huge Joe Cribbs punt return, and a late 18-17 4th quarter lead. Bama did what a national champion does. Steadman Shealy and Major Ogilvie led ’em defiantly down the field for the 25-18 win.
1980: I had no confidence AT ALL. I was in the band again, but we were just playing out the string. Everyone knew Barfield was gone, and we specialized that year in finding ways to lose SEC games. I was kind of surprised that we put up as much of a fight as we did, losing 34-18. Highlight of the day was when the Auburn Band assembled in the Green Springs K-Mart parking lot. A convertible full of drunk Tide fans rolled up, and they roared through the lot, hanging out, and screaming “Roll Tide” at us. The driver plowed into a parked vehicle at about 30 MPH, and there were loose Bama folk ejected from the vehicle in all directions! An ambulance had to be called, and I still don’t know if anyone was seriously hurt (I hope not, I did stupid things as a college student, myself!). But, at the time, it was the funniest dadgum moment of the day!
1981: Bear Bryant was gunning for his record-breaking 315th win. We were struggling on offense. We played hard, but had no chance in a 28-17 loss. I knew, going in. Made the best of it, at work, listening on the radio.
1982: I had no confidence, this year, either. We couldn’t take Georgia at home, so how were we going to win at Bama’s summer palace, at Legion Field? Nine straight Iron Bowl losses will do that to you. To make matters worse, I was working in a bar, the game was on, and the vast majority of the patrons were in red and white, watching it on TV and ordering tons of drinks and wings. Auburn trailed most of the game, but kept hanging in there. It took a Herculean effort to keep my mouth shut and do my job. I even kept quiet when Bo went over the top! I figured Bama would drive down and win. They always did. When Bob Harris picked off that last pass, I just said, “Excuse me for a minute,” to the shift manager, went out in the back alley, and went NUTS with screams and War Eagles! Auburn broke the streak, winning 23-22.
1983: I was back in school, and at the game with a student ticket, but no Bacardi bottle. I had to drive, and if you’ve ever seen the inside of the Jefferson County lockup… I was supremely confident, that day, but Bama did not cooperate. Bo had a career day, but Ricky Moore did, too. It was a MISERABLE day, with blinding rain, cold, wet, and windy. Bo used up the last of his juice on an 85 yard TD run to retake the lead in the 3rd quarter, and we hung on. I’m not sure we’d have won that game without the weather. We took the run away as the rains poured on, and every time Walter Lewis would try to heave a sodden football, the wind would carry it off track. Bama didn’t hit a single pass in the second half, and Auburn held on, 23-20.
1984: By this time, I not only expected to beat lowly 4-6 Bama, but I expected the first Auburn blowout win since 1969. Someone forgot to wake the Tigers up till the 4th quarter. It came down to a freshman kicker, who missed, and had to move to Florida. We fell to Bama, 17-15. That game has to be my 2nd most disappointing Iron Bowl, ever. I watched it at my parents’ house, in shocked silence.
1985: I was determined to just enjoy this game, take whatever happened, and be cool. I was confident that we COULD win it, but not that we would, after witnessing tank jobs against Tennessee and Florida. It was an amazing see-saw game, and I finally let loose when we scored late to take the 23-22 lead. What followed was some of the worst prevent-defense in Auburn history. Not only did we let Mike Shula get off a deep pass, but we failed to break it up, and let the receiver drag two Auburn defenders all the way from inside the hash to out of bounds with a single second left. What? Bama can’t hit a 52-yarder, can they? Yep. Van Tiffin nailed it, and Auburn fell again, 25-23.
1986: Was the last year I worked the day of the Iron Bowl. Management had decided to give us Black Friday off, and make us work Saturday. I was stuck listening on a Radio Shack earbud radio. I expected to lose. We had started off like national champs, that year, but then blew a 17-0 lead in the 4th quarter in Gainesville, and in our most recent outing, we had let Georgia RUN ALL OVER US. If we couldn’t stop UGA, no way would we win the Iron Bowl! Sure enough, Bama dominated, and we trailed by 10 in the 4th quarter. Somehow, someway, even making personnel mistakes in the clutch, Auburn pulled out a 21-17 win on the Tillman reverse. I went BERSERK! Old timers at the company still talk about how I pulled out a hose and went wild, spraying both myself and anyone else in range!
1987: I was very confident, here. Bill Curry couldn’t beat us, ever, could he? The 10-0 game was a LOT closer than I would have liked. While I enjoyed Stacy Danley’s pounding, where had all the explosive Dye running backs gone? On a day when we locked up an SEC Championship, I suppose I should have been more fired up about an Iron Bowl win.
1988: Again, I expected to blow Bama out. We had given up only 18 points, in the PAST FIVE WEEKS! We had Joseph and Danley. We had Slack. We had Tillman, Weygand and Reeves. Bama would be CRUSHED! Pat Dye coughed and coughed, and here we were trailing most of the day in another big game. Auburn put together a long 4th quarter drive and won, but it was close, 15-10.
1989: I was not confident, AT ALL. I had watched a lot of Bama games. That Homer Smith offense seemed UNSTOPPABLE. And we had suffered on the D-line in 1989, as backs like Reggie Cobb had run over us. Yes, we were at home in Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time ever, but I didn’t give us much chance. Bama had a lot of weapons, and we had trouble stopping explosive backs like Siran Stacy. Wayne Hall’s defenses always had trouble with short cover, and with backs (like Kevin Turner) out of the backfield. Bama ran all of these things, and ran them well. 1989 was a tough year for Auburn, offensively, too. I just didn’t think we had much chance. At first, it looked like I was right, but Auburn turned the Tide just before halftime, and went bombs away in the 3rd quarter, pulling out to a 27-10 lead! My parents’ house was ROCKING! Bama fought back, but Auburn got their 4th in a row, 30-20.
1990: It was a tough year, as we now had championship expectations at Auburn, after 3 straight SEC titles. Somehow, a deeply flawed team kept winning, till the wheels came off in Gainesville, and a shocking homecoming loss to Brett Farve and USM ensued. We rebounded against Georgia, putting up the biggest victory margin over the Dawgs in my lifetime, and I figured we could handle a Bama team that had no offense under Stallings and Moore. It was an odd Iron Bowl. It was my first year with my wife, and she’s not into football. I watched it alone, and watched the Tiger offense fail utterly, except for one Hail Mary pass before halftime. We lost 16-7, and I don’t think we even got a first down in the second half.
From about this point forward, I’ve usually watched the Iron Bowl alone, as I am too animated, loud, and rambunctious. Furniture gets knocked over. Drinks spilled. Yelling. Screaming. All of it. My wife takes the kids shopping or to a movie. The cats hide in the basement. It’s not a place for the faint of heart. Unless otherwise noted, I’ve typically had the house to myself for most Iron Bowls in the past two decades.
1991: Not only had the wheels come off, but the NCAA was after us, too. We had let a freshman QB throw all over us in Athens, and now we were facing another one, Jay Barker, who was leading a 9-1 Bama squad. I was pretty sure we’d find a way to lose. Auburn surprised me, carrying a 6-6 tie deep into the 4th quarter, but ultimately, Barker and Co. drove down for the winning score, and beat us 13-6, in the last Legion Field home game for the Tigers.
1992: I was oddly confident for this one. Dye had resigned, Bama was fighting for championships, and we had nothing to lose. The game was played on Thanksgiving Day, and I had threatened to skip a family trip to Jackson, Mississippi, if the game wasn’t going to be on a TV where I could watch it. The in-laws looked at me like I was crazy, as I got more and more fired up during the scoreless first half. I guess Ole Miss fans just don’t take football that seriously… Ultimately, we couldn’t catch a pass to save our lives in 1992. Stan White got hurt, and we sank, 17-0.
1993: I was overconfident, again. We were undefeated, and I had seemingly secured tickets to the Iron Bowl! Those fell through, and I ended up listening on ear-buds while raking leaves in the yard. We had young children taking naps, and we didn’t want to risk me listening indoors. I figured we’d dice up the Tide defense, but the defending national champs had other ideas. Bama dominated, and seemed on the verge of putting the game away multiple times in the 3rd quarter. Somehow, Auburn eeked their way down to the Bama 29, but then Stan White was sacked, hurt, and it was game-over. Wait, what’s this idiot new coach DOING? He’s GOING for it? On 4th and 15? With a backup quarterback lacking arm-strength? “Wow, Bowden’s just LOST IT,” I thought. Then Nix to Sanders happened. I screamed and screamed! I dived into a leaf pile and rolled! I spent the 4th quarter yelling my lungs out, pacing the yard. At first, a few Bama folk in the area would yell back, but they quieted down as Auburn continued their march to a 22-14 victory, and a perfect season! That one was the best Iron Bowl I didn’t see!
1994: I was a little worried, going into this Iron Bowl, but not terribly so. We were a bit beat up, but who can’t get excited about an Iron Bowl featuring two undefeated teams in Legion Field? I had no idea that I was in store for one of the worst first halves in Auburn history. We false started. We didn’t block. We fumbled. We couldn’t catch. And worse, we could not tackle! Couldn’t stop Sherman Williams. Couldn’t tackle Toderick Malone. Couldn’t cover Marcel West. Wow. A 21-0 halftime lead had to be an Iron Bowl record, right? And we were lucky that Gene and Mal were so conservative on offense. It could have been 35-0. Yes, there were still napping kids in the house, but they were in no danger of being waked up, as I sat in shocked silence. Auburn fought back, but I didn’t believe, till that last drive, when Auburn moved it past midfield. I let out a blistering string of swear words in front of my kids, when we were robbed by a horrible spot at the end. I was wondering about Bowden, at this point. HOW do you bring a team in, THAT FLAT, for the Iron Bowl?
1995: We were picked to battle Florida for the SEC title, this year, but that was off the Iron Bowl table due to offensive collapses against LSU, Florida, and Arkansas. I had no confidence that we’d do any better against Bill Oliver and Co. I figured we had a chance, though, because Gene Stallings and Homer Smith were feuding about the offense, and I didn’t think Bama would be able to put many points on the board. I watched that game at a party, mostly Bama folks. I was worried about possible violence among the attendees, but I guess we had grown up a bit. No one got punched out, and we shook hands at the end of the 31-27 win. I think both sides realized that neither team was quite so good, anymore.
1996: I didn’t give us much of a chance, in 1996. We were fresh off the 4-overtime loss to UGA. We had TANKED in Gainesville. Stallings had regrouped Bama under coordinators DuBose and McCorvey, and the Tide was rolling. That 1996 Bama unit was one of the faster college defenses I’ve ever seen. We could throw, but the Auburn running game had evaporated. I had Auburn friends over to watch it on TV, and eat a lavish dinner. My fears were confirmed when Bama roared out to a 17-0 first quarter lead. Somehow, though, Auburn got up off the mat. Bowden was shown SCREAMING, on the sideline, “Don’t give up! NEVER give up!” We got a field goal after a long Rusty Williams run. Karsten Bailey beat Fernando Bryant for a 57-yard TD on the fade. Mark Smith, out for the past two months on a bad knee, came in and ROCKED Freddie Kitchens a few times. Kitchens would throw a pick-six to Brad Ware, and then Marcel West would fumble the kickoff, and Auburn led at half 20-17! We couldn’t hold on at the end, though. With no running game, we couldn’t get the first down to end it, and we fell on a late screen pass, 24-23.
1997: Again, I was overconfident. We had just EXPLODED against UGA, and Bama was on a 3-game losing skid. Auburn roared up and down the field between the 20s (sound familiar?) but only had 6 points to show for it. Freddie Kitchens came in for Bama, and sparked ’em to 17 unanswered points. Auburn battled back, but it wasn’t enough, as Shaun Alexander ripped off a 12 yard run for a crucial first down at the end. Bama could have wound the clock down to less than 20 seconds, but inexplicably, they ran a screen pass that they fumbled away to Auburn! Auburn escaped with Jarrett Holmes’ 4th field goal, 18-17.
1998: I had NO confidence. We were short on coaches, short on leadership, short on players, short on talent, and it was on the road. This was the last Iron Bowl played at Birmingham’s Legion Field. Bama had found some confidence, and had turned their fortunes around. I watched in SHOCK as Auburn blew out to a totally unexpected 17-0 lead. After going nuts and getting my hopes up, we wilted, and lost, 31-17.
1999: I didn’t expect to win in 1999, as we were facing a very dangerous Bama squad. I knew we’d have a chance if we gave Ben Leard time to throw, but I didn’t know HOW we’d stop Shaun Alexander and Andrew Zow. Somehow, Auburn dominated the first three quarters! Only a Damon Duval miss prevented a 17-6 lead! Bama drove 20 plays downfield, and we held ’em at the 6! Rather than rest our defense, though, we tried to throw out of our own end zone, with 3rd team blockers out there. AND with a pump-fake. Sack, safety, punt, and we put an exhausted defense back out there, with no depth. Bama rolled to 3 straight TDs, and we fell, 28-17.
2000: I was worried, even though we were heavily favored. Bama was down under lame duck coach Mike Dubose, but I had learned from experience that Auburn being heavily favored did us no favors. And Dubose’s squad WAS talented. Somehow, despite being picked to win the SEC in 2000, they had fallen apart. I had the possibility of getting tickets again, but it fell through. My two little brothers went, though, and only lasted through the 3rd quarter. They left, frozen to the bone, and soaked, listening to the final quarter on the radio. I can honestly say that Bama offensive coaches called one of the worst Iron Bowls I’ve ever seen. When they DID have success on a play, you could be sure that they wouldn’t run it again. With a good O-line, and backs like Ahmad Galloway, against a young Auburn D-line, Bama ran to the edges, or threw in the freezing rain against two very good, veteran corners. In the end, Rudi Johnson, and tight end Lorenzo Diamond gave Auburn just enough offense for 3 Damon Duval field goals, and Auburn won the division, 9-0.
2001: Overconfidence on my part crept in, again. Bama had a losing record. They couldn’t stop folks in the 4th quarter. WE had found a TAILBACK the previous week, in Athens! Carnell Williams and some play action Cobb passes would light up the Bama D! Auburn showed up flat, while Alabama was in a foul mood. We were getting run over, then Carnell broke his collarbone. Auburn tanked horribly. The 31-7 loss, against a losing Bama team, was the worst of my lifetime. I questioned HOW a coach could produce a team THAT FLAT, in the IRON BOWL? My confidence in Coach Tuberville was at an all-time low, and I thought that coordinators Noel Mazzone and Jon Lovett got a raw deal, getting fired when it was the head man’s fault!
2002: I didn’t expect much, but I knew this Auburn team, unlike a year ago, would FIGHT. I had seen it in person at the Georgia game. Auburn lost that day, 24-21, but there was an attitude there, that had been missing for a LONG time. With Trey Smith and Cooper Wallace in the backfield, though, against a 9-2 Tide team that had demolished Tennessee in Knoxville, and LSU in Baton Rouge, I figured we’d struggle to move the ball. This year, it was Bama’s turn to look unprepared. Auburn hit Bama in the mouth, and jumped out to a 17-0 lead that they would never relinquish. In some ways, the 2002 17-7 upset was even more shocking than the one a year ago!
2003: I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in 2003, either. Both teams came into the Iron Bowl struggling. Auburn hadn’t beaten a quality opponent since Arkansas early in the season. Bama had suffered, too, but at least had a 38-0 demolition of Mississippi State in their recent resume. Brodie Croyle and Shaud Williams looked dangerous. Well, Cadillac went CRAZY, and Auburn jumped out to an 18-2 first quarter lead! As Auburn continued to drive the ball, visions of a blow-out were dancing in my head! Auburn made me suffer, though, as dropped ball after dropped ball doomed drives. We left three 2nd quarter touchdowns lying in the Jordan Hare grass. In the 3rd quarter, a kick-return TD, a 3 and out, and a Shaud Williams-powered Bama drive had us on the ropes, clinging to a narrow 18-16 lead. Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown took over, though, and gashed out tough yards, to power us to a 28-23 win, and a bowl trip to Nashville.
2004: Again, I was overly optimistic. We were fresh off a BEATING of UGA. Bama was down to a third team quarterback and running back, and the backs were ALL banged up. We needed a big win to impress the pollsters, and we fell flat in the first half, trailing 6-0. I suffered. Auburn dominated the second half, but then let Alabama get a late score. We posted an unimpressive 21-13 win against a depleted Bama squad, and would sink below Oklahoma for good in the polls. We were 11-0 again, though! Good enough!
2005: This year signaled my first Iron Bowl attended live, since 1983. I REFUSED to be overconfident, for this one. I was going to go, enjoy the noise and pageantry, regardless of a win or loss. Bama had a very solid team, although I thought we might be able to exploit Bama’s passing game, a bit. It was a DELIRIOUS first quarter, as Auburn sacked Brodie Croyle repeatedly, and zoomed out to a 21-0 lead! Blowout! Of course, an Iron Bowl wouldn’t be complete, without some suffering. Auburn pretty much coasted, with conservative offensive play-calls, to a 28-18 win that should have been a LOT more!
2006: was the year I thought that the Auburn streak would end. It was also my first year watching the game while seeing what various bloggers were doing. While Bama came in fresh off losses to Mississippi State and LSU, it was at home in Bryant Denny. The wheels had TOTALLY come off the Auburn offense. We had done very little since the huge Florida win, and against Georgia, I think the Bulldogs had more interception/fumble return yards than we had offense. Bama dominated the early going, kicking a field goal, but Auburn was still in the game with a big goal line stand. With receiver Courtney Taylor out, though, offensive prospects looked bleak. Quentin Groves rose up, and had his best day as a Tiger. Groves took two balls away from Bama QB John Parker Wilson, and staked Auburn to a double digit lead. Auburn would come up with a miracle drive in the 3rd, with huge catches by Carl Stewart, Prechae Rodriguez, and Lee Guess. Groves and company would hold Bama down in the 4th quarter, and Auburn won, 22-15.
2007: Was the first year I spent the entire game in front of the computer, live-blogging it. My son actually watched it with me, and put up with my noise! Bama came in flailing after the loss to ULM, but Auburn had collapsed in the 2nd half against Georgia. It was probably most uncertain prognosis to an Iron Bowl, ever. Auburn powered out to a 10-0 lead, Bama fought back, but was DENIED on an interception in the end zone by Jerraud Powers. Auburn held Bama out of the end zone in the second half, and had just enough offense to hold off Bama, 17-10, for the sixth Iron Bowl win in a ROW!
2008: I held low confidence for this game, As Auburn’s Tony Franklin offensive experiment had fallen apart at midseason, and Auburn was struggling to score points. Alabama was undefeated, and headed to Atlanta. Auburn hung tough for a half, trailing only 10-0. The Tigers then started turning the ball over, and Bama cruised to a 36-0 win. Tommy Tuberville resigned a few days later, and Gene Chizik was hired. It seemed that Auburn was destined to slide permanently into the lower echelon of the SEC.
2009: I really didn’t expect Auburn to win this game, but I hoped they’d do a little better than the year before. A bowl game was already assured for the Tigers, but they were taking on a team that had not lost a regular season game in 2 years. Auburn jumped on Bama for a 14-0 first quarter lead, and throttled the Tide running game. Alabama fought back, though, coming through with a last ditch touchdown drive in the waning moments to win, 26-21. Alabama would go on to win the SEC and national championships.
2010: I was pretty confident in game, as it was Auburn this year who was undefeated, while Bama had blown a couple of SEC games. I again expected Auburn to choke Alabama’s conservative offense, and Cam Newton would explode against the Tide defense. Instead, Alabama came out throwing the ball, and they stuffed Newton for much of the first half. I kept on plodding away at the keyboard, and when the Tigers trailed 24-0 in the second quarter, I was certain I was going to see a historic blow-out. Somehow, Auburn fought back, and shut Alabama down. Newton hit Phillip Lutzenkirchen on a throw-back pass early in the 4th quarter, giving Auburn an improbable 28-27 win. This year, it was Auburn’s turn to win the national title!
2011: I had no confidence at all as Alabama came into Jordan-Hare Stadium ranked 2nd in the nation, while Auburn was suffering 5 touchdown blowout losses to teams like LSU and Georgia. Auburn could do nothing on offense, but gave us brief hope a couple of times. A sack-fumble touchdown by Corey Lemonier, and a kick-return touchdown to open the second half by Onterio McCalebb kept things close for a while, but Alabama powered against a tiring Tiger squad to a 42-14 win.
2012: Quite honestly, I was playing out the string this year, just like Auburn was. There was no chance Auburn would even keep this game close. There was some fight evident in this team, till Alabama scored a second first quarter touchdown. Auburn collapsed, and Alabama zoomed to a 42-0 halftime lead, and emptied the bench in the second half en route to a 49-0 blowout win, the worst beating Auburn has ever taken in my lifetime.
2013: It’s a new day in Auburn. I believe this team will test Alabama. I’m not sure it will win the game, but it’s possible. And I’m way more hopeful than in the previous few years. At this point I’m wondering if the bye week will give Auburn an advantage, or will not playing this weekend get the Tigers out of synch? The tale will be told in 9 days, as Auburn and Alabama will meet as top ten ranked teams in Jordan Hare Stadium!