Iron Bowl Confidence.
Try as I might, I can’t find anyone who thinks Auburn has a prayer in this year’s Iron Bowl. The last time I saw a confidence level this low would be going into the 1976 game at Legion Field. Of course, the confidence of the fans really won’t matter what happens on the field, or will it? To all Auburn fans going to this game, make sure and yell your lungs out for this team!
Confidence in what one is doing is critical to success in any difficult endeavor. If Coach Chizik and his assistants did nothing else the past two weeks in practice, they had to win the team back, and instill confidence in the plan. If they’ve done that, and it shows on the field, they’ll go a long way towards saving their jobs.
On a more personal level, here’s where I’ve been confidence wise in past Iron Bowls, and what the result was.
In 1969 and earlier, I took it as a fact that Alabama always won, and the best an Auburn fan could hope for was to give them a good fight. The legend of Sullivan to Beaseley was already in full flight by this year’s Iron Bowl, but I was warned not to get my hopes up. The 1969 Bama squad had lost to Vanderbilt, and LSU, and had been blown out by Tennessee. I’ll say I was cautiously optimistic. That year’s Iron Bowl was a surprisingly strong Auburn 49-26 win, the largest in series history in my lifetime.
1970 was a year of confidence, but we had taken a blow with a 31-17 home loss to Georgia the game before the Iron Bowl. Auburn fell behind 17-0 early, and I went back to my bedroom and played with my Legos. I missed one of the greatest comebacks in Auburn history, as Auburn won the game, 33-28.
1971 was a year I was convinced that Auburn was going to win the national championship, entering the Iron Bowl undefeated. Pat Sullivan had been awarded the Heisman trophy during the week. However, Bama was not an opponent to be taken lightly. They also were undefeated, running a newfangled offense called the “wishbone.” Auburn looked woefully unprepared, and hung over during that Iron Bowl, and were blown out 31-7. That game, as much as anything, started a division among the Auburn fans that lasted a decade. There was a camp from that day forward that thought that Shug was too old to get it done anymore, after that showing.
The 1972 Iron Bowl was not televised for the first time in seven years, likely due to the fact that Alabama was a heavy favorite over the once-beaten Tigers. Alabama was once again undefeated, and had rolled over nearly everybody by double digit margins. I put together a space shuttle model on the kitchen table while we listened on my dad’s old Heathkit radio. Bedlam ensued when Auburn blocked two punts, and won 17-16!
By 1973, I had reached the point where I was never voluntarily missing another play of an Iron Bowl. We were back on TV, but it had been a bit of a down year for the Tigers. I wasn’t confident at all, but was hoping for another hard-fought miracle. Bama slammed the door on that fantasy with a 35-0 beating.
In 1974, I was supremely, arrogantly confident, due to the fact that we now had an option attack to match Bama’s, 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 by the rules of that era.)
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 we did put up 21 points with a rookie sensation named James Brooks. Unfortunately, Bama couldn’t be stopped 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, in a game that wasn’t really that close.
1979 We came in with a six-game Iron Bowl losing streak, and I had learned not to get my hopes up. Particularly not since this team had blown a 38-21 halftime lead against Wake Forest, and lost 42-38. I limped in on a student ticket with my broken foot, and a 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 TV, 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 War Eagles! Bo went over the top, and 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. 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. We 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 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! The house was ROCKING! Bama fought back, but Auburn got their 4th in a row, 30-20.
1990 Was a tough year, as we now had SEC championship expectations at Auburn. Somehow, a deeply flawed team kept winning, till the wheels came off in Gainesville, and the team suffered a shocking homecoming loss to Brett Farve and USM. 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 Georgia freshman QB Eric Zeier throw all over us, 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.
In 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. Relatives 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 it 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 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 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 side 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! 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. 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! Late in the 3rd quarter, 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 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 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 the 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 the 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 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 the 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 kept 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, but had no idea it would turn out as badly as it did. It was my first year doing live threads for TrackEmTigers.com. The Tigers kept it close for a half, but a rash of second half turnovers set up repeated Bama touchdowns, and we lost 36-0.
2009 was another year of low Iron Bowl expectations. Alabama was rolling towards their second consecutive undefeated season, while Auburn was struggling with the plethora of 3-5/4-4 SEC teams like Kentucky and Georgia. At home, the Tigers came out and really slugged Bama in the mouth, taking an early 14-0 lead. The Tide weathered the storm, and pulled out a late drive to win, 26-21.
2010 was an amazing year, but by Iron Bowl time, Cam-gate was raging all through the interwebs, and I was quite nervous. The Auburn camp was keeping things close to the vest, and we were never sure that the NCAA or SEC wouldn’t step in at any time and ban Newton from playing. There was great relief when Newton took the field, to be quickly replaced with consternation as Nick Fairly went to the locker room injured, and Alabama roared out to a 24-0 lead. From that point, I just hoped that Auburn would make it a fight, and didn’t dare hope for a win. It was absolutely incredible how Auburn fought back, and ultimately won it, dominating a good Bama squad in the 2nd half.
2011 was another year of trepidation for me. Bama was in the Iron Bowl as a play-in for the BCS title game, while Auburn was getting blown out by the better SEC teams, and struggling with Samford. Aside from a sack fumble touchdown, and an Onterio McCalebb kickoff return for a score, it was a disappointing game. What was the most disappointing aspect of it was we felt like it was a typical day, and that this team was no longer competitive with the upper echelon in the league.
2012 features the most underachieving Auburn football team of my lifetime, against the SEC Title favorite. My expectation is that these players will fight, as it IS the Iron Bowl, against our biggest rival. After several tank jobs the past month, I don’t have much confidence that will happen. The Tigers will start a true freshman with basically three games’ experience against the most complex, potent defense in the league. And we’ll be doing that with an offense known for bizarre game-planning. I don’t expect to win this game, but I’d love to see some fight in these Tigers. We’ll need that attitude going forward, regardless of whether we have coaching changes or not.