Upsets Rare, But Not Unprecedented

Watch your head. It's Iron Bowl week, and if you're not careful, you're liable to get hit as someone throws his record book out the window. If Alabama is to snap its five-game losing streak to arch-rival Auburn, it will have to pull off a rarity --- an upset in the Iron Bowl.

You hear that cliché about all rivalries, but it's never really been the case in this instance. In the 49 Iron Bowls since Alabama and Auburn resumed their series in 1948, the team that came into the game with a better record is 33-15 (the 1982 teams both came in at 7-3).

That's not to say that upsets never happen when Alabama and Auburn meet. There have been a few notable unexpected outcomes over the years, with the 1972, 1984, 2001 and 2002 games being among the most-famous.

Old-timers might refer to the 1949 game, when a 1-4-3 Auburn team beat a 6-2-1 Alabama team 14-13 in Birmingham. That Auburn win was significant also for the fact that Alabama had won 55-0 the previous year.

Based on a formula I came up with for a now-defunct Web site some years ago, I determined that Alabama's 2001 win at Auburn just might have been the biggest upset in Iron Bowl history. This formula (I really wish I had brought the old copy of that article with me when I left town for Thanksgiving the other day) took into account the difference in the teams' records, rankings, where the game was played, etc.

Many point to the 1984 game as the biggest upset in the game's history, when a 4-6 Alabama team beat an 8-3 Auburn team and knocked the 11th-ranked Tigers out of the Sugar Bowl. That 17-15 Crimson Tide victory --- made famous by Rory Turner's "I waxed the dude" goal-line tackle on Brent Fullwood midway through the fourth quarter --- was huge, no doubt, but maybe not as unexpected as the 2001 win by Alabama.

For one thing, the 1984 game was played at Legion Field in the days of the 50/50 ticket split. For another, Alabama may have been 4-6, but had gone 3-2 after a 1-4 start, losing to Tennessee and LSU down the stretch by a total of three points.

The 2001 game, on the other hand, pitted 7-2 Auburn against 4-5 Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Tommy Tuberville's Tigers had beaten the likes of top-ranked Florida and a solid Georgia team down the stretch, while Alabama had been hammered by Tennessee and LSU at home just a few weeks prior.

But Alabama knocked Carnell Williams out with a shoulder injury on the third play of the game, then rode running backs Santonio Beard and Ahmaad Galloway to a 31-7 win. Even more shocking than the fact that Alabama won was that the Crimson Tide dominated so thoroughly.

Of course, Alabama has been on the receiving end of some monumental upsets, notably the 1972 and 2002 games. The former is considered perhaps the greatest win in Auburn history, given that Alabama was undefeated, ranked No. 2 in the country and held a 16-3 lead late in the fourth quarter.

We all know what happened after that, so I'll spare you the details of the Tigers' 17-16 "Punt Bama, Punt" victory. But I think we are selling short what was a fine Auburn team that year, one that finished 10-1 and won the Gator Bowl by a 24-3 score over Colorado.

The 2002 game probably deserves an asterisk because Tide Coach Dennis Franchione was coaching with one foot out the door (Bama fans might hope Tuberville is doing the same this weekend). Franchione took several uncharacteristic gambles in that game, including going for a fourth down from his own 40 on the Tide's first possession of the game.

Auburn essentially made three big offensive plays --- a long run by third-string tailback Tre Smith and two touchdown passes from Jason Campbell to tight end Robert Johnson, but that was enough to ruin what might have been Alabama's best chance yet to beat the Tigers in Tuscaloosa. And because the Tigers were playing on the road without top running backs Williams and Ronnie Brown, that game should carry the label of a huge upset.

Alabama has been a heavy underdog in three of the last four Iron Bowls, and was probably an even-money bet in the other. Ironically, it was that one where Alabama had at least as talented a team as Auburn --- the 2005 game --- that was the most one-sided (although the final score doesn't necessarily indicate it).

The Crimson Tide had its chances to win the other three Iron Bowls under Mike Shula, but always seemed one key play or one key player away. In the last two seasons, Alabama's inability to protect its quarterback has been the biggest culprit.

That doesn't necessarily bode well for the 2007 Crimson Tide as it ventures to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. Alabama has had trouble against good pass-rushing teams again this year, and Auburn boasts one of the better defensive fronts in the SEC.

Then there is the Crimson Tide's collective mental state, which can't possibly sink any lower after an embarrassing home loss to Louisiana-Monroe last week. Coach Nick Saban has done some pretty hefty psychologizing this week --- even seeking to draw the heat away from his team and onto himself with some fairly wild comments during his Monday press conference.

So maybe Saban will finally get the most out of his team, and the Crimson Tide will spring the upset against Auburn. Past Crimson Tide teams have proven that it's certainly possible.

Editor's Note: Creg Stephenson has covered Crimson Tide athletics for numerous print and online publications since 1994, and currently writes for The Anniston Star. Email him at

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