After having coached at Alabama as an assistant and then being at Auburn for the past 30 years, I have learned a lot about the history of the Iron Bowl and the significance of the game in the state.
I don't think there is another rivalry in the country that has the impact on a state that the Iron Bowl game does. There are a lot of reasons for that. Number one, the college teams are not in competition with any professional football teams and because of the nature of the two schools and the nature of the fan bases, you kind of have to declare what side you are on.
Even people who went to Troy, Jacksonville State, Alabama State, North Alabama and other colleges in the state generally take sides in this game because it is considered unacceptable not to care who wins.
Whether we like it a not, it has an impact on the feelings of a lot of people in this state and not just for a day or two. Then you have the mixed marriages where an Auburn girl marries an Alabama guy or Alabama girl marries an Auburn guy. I am not sure how that works, but in families where the loyalties are divided between Auburn and Alabama there is at least one day a year when the family is split.
One of the neat things about the game to me is that as heated as the rivalry is and as bitter as some of our fans get over winning and losing, it has been one of the cleanest, hardest fought football games I have ever been a part of or ever seen in an part of the country. I have always said if the fans would display the same kind of class the players did on the field it would probably be a lot more fun for everybody, but I am not sure that is possible.
If you look at the games over the years it seems like the big plays, the mistakes, the upsets, the players themselves and the coaches are life-long memories for the fans and the participants in the game.
I can go back to my time as an assistant coach at Alabama and remember the games the team won and lost and particular plays in the games, and a lot of fans are the same way.
For example when (Alabama quarterback) Kenny Stabler made the long run for the only touchdown in the 1967 game, fans on both sides still remember that Alabama's tight end got away with holding Auburn linebacker Gusty Yearout on the play to give Stabler room to run. Alabama people still laugh about the play and there are Auburn people who are still livid about it.
When I was head coach at Auburn there were a lot of memorable games, including the 1989 Iron Bowl, the first one played on the Auburn campus after the game was moved out of Birmingham. That was just a great football game in a tremendous atmosphere that we won that year.
The decision to move the game out of Legion Field in Birmingham to the campuses was significant and I think it has proven to be a major positive for both universities. People love Birmingham because it is the center of the state and it is a very important city to this state, but for Auburn and Alabama moving that game to campus has paid great dividends for both schools both academically and athletically from a financial standpoint. When you can have the No. 1 social event in your community every other year, that is a big thing, and that is what it is.
My first Iron Bowl as head coach at Auburn was the 1981 game when Coach (Bear) Bryant won his 315th to set the all-time record for wins by a college head football coach. The next year's game was memorable for Auburn fans when we ended the nine-year drought with an exciting 23-22 Bo Over the Top victory when Bo Jackson scored the winning touchdown late in the game.
There were a lot of other Iron Bowl games that stand out to me. The 1984 game has been called the Wrong Way Bo game where we failed to score on a run late in the game and then missed a field goal on the last play that would have won it. When the play was called in the fourth quarter, it was the same play we had scored on earlier in the game.
If you have been to Legion Field you know that the fans are right on top of you in that end zone where we were. On that play we had a combo call. When Bo left the huddle he was getting the ball. (Quarterback) Pat Washington changed the play at the line of scrimmage, but the noise was so loud from the Alabama student section that Bo never heard the call. He had to assume he was still getting the ball. If I was Bo Jackson I would have assumed that I was getting the ball, too. We failed to score on the play and ended up missing a field goal on the last play that would have won the game.
The 1986 Iron Bowl with the reverse for a touchdown by Lawyer Tillman to win the game was memorable. The 1985 game with the 53-yard field goal by Van Tiffin was, too, even though it was a big disappointment for us. The 1983 game was the one played in bad weather when tornado came through Birmingham. Coach Perkins (Alabama coach Ray Perkins) made the decision to give us the ball in the first half and chose the goal. In the second half we ended up taking the wind in the third quarter. After the tornado came through the wind direction changed and we ended up having the wind in the third and fourth quarters as we won that year.
In last year's Iron Bowl game, Alabama came to Auburn ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation. Auburn was having, for all practical purposes a good transition year with a new coaching staff, but a mediocre year by Auburn's standards. Everybody thought Alabama could come into Jordan-Hare Stadium and blow out Auburn. Not only did that not happen, Auburn played one of its best games of the year and had a great chance to win until the very end. Alabama goes on from that and wins the national championship and a year later the game has the same implications, but this time it is Auburn that has a chance to win the national championship.
This year's game has major implications for Auburn because I think for the first time since the 1988 season when we went to Baton Rouge and lost, this team controls its own destiny to be able to play for the national championship.
This year's Auburn team is ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings and should stay there or move up to No. 1 if the Tigers win the Iron Bowl and then defeat South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers control their own destiny and that is a tremendous place to be, particularly starting the season ranked in the 20s in the Top 25 polls. Auburn has steadily moved up the rankings as the team has improved throughout the year.
I have no doubt that this year's Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa will be another classic watched by people all across the United States and other countries, too. A lot of people who are not Auburn and Alabama fans tune to watch this game just like they do to watch the other classic college football rivalries when Michigan plays Ohio State and when Southern Cal plays Notre Dame and when Oklahoma and Texas play. This year's Iron Bowl will be a big one. It is a privilege to play in that game and a privilege to coach in it. It's an awesome thing.
Editor's Note: This part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns a week--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)