The Iron Bowl is one of the South’s most iconic sports events of the year bringing with it a deep history dating back decades. An annual college football game between the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide and the Auburn University Tigers, the rivalry reaches its peak each year at this much-anticipated event. But, where did it start and how does it permeate our current culture?
The first Iron Bowl took place on February 22nd of 1893 in Birmingham, Alabama. The inaugural Iron Bowl concluded in a 32-22 win for Auburn. This event would mark the beginning of a rivalry that would span much of the 20th century and heighten further at the start of the 21st century. The beginning of the 20th century saw the initial roots of the rivalry begin to take hold, but the annual game was forced to take a decades-long hiatus between 1907 and 1948 citing financial and technical issues.
Many memorable moments have come from this sports showdown over the years, but in 1972, the “Punt Bama Punt” game drew eyes from all over. It was in this game that Auburn managed to block two of Alabama’s punts in the final moments and return each for touchdowns. These impressive plays resulted in a 17-16 win for Auburn.
The next two decades, the 1980s and 90s, saw a strengthened rivalry with two notable coaches leading either side. Auburn’s Pat Dye and Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant added layers of intensity to the match-up. Their commitment to their team’s successes deepened the significance of the event as not only a matter of win or loss for the teams but a matter of team pride and legacy for either school.
The 2000s saw many exciting plays including the iconic “Kick Six.” In this 2013 game, the teams were tied in the final moments when Alabama went for a field goal and Auburn’s Chris Davis caught the ball in the team’s end zone, returning it over 100 yards. This was the game-winning touchdown for Auburn as the clock ran out. This history-making play led to Davis’s earned position in Iron Bowl history.
More than impressive moments and sportsmanship, the Iron Bowl has evolved into a full-blown phenomenon in the Yellowhammer State. Loved ones and friends who are split by this division rally together in their team gear to watch the annual game and root for their respective teams. Talk of the game takes place not only in households throughout the state, but at date nights, in meetings and classrooms, and by water coolers. Much of the enthusiasm at Thanksgiving tables around the state is a result of the excitement and tension in the air prior to the upcoming game.
This rivalry does not end as the players leave the field but heightens disputes in recruiting, fuels rivalries among coaches, and leads players to pursue dominance and competitive excellence on and off the field. An Iron Bowl win serves as a symbol of the supremacy of one team over the other for the year following the important victory. While this match-up is steeped in strong competition and institutional legacy, the true heart of the game is expressed through pride for one’s team and passion for and love of the game. The Iron Bowl is the embodiment of the spirit of college football – loyalty, tradition, and the pursuit of victory.