DeFranks: Iron Bowl owns top rivalry spot (Jan. 21)
Matthew DeFranks | Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Growing up in South Florida during the ‘90s and early 2000s, I was constantly told Miami-Florida State was the best rivalry in sports. It had everything going for it.
National championship contenders? Check. Same state? Check. Recruiting battles? Check. Crazy, er, passionate fans? Check.
It had the memorable games with Wide Rights I through III and Wide Left. It had the NFL talent, and it even had the silly rivalry antics (see: the Seminole Rap from the late ‘80s).
Now, add four of the last five national champions, Harvey Updyke, “Fear the Thumb,” Scam Newton and the “Kick Six.” That is what Alabama and Auburn’s Iron Bowl is — the best rivalry in sports.
At the game’s inception, the Iron Bowl was played in Birmingham because it had the largest stadium in the state of Alabama. Imagine moving the now non-existent Texas-Texas A&M games (geez, thanks realignment) to Cowboys Stadium because neither stadium was large enough.
Alabama went 99 years in between home games against the Tigers, while Auburn hosted its first Iron Bowl in 1989. Now, the rivalry simply resides in cavernous Jordan-Hare Stadium (capacity: 87,451) and mammoth Bryant-Denney Stadium (101,821).
There is no more unique rivalry in college football as it relates to the venues it has been played in.
Oh, and the games played in them weren’t that bad, either. In the four years prior to this season, the Iron Bowl had decided the national champion a month before they were officially crowned. Auburn was 13 seconds away from making it five in a row.
In 1982, some Auburn running back named Bo Jackson leapt into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the one to give the Tigers a one-point victory and snap a nine-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide.
In 2006, Auburn had Alabama afraid of a simple finger — the thumb. In the midst of a four-game winning streak against the Crimson Tide, the Tigers made sure Alabama knew about it and then backed it up with a 22-15 victory.
In 2010, Alabama jumped out to a 24-0 lead on the undefeated and Cam Newton-led Tigers. But Newton and Auburn clawed their way to a 28-27 win during a season that led to Auburn’s second national championship.
And this past season, Auburn finished the Iron Bowl in style, with Chris Davis returning an Alabama missed field goal 109 yards to lift the Tigers to a dramatic 34-28 win over the Crimson Tide. After Davis scored, he dropped the ball on the Jordan-Hare Stadium turf as the crowd rushed the field.
An Auburn ball boy picked up the ball and returned it to the school, even though it was estimated to be worth $100,000 if Auburn won the national championship.
To give you an idea of how much $100,000 for one football is, you can buy 3,333 Under Armour footballs from EastBay for the same price. You can pay for your Notre Dame education with two of those balls. The valuation of this ball is a reflection of not only the magnitude of this rivalry, but also of the crazy fans that come with it.
Speaking of crazy fans, let’s turn our attention to Harvey Updyke. Updyke allegedly poisoned Auburn’s oak trees at Toomer’s Corner, a place Auburn students traditionally celebrated big wins. That would be like Nancy Kerrigan-ing Notre Dame’s Leprechaun or defacing Stonehenge. Clearly, USC and Michigan fans do not care about their teams enough.
From Joe Namath to Cam Newton, “Roll Tide Roll” to “War Eagle,” there is no rivalry, collegiate or professional that matches the Iron Bowl.