One of the most heated rivalries in sports history was revived 70 years ago, and though the Iron Bowl has seen its fair share of change, it remains just as pure as ever.
In 1948, both Alabama and Auburn’s student body presidents, Willie Johns and Gillis Cammack, came together in what is now Birmingham’s Linn Park to bury an actual hatchet to signify the end of a 41-year dispute between the schools. A 6-6 tie, the only one in the series’ long history, as well as disputes over player expenses and deciding who would officiate the future games ended the rivalry in 1907. But the hiatus concluded with the burying of the hatchet, and the state finally had its historic rivalry back in full force.
The 1948 game is significant for both schools not only because it was the series’ revival, but it was also the first meeting to be played at Birmingham’s Legion Field. Auburn fans probably cringe at the thought of the end result, a 55-0 shutout. The Crimson Tide owed most of its points to quarterback Ed Salem, who threw for three touchdowns, rushed 17 yards for another, and kicked seven extra points to produce the series’ largest margin of victory. Salem also had a hand in shutting out the Tigers by playing safety on defense.
Legion Field played a crucial role in Iron Bowl history. The game was played on this “neutral” site until 1989, when Coach Pat Dye finally made the change and took Auburn’s half of the games to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Since Alabama played several games a year at Legion Field, the atmosphere felt more like a Crimson Tide home game rather than a true neutral site to Auburn fans.
After moving the game to Auburn. Dye recalled a conversation on the matter with legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant to AL.com.
“[Bryant] said, ‘I guess you’re going to want to take the Auburn-Alabama game to Auburn,'” Dye said. “I said, ‘We’re going to take it to Auburn.’ He said, ‘Not as long as I’m coaching.’ I said, ‘You ain’t going to coach forever.’ He said, ‘We’ve got a contract through ’88.’ I said, ‘We’re going to play ’89 in Auburn,’ and we did.”
Legion Field was home to plenty of banter and smack talk between the iconic coaches. One famous exchange between the two started when Dye said, “Before you start hugging me, you ought to know that my boys are fixin’ to get after y’all’s a–.”
“You ain’t trying to scare me now, are you, Pat?” Bryant responded.
“No sir,” said Dye. “Because I know you don’t get scared. I’m just telling you what we’re fixing to do.”
The Tide eventually followed the Tigers’ lead and moved its half of the games to Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2000, and finally abandoned the iconic “Old Gray Lady” in Birmingham completely after the 2003 season opener against South Florida – Mike Shula’s first game as head coach.
Still, Legion Field will always hold a special place in the hearts of Iron Bowl fans on both sides as numerous historic moments happened there. Auburn fans will happily bring up the 1972 “Punt Bama Punt” game in which the Tigers survived thanks to Bill Newton blocking two Alabama punts in the fourth quarter, both of which were recovered and returned for touchdowns by David Langner in a 17-16 comeback win. Or Bo Jackson’s iconic leap over a mass of lineman the end zone known as “Bo Over the Top” to break the Tigers’ nine-year losing streak in 1982.
Alabama fans will always gloat about 1967’s “The Run in the Mud” when Ken Stabler broke a 53-yard touchdown run in the icy rain for a 7-3 win. Or “The Kick” in 1985 when Van Tiffin nailed a 52-yard field goal as time expired for a 25-23 victory.
Both teams have many more cherished memories where those came from, but its Alabama that owns Birmingham (34-18-1) as well as the overall series (45-36-1). However, Auburn owns Jordan-Hare (9-5) and games played in Tuscaloosa (7-4). The two teams actually played games in Tuscaloosa in 1895 and 1901, and Auburn won both, 48-0 in 1895 and 17-0 in 1901.
The atmosphere is quite different now, but the rivalry continues to produce magic moments. Like in 2009, when Greg McElroy led Alabama 79 yards down the field at Jordan-Hare and connected with Roy Upchurch on a 4-yard touchdown to take the lead with only 1:24 remaining in a stunning 26-21 victory.
After the game, a proud Coach Nick Saban said, “That may have been one of the greatest drives I’ve ever been associated with.”
On the Auburn side, no one can forget 2013’s insane “Kick Six” when Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a short Alabama field goal attempt for 109 yards as time expired to miraculously win 34-28 at home.
“I think any time you have experience and you’re successful, you find ways to win at the end of the game,” Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn said about the heart-stopping win. “You really believe you’re going to win at the end of the game, and that’s kinda what’s happened this year.”
No matter where the Iron Bowl is played, miracles are bound to happen from time to time. So, this Thanksgiving week, be thankful for that hatchet buried in 1948. A whole lot of incredible football has been the result. H&A
Kickoff for Auburn and Alabama is 2:30 p.m. CST on CBS.
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Cover photo: Stabler’s “Run in the Mud” to beat Auburn in 1967 | Courtesy Alabama Athletics