When one approaches any adult Tigers fan in Auburn, Alabama, he or she has a chance to receive a detailed history lesson from said adult who was there to see the history unfold.
That 46-year old man sitting with his teenage son, a future hopeful Auburn grad, can tell you what seat he was in when Vincent “Bo” Jackson dove over the top for the game-winning touchdown in the 1982 Iron Bowl, ending Alabama’s stranglehold on the Iron Bowl.
The waitress who just served you your BBQ sandwich at Niffer’s can tell you all about her reaction to watching Nix-to-Sanders on her television in 1994, causing her and her younger brother to run around the living room celebrating a win over #1 Florida in the Swamp.
The 70-year-old retired man sits in his rocking chair on his front porch, explaining in great detail how great it was to sit at Legion Field and watch David Langner take two blocked Alabama punts back to the house.
Oh, and of course there’s the 45-year old man sipping on a glass of Toomer’s lemonade who was fortunate enough to sit in the student section in 1989, when Auburn knocked off unbeaten Alabama in the first ever Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The common theme with these people: they can all say, “I was there.”
On November 30, 2013, in the student section at Jordan-Hare Stadium, I was there.
When #4 Auburn hosted #1 Alabama in the most-hyped Iron Bowl ever, I was there.
When Auburn defeated the unbeaten Alabama Crimson Tide, seemingly stalling a modern college football dynasty, with the greatest ending in the history of college football (yes, even better than Cal-Stanford’s “The Band is Out on the Field!”), I was there.
Perhaps one of the greatest games in college football history unfolded before my very eyes. Well, my eyes and the eyes of 87,450 other fans in attendance, along with the millions upon millions of TV viewers who were glued to CBS on that fateful afternoon. The game had all the build-up one could ask for in a highly-ranked match-up, even though most of the nation believed the Crimson Tide would win yet another big road game, extending their road win streak to 13. But it was not to be on this day.
Fourth quarter. Seven seconds to go. The aged scoreboard above the north end zone read, “Auburn 28, Alabama 28.” The Tigers had just completed a perfectly-executed game-tying touchdown drive that featured a powerful running game and a well-executed read option pass to Sammie Coates for the tying score.
My friends and myself stood atop the aluminum bleacher in front of us, screaming at the top of our lungs as we had the whole game in support of the defense. I was simply amazed, given some of the momentum swings of the fourth quarter, that this Iron Bowl was likely headed to overtime.
The ball was snapped. On a somewhat predictable draw play, T.J. Yeldon bursted up the middle and sprinted to the Auburn 39-yard line before being knocked out by Chris Davis with no time left. Not surprised by Saban’s safe call, I turned to my friend and said, “Overtime, here we come! Holy cow.”
I then pulled out my phone and somehow, someway, caught a very sparse glimpse of service. I sent out a tweet, simply proclaiming, “OVERTIME!”
However, after Nick Saban begged the officials to review the game-clock, the official announced the previous play was under further review, despite the fact Jordan-Hare’s stadium announcer has already declared the game 28-28 at the end of regulation.
The Jordan-Hare Jumbotron, known as AUHD, went to a live feed of CBS’s coverage. The angles shown made it clear Yeldon’s foot went out-of-bounds with one second left. As soon as it became clear, I turned to my friends sitting to my left with a disappointed look on my face. As we looked at each other, we all seemed to have the same thoughts.
“There’s going to get one freaking second. This is the kind of break Bama usually gets, right? They’re probably going to launch a Hail Mary or try a long field goal. Van Tiffin Part II? Oh God. Well… the ball’s at the 39-yard line. That’s probably too long for a field goal. A.J. McCarron’s going to heave it to the end zone and… oh no… what if we tip it to Amari Cooper? We could get beaten in our own Hail Mary game! Where’s the Tylenol….”
Surprisingly, Alabama trotted the field goal team out on the field, noticeably with a new kicker, a true freshman. Gus Malzahn, like everyone in the stadium expected, called time-out to ice the kicker.
When the teams made their way back onto the field, I turned my head slightly to the left and noticed Chris Davis standing in the back of the end zone. With the field goal try being 57 yards, and given the loud crowd and prior special teams luck to this point in the game, I wasn’t too worried about Alabama actually making the kick.
Sure enough, once the kicker booted the ball, I didn’t feel like it had enough leg. It didn’t.
Chris Davis then caught it near the back of the end zone. I thought to myself, “Ok, he’s going to get a chance to return, but he’s going to make it about 25 yards or so and run out of room because Alabama’s talented and fast. Plus, games just don’t end on field goal returns.”
So as my friends, the rest of the crowd and I watched with baited breath as Chris Davis ran out of the end zone, we all had the thought that he would run out of room.
Davis feigned to the right ever so slightly before cutting to the left.
“Pretty nice move.”
Davis then cut outside, got a couple of blocks, avoided a tackler and passed the 30-yard line.
“Wait, a minute…. Hold on…. This feels strange….”
Davis ran extremely close to the sideline as he approached midfield.
“He’s about to step out of bounds. Welp.“
He didn’t. Davis tip-toed along the sideline and made the final move at midfield to leave behind a helpless Bama defender. Nothing was in front of him except green grass and an Iron opportunity.
In all my days, I had never been left speechless by a play. All throughout the game, I did my usual screaming and yelling, “Go! Go! Go!” on a big offensive play, somehow convincing myself that I was helping the player actually get downfield. It’s a dumb but natural thing that many sports fans, including myself, do.
Even a few weeks earlier, Ricardo Louis’s miracle catch on 4th and 18 with 25 seconds left to beat Georgia caused me to jump sky high, yell at the top of my lungs and run around the aisle, hugging everyone in sight, whether they were my friends or not.
Not this time, though. As Davis glided into the endzone surrounded by a convoy of Tigers, I just stood there. I don’t know what my face looked like, but I’m sure it was not the type of face I’d make my profile picture for any website. My mouth was agape. I couldn’t process or fathom what had just happened, even though it was right in front of me. For all the happiness I should have immediately felt because of the play, I was too shocked right away to even celebrate.
I was there, but on that play, for an instance, I seemed to transfer to an alternate reality in which nothing made sense. The noise in Jordan-Hare was extremely loud, but not deafening. Many people were, like me, too stunned to make a sound.
Immediately, the student section poured onto the field. It wasn’t until one of my friends jumped onto the bleacher below me and tugged on me saying, “Come on!! Let’s go!! We’re doing this!!” and we had begun to descend the bleachers down onto the field that it hit me like Gabe Wright hitting Alabama’s kicker on a vicious block on the final play: We had won the Iron Bowl.
A year after being 3-9 and losing to Alabama 49-0, we had won the Iron Bowl. We had won a top 5 match-up in front of the whole nation. We had knocked off the #1 team. We had preserved our own BCS title hopes. We had won the SEC West. We had seemingly ended, or at least halted, Nick Saban’s stranglehold on college football. We had done all these things on one of the greatest plays in college football history, if not the single greatest.
When this realization hit me, I bear-hugged the nearest person, slipped past a security guard and sprinted through the crowd to midfield, where a party was going on.
The scoreboard read: “Auburn 34, Alabama 28. 4th Quarter. 0:00.”
“Oh my God. We just won the freaking Iron Bowl on a 109-yard field goal return in front of a national audience. Now, just moments after that great play, I’m standing in the middle of Pat Dye Field jumping around and dancing with fellow students that I don’t know.”
It was a great night overall, sure. Anyone with any idea about the game’s ramifications could tell the entire city of Auburn, Alabama had exploded with happiness.
But more than that, it was a nonsensical end to a nonsensical game.
The Iron Bowl had everything a great college football game could have and more. Miracle 109-yard game-ending, dynasty-derailing field goal returns. Blocked and missed field goals. A 99-yard touchdown. A team winning against Alabama despite only throwing for 97 yards. 4th-Down stops in the 4th quarter. Bold coaching decisions. Lead changes. Momentum swings. Unexpected turns of events. Potential Heisman moments being thrown by the wayside because of the ending.
One cannot try to make sense of this game, because there is no making sense of this game. It was the greatest Iron Bowl ever because it didn’t just ignore the script (Alabama grinding away at Auburn and wearing the Tigers down like they do every team); it jumped off the stage, did cartwheels and spontaneously combusted.
The way this game turned out compared to what was expected was like attending a 3-D movie and having the character on screen literally reach out and punch you in the face.
The great final play takes attention away from the fact that this was a very good (and bizarre) game. Let’s look at some of the details:
- After a few weeks of hearing about how Alabama would shut down Auburn’s run game, the Tigers lined up and did what America didn’t expect it to do: run the ball on ‘Bama. Auburn amassed 296 rushing yards, including 164 yards and a TD by Tre Mason and 99 yards and a TD by Nick Marshall. Auburn’s one dimension was the only dimension it needed for a large part of the game. Auburn’s 296 rushing yards were the most allowed to an FBS team by Alabama since Arkansas ran for 301 on Alabama in 2007. It was the most rushing yards ever given up by Nick Saban in a loss at Alabama. Auburn’s 97 yards passing were also the fewest passing yards needed to defeat a Nick Saban Alabama team, beating the previous low of 100 by Mississippi State in 2007.
- After Auburn jumped out 7-0, Alabama began to seemingly do their thing by dominating most of the first half from there. The Tide went on a 21-0 run to take a commanding 21-7 lead and seize all the momentum. “This is the part where Alabama runs away with it,” America and many people at Jordan-Hare said. Once Bama got the momentum and the lead on you, they were unstoppable. What Auburn did next is the single-most unappreciated aspect of their Iron Bowl win: rather that unfolding and getting trampled by a herd of elephants, they stuck to their gameplan, didn’t panic and responded with authority. As great as the ending was, people forget Auburn was on the brink of Crimson death in the second quarter.
- Cade Foster did make a field goal try early in the fourth quarter. The ball landed in my section. However, a false start negated it. This was the moment when Foster became very rattled, as he badly shanked the following try.
- Auburn’s defense did allow 495 yards, but as always, this usually didn’t result in points. Alabama failed on numerous 3rd-and-shorts and also got stuffed on 4th-and-one by a true freshman, Carl Lawson.
It was an absolutely crazy, insane, fun, memorable game. I don’t know if it made sense. I don’t know, if the teams played 10 times, how many times Auburn would win. I don’t know if it will be enough to help Auburn into the BCS Title Game with a win in the SEC Championship Game. I don’t know if I’ll ever watch a football game, let alone an Iron Bowl, end that way for the rest of my life. I don’t know how to explain this Iron Bowl to future generations, as the game was weird beyond words.
All I know is that I can say, “I was there.”
Tags: Auburn Football