The Iron Bowl is here. Decidedly the greatest rivalry in all of college football, this game is marked with countless emotions. A contention so powerful, it can bond opposition together or tear people apart.
I grew up in North Alabama 200 miles away from Auburn and here’s the thing, if you grow up in Alabama you have to pick a side. If you were a Tennessee fan you were exiled, if you were a Georgia fan you brought dishonor upon your family, and any other fan base just didn’t register in the eyes of native Alabamians.
I learned at the age of 5 that I was an Auburn fan and growing up I cherished the years of 2002-2007 where Auburn went on a 6-0 run. I lived and breathed for talking trash to my Alabama fan friends, especially 2005 when I almost got detention for gambling after I bet money against Alabama friends that Auburn would win. That was the “Honk If You Sacked Brodie” game.
Once Alabama acquired autobot Nick Saban in 2007 as head coach, the Auburn streak ended and the trash talk became a lot less fun. The ratio of Alabama-to-Auburn fans at my high school was 60-40 and come football season my Facebook news feed would be littered with kids in full keyboard knockout death matches. Most of these kids, myself included, had known each other since preschool and come Iron Bowl week, we wouldn’t even talk to each other.
The most definitive year in Iron Bowl history was 2010-11. In 2010, Auburn saw the flash of brilliance that was Cam Newton. My beloved Tigers went on to defeat Alabama and win the national championship that year but a pall was cast on the celebration after sidewalk fan and noted gremlin Harvey Updyke emerged from his Dadeville dump to poison the oaks.
The vile attack was like a robbery toward Auburn fans. For me it stole the piece of my childhood where I spent evenings rolling the oaks with my father after an Auburn victory. The attack could have been one that further divided the rift already separating the opposing fan bases, but it wasn’t. Tide for Toomer’s became a movement organized by Alabama fans that raised more than $20,000 for the oaks.
Just months later on April 27, 2011: “Everything is gone. Everything.” Those were the exact words that came out of my local meteorologist’s mouth when he was describing Tuscaloosa after the city was devastated by an EF-4 tornado that killed more than 40 people and wreaked $2.4 billion of havoc. It was after this that the entire state cast rivalries aside and came together to grieve and recover. Auburn fans created a Facebook page called “Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa” that in turn raised thousands of dollars for the city of Tuscaloosa.
There is a lot of animosity behind this rivalry, but there is also love, respect, and pride. That is what makes the Iron Bowl the greatest rivalry in college football and the contest isn’t even close.