OVERALL RECORD: 40-33-1
LAST 10 GAMES: Auburn, 7-3
STREAK: Alabama, 2
There are plenty of rivalries across the country where the teams hate each other enough to face off in annual grudge match and determine who gets bragging rights for the next year. There are not many rivalries where the teams hate each other so much that they refuse to play each other for 41 years.
Welcome to the Iron Bowl.
[After the 1907 game,] The schools became involved in what seemed to be a minor dispute involving teams' expenses and officiating. Auburn wanted an expense of $3.50 per day for its 22 players while Alabama offered just $3.00 per day for 20 Auburn players. Also, Auburn head coach Mike Donahue wanted a Northerner to officiate the game, while the Alabama coaching staff demanded a Southern man call the game. Both sides blamed each other and the small dispute turned into a 41-year drought in the series.
It eventually took an act of the Legislature -- literally -- to get the teams to decide to play each other every year. (By then, the universities were worried that an annual game might "result in an accelerated over-emphasis of football in the state." I think we can all agree that those concerns were overblown.)
It is hard to explain to someone who is not from Alabama or did not attend one of the two universities exactly how intense this rivalry is. Choosing to be an Auburn fan in a family of Alabama fans might have been the most significant act of rebellion during my childhood. There is literally never a day when it is not fair game to bring up the bragging rights if you have them. Staying neutral? It's not possible; you might as well be neutral in the war between the United States and al Qaeda.
What is interesting about recent history is that, as we enter an era when the Tide is widely seen as rising and Auburn is seen as rebuilding its reputation, we are leaving a decade in which Auburn had one of its most successful stretches in the Iron Bowl. The Tigers were 7-3, a mark they haven't compiled in 10 straight games between the two since the first ten matches in the rivalry (1893-1905). Until 2008, Auburn had a perfect 6-0 record in Tuscaloosa, with four of those wins coming since 2000. (The rivalry was played exclusively in Birmingham from 1904-1988, added Auburn to the rotation in 1989 and then became a true home-and-home when the game returned to Tuscaloosa in 2000.)
In fact, beginning with a win in 1986, Auburn sliced the Tide's 11-game lead to five before the last two Alabama victories. The challenge for the Tigers is to try to regain that momentum if they want to even the series. And restoring Alabama to what it once was in the Iron Bowl is key to bringing back the days of the Bear, who went 19-6 against Auburn and turned a three-game edge for the Tigers into a 10-game advantage for Alabama.
Which makes for great viewing for fans of either team and the rest of us, as long as Alabama and Auburn stay true to the one thing all sides should be able to agree on: There must never be another 41-year break in one of the sport's greatest grudge matches.