The Iron Bowl: College Football’s Greatest Rivalry

Will Miller, Staff Reporter

Most households in Alabama give their allegiance to one of two college football mainstays in the state. 

Whether it’s to the crimson and white of Alabama, or the navy blue and orange of Auburn, that allegiance makes up the majority of the fabric of sports in the state. 

“I think the Iron Bowl stands as the Southern rivalry that people hold up to show the example of SEC football,” said Joe Gaither, the brand manager of Tide 100.9 in Tuscaloosa. “When others tout Ohio State versus Michigan, we have the Iron Bowl. There’s no other matchup like it. It determines feelings in a state for 12 months.” 

Like any rivalry, the Iron Bowl carries its share of heart-pounding drama. The most recent example was in the 2021 playing of the game, when Heisman winner Bryce Young led a 97-yard drive in under two minutes to silence Jordan-Hare Stadium and tie the game. Four overtimes later, Alabama had snatched one of the hardest-fought wins in the Nick Saban era and kept its national title hopes alive. 

It was the first time the historic rivalry was ever played beyond 60 minutes. 

Each November, that same intensity is on full display. Alabama leads the Iron Bowl all time, with 48 wins to Auburn’s 37. This year, the game returns to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, where the Tigers have not won since another hallmark moment in the game’s storied history, 2010’s “Camback.” That season, No. 1 Auburn roared back from 24-0 down to win by a single point, breaking the heart of the crimson-clad crowd. 

The 2010s have featured their share of these moments — the four overtimes, the “Camback,” 2013’s “Kick Six,” 2014’s 99-combined-point extravaganza and so much more. 

“I grew up in Alabama, so I know how big it is to everybody in the state of Alabama,” kicker Will Reichard said. “Our entire team knows how important it is to our fans, but it’s also really important to us.”  

“It’s a huge game, not only for me, but for this entire facility, the entire state of Alabama,” offensive lineman Javion Cohen said. “Everybody knows the implications of this game, regardless of the record, regardless of where we are, we all know that this is a game you want to win.” 

The Crimson Tide has won two straight Iron Bowls. Every year since the start of the 2010s, save for 2014, 2017 and 2019, has seen the winner go on to play in the national title game. The game has left its mark on two college towns, and untold millions of fans around the southeast and the country. 

“It means a lot to a lot of people,” Cohen said.  

“Many of the best memories are tied to Iron Bowl wins and losses,” Gaither said. 

Since 2010, Alabama has won eight times in the Iron Bowl, to four for its bitter rival. The victories and defeats are so much more than a statistic. On multiple occasions, the winner of the game would set themselves up to play for the SEC title. Auburn won the most recent time that happened, but Alabama still raised the national championship trophy at season’s end.  

The game brings out the fire from within its players, too. Some regard the 2010 comeback as Cam Newton’s Heisman moment. Some regard the 2021 comeback as Young’s. John Metchie’s Crimson Crane celebration, which he put on display after last season’s improbable win, has become a staple among Alabama fans. Ja’Corey Brooks’s clutch touchdown grab from Young helped turn him into a household name. 

The competition, unpredictable nature, pageantry and impact of the Iron Bowl make it like no other sports contest, at any level. The captivation it generates within an entire state — and beyond — is unrivaled. The game is so much bigger than wins and losses. The game, by some standards, is the very pinnacle of sports in Alabama. 

There’s nothing like the Iron Bowl — one of the greatest rivalries in all of collegiate athletics, and an unmatched part of Alabama lore. 

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]