The Iron Bowl – the annual meeting of the Auburn Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide – is one of the greatest rivalries in college football. It is also one of the nastiest. When someone establishes a residence in the state of Alabama from out of state, and is recognized as a newcomer – either to the state, or to a city or town, or to a household – that person is asked to declare whether he or she is an Auburn person or an Alabama person. That is a fundamental marker of identity for Alabamians. It’s that serious. Marriages and divorces and family identities are built on this game and the schools that create it every year. Few things matter more to Alabamians. Let’s look at the five greatest Iron Bowls before this week’s Iron Bowl betting matchup get going.
Iron Bowl Betting 1972: Punt, Bama, Punt!
The Alabama dynasty flourished in the 1970s. In the 1972 season, Alabama entered 10-0 and seeking another national championship under iconic coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Alabama dominated most of the game and led 16-3 deep into the second half. However, Auburn blocked two punts and returned both for touchdowns, creating a stunning 17-16 upset and eliciting the chant from Auburn fans that is remembered vividly nearly 50 years later: “Punt, Bama, Punt!” This is one of Auburn’s two most famous wins in the Iron Bowl. Auburn has won several other memorable games in this series, but this has to remain in the top two. We’ll mention the other one a little later.
Some Iron Bowls are deeply and personally meaningful to the fans on both sides of this rivalry. One Iron Bowl that means a lot to Auburn fans is the 1989 game. It’s important less because Auburn won, and more important because that marked the beginning of a change from a neutral-site game in Birmingham’s Legion Field to on-campus sites, with Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium hosting the game for the first time ever. Birmingham hosted several more games, but starting in 2000, Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium began to host the game in alternating years. This overview of the top five Iron Bowls, however, is less about the personally meaningful games and more about the most memorable and enduring games in series history.
Punt, Bama, Punt has to be on the shortlist. There is no debate about that.
1982: Bo Over The Top
The 1982 game was and is a historic Iron Bowl for three reasons. The first is Bear Bryant decided to retire from coaching, making this his last Iron Bowl at the end of his dynastic 25-year run at Alabama. Bryant was 19-5 against Auburn in the first 24 games.
He didn’t get win No. 20.
The second reason this game is memorable is that an Auburn athlete made sure Bryant didn’t win. Bo Jackson, who won the 1985 Heisman Trophy and was a successful, accomplished NFL and Major League Baseball player before an injury destroyed his athletic career, began his college days at Auburn by beating Alabama in 1982. Late in the game, with Auburn needing a touchdown to win, Jackson soared over the goal line on a short-yardage play. “Bo Over The Top” is an instantly recognizable play, the kind of play that requires no explanation to any Auburn fan or any SEC football historian. If you mention the three words “over the top” to any SEC football fan, he or she will know exactly what you are talking about.
Patrick Fain Dye
The third reason this game is memorable is that Auburn – which had not beaten Alabama in this series since the “Punt, Bama Punt” game of 1972 – snapped a nine-game losing skid to the Tide. The coach who authored this Auburn win was Patrick Fain Dye, who was an assistant coach under Bryant at Alabama, including in 1972 for the Punt, Bama, Punt game. He became Auburn’s head coach in 1981. He lost his first Iron Bowl against Bryant, his mentor.
Bryant’s win in the 1981 Iron Bowl pushed the Bear past Amos Alonzo Stagg for the most wins of any Division I head football coach, with 315. However, Dye struck back the next year in 1982, before The Bear retired. That 1982 win began a decade in which Dye posted a 6-6 record against Alabama in the Iron Bowl. A series that had become lopsided turned into a dead-even battle over the course of Dye’s 12 seasons as Auburn coach. The 1982 game is remembered not just for Jackson or for Bryant’s last Iron Bowl, but as the start of a new era in the series, created by Dye.
1985: Van Tiffin
There have been many fantastic finishes, but few more memorable than Alabama kicker Van Tiffin nailing a 52-yard field goal at the gun to win the 1985 Iron Bowl. Alabama had converted a fourth-and-long on a desperate last-minute drive. It also needed a few more improbable catches to not only move the ball far enough down the field to put Tiffin in field goal range, but to get out of bounds and stop the clock to set up “The Kick.”
In the Iron Bowl’s long history, only one play is known as “The Kick.” That tells you how ingrained it is into the history of the series. It’s hard to think of a more riveting last-minute finish in a game Alabama won in the series and it had a huge impact in the sportsbook.
There is, however, a better last-minute finish in a game Auburn won. That’s later on this list.
2010: Cam Newton’s Comeback
The older games in Iron Bowl lore require more of an explanation and recollection for younger fans, but the more recent classics in this series don’t need as much of a buildup. If you are at least a college-age person and you love football, you probably remember the 2010 Iron Bowl. Alabama stormed to a 24-0 lead and probably should have led by more. Alabama was running in for a touchdown and a bigger lead, but an Auburn defender poked the ball loose from behind at the 5-yard line. The ball rolled out of the end zone for a touchback. Auburn avoided that score.
Then Cam Newton – in the crowning moment of his Heisman Trophy season – led Auburn all the way back to a victory that kept the Tigers’ national championship hopes alive. One of the great Auburn teams of all time found its greatest moment. The Tigers won the national title. But their greatest performance that season was Cam Newton’s 24-point comeback on the road against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
Iron Bowl Betting 2013: The Kick Six
Alongside Punt, Bama, Punt, this is one of the two most memorable Iron Bowls. If you had to take a list of five – or 10, or 20 – and you had to choose just two Auburn-Alabama games over all the others. You would take 1972 and this one.
It’s simply impossible to top.
You remember, right? Alabama somehow got out of bounds with one second left in a tied game, recalling the 1985 ending. The Tide tried a 57-yard field goal. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn smartly had a player, Chris Davis, in the back of the end zone to catch the field goal if it was short.
No one knew, however, what would happen next. The field goal was short – that was not a shock. However, Davis sprinted out of the end zone along the left sideline. The play seemed innocent enough at first. But as soon as Davis got a series of crushing blocks near his own 30-yard line, it became apparent that Alabama’s line of pursuit had been sucked into an Auburn wall. Alabama committed too many bodies to an upfield rush. By the time Davis got to the 35-yard line, only one or two Alabama players had any chance of catching him. With Auburn setting up a wall of blockers, those few Alabama players had no chance.
Davis jogged through the final 30 yards to the Alabama goal line, and Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium went crazy.
The Kick Six
The “Kick Six” became an instantly iconic college football play. Auburn beat Alabama, 34-28, on the game’s last play, winning the SEC West. It also earned them a spot in the SEC Championship Game. That was a huge swing on the college football odds. Auburn went on to reach the national title game and lose in the final seconds to Florida State.