This week, Mobile is a city torn between two allegiances. A city divided. Yes, it is Iron Bowl week, and whether it is equally divided depends on whom you ask.
“It’s two to one, Alabama to Auburn,” Randy Kennedy, WNSP’s programming director explained, citing research on Mobile’s allegiances. Kennedy hosts a number of local sports radio shows on 105.5 FM including “Tigers and Tide,” a weekly show dedicated to Auburn and Alabama sports Thursdays at 5 p.m.
“Both schools are the same size with the same number of graduates. Among people that did not graduate from either school, it skews heavily towards Alabama,” Kennedy noted.
The week is less about which school is more popular than it is about the popularity of the annual rivalry game between the state’s two flagship schools. To get some clarity on the matter, I reached out to two local establishments that welcome Alabama and Auburn fans every Saturday.
Heroes Sports Bar on Dauphin Street in LoDa resembles a mix between a neighborhood bar and an electronics store with wall-to-wall televisions.
“There’s a feeling in the air. It is intense for a reason. There are two different seasons here: football season and nonfootball season. It is a religion here,” owner David Rasp explained.
Dreamland Bar-B-Que needs no sign, as its patrons can smell the sweet smoked meat from blocks away. Walking in, it appears to be the headquarters for the Southeastern Conference, with flags of every affiliate school hanging from the ceiling.
David Gardner, a manager at Dreamland, acknowledges Iron Bowl day is different from a regular Saturday in the fall.
“We schedule extra people. There are more to-go orders. It is twice as busy as usual,” he said.
Usually, Dreamland serves about 75 slabs of ribs each day. When Alabama and Auburn play their annual rivalry, how many ribs does Dreamland sell?
“We go through anywhere from 200 to 250 slabs,” Gardner said.
The Iron Bowl is great for the barbecue business, but Gardner admits business is better if Alabama wins. It makes sense given Dreamland’s roots. The Mobile location on Old Shell Road is one of seven throughout the state of Alabama, but the original is in Tuscaloosa, home to the University of Alabama.
Rasp said it is a myth that extra traffic finds its way downtown when Alabama and Auburn play. He explains that while they will have a packed house for the game, it will be similar to other college football Saturdays as many fans opt to host parties in their homes. He also said the outcome doesn’t seem to affect Heroes’ business either way.
As far as the actual game, Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC) enters as a heavy favorite. Auburn is coming off a 56-34 victory over Idaho, but has a 6-5 overall record and a poor 2-5 showing in the conference.
Football Outsiders releases weekly F+ ratings factoring in key items such as strength of schedule and efficiency. At the end of the season, Football Outsiders’ analytical data shows a wide margin between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers. The group ranks Alabama first overall while Auburn is 61st.
In the rivalry game, however, what should happen in the game often does not. Kennedy, Rasp and Gardner caution against the idea of an Alabama victory being a foregone conclusion.
“No matter which team is favored to win, the underdog has won so frequently. There is an uneasiness to being the favorite,” Rasp said.
While Kennedy expects an Alabama victory, he notes that come kickoff, the gap between the teams will be forgotten.
“It will be an unbelievable atmosphere. By game time, Auburn fans will have convinced themselves this is how the miracle happens. That’s what makes it great,” he said.
Rasp noted that one story during the 2010 Iron Bowl encapsulates the rivalry best. Cam Newton and the undefeated Auburn Tigers entered the game as a heavy favorite, but Alabama jumped out to a 24-7 lead at halftime. In was later dubbed “The Camback,” as Auburn recovered in the second half to win 28-27, going on to win the national title.
It may seem like many years ago for Auburn fans, as the 2015 season has not gone the way many expected. Sports Illustrated ranked the Tigers second in its pre-season rankings, but the team has failed to live up to expectations. While it secured bowl eligibility last week, it can also play spoiler to Alabama’s potential championship run.
Those who do not have the good fortune of going to the game will be glued to the television Saturday. Auburn hosts the game this year and it kicks off at 2:30 p.m. on CBS. If you are looking for a place to watch the game, Heroes and Dreamland welcome your presence. Both restaurants advise arriving at least 30 minutes before kickoff to ensure a seat.
Roll Tide. War Eagle. Enjoy the game, Mobile.