Photo | Courtesy of University of Alabama/Crimson Tide Sports
Technically, it’s not the Iron Bowl anymore, as the rivalry game between SEC and in-state foes Alabama and Auburn is now played at the respective on-campus stadiums of the two teams instead of at Legion Field in Birmingham, the “iron” part of the bowl name, which was associated with the city’s economic mainstay at the time.
But go ahead and try to get the name changed. Nope, it ain’t happening. And that’s fine. Tradition, after all, is one of the reasons this matchup is so special. The craziness/interest associated with the game is mainly fan-driven; the players know each other, respect each other (for the most part) and just enjoy playing in a game with a big-time atmosphere and intensity.
We asked some former players to describe what it’s like to play in an Iron Bowl and what they recall of their first Iron Bowl experience.
Brandon Johnson, Auburn: For me, it was very emotional. I grew up an Alabama fan and ended up going to Auburn, so it was kind of a personal thing for me — not to any of the players or the coaches, but very emotional. It was a lot of high energy, and it was a great experience. It was definitely very different than any other game you played during the season. A lot of those guys, as far as the players, I knew a lot of the guys that were on the other team. It wasn’t ever really any animosity between the players themselves other than on the snaps there was a lot of intense action going on. You typically played harder in that game than any other game. But for me, it was really more emotional than anything else.
On the field: It’s crazy. I think my first Iron Bowl was in 2000 at Bama and it was about 32 degrees and sleeting that day. I can’t really remember the feeling of running out (onto the field). I guess it hit me when I was on the sideline and saw all those Auburn helmets lined up for the kickoff and Bama on the other side. I said, “Man, I’m here.” It’s one of those things that you dream of as a kid, especially in this state, playing on the Auburn side or the Bama side. It was electric; it was unreal.
Bob Baumhower, Alabama: It changed from the beginning of my Alabama career as to what my experience was at the end. I had moved (to Tuscaloosa) from out of state for my senior year in high school, so I really wasn’t familiar with just how big and intense and important it was when I first went to Alabama. What happened was, I went to Tuscaloosa High School and I played with a guy named Mike Skelton who was a linebacker and he went to Auburn and I went to Alabama. I know his family and he knows my family. What it turned into was an extremely important experience mainly because of the relationships you have with the people both playing the game and that you knew before the school you went to — whether it was Alabama or Auburn — and you have buds you are playing with and suddenly you’re playing against them. From my point of view, it’s more important to play against your buddies and people that you know than anybody else. It’s a big deal as a player from that point of view. And then you learn from my experience at Alabama that you better get it right, or you’re going to be hearing about it for a long time. It’s something that with me grew in importance. I still remember the games like it was yesterday and the guys that I played against. I was fortunate to have some pretty good games when we played, so my memories are pretty good from a lot of different perspectives. But at the same time, I grew to have a great respect for Auburn, and Coach (Paul “Bear”) Bryant was huge on respecting your opponent. And every (Iron Bowl) game we played, even though Auburn was in transition, from Coach (Ralph “Shug”) Jordan to Coach (Doug) Barfield back then, their guys played us so tough even though back in the ’70s we were usually favored. It was always a tough game.
First game: Oh yeah. Remember, when I played all the games were played in Birmingham at Legion Field, so the intensity level was amped up tenfold from any other game that we played, and Legion Field was huge compared to Denny (Stadium, now Bryant-Denny Stadium) at that time. I remember maybe my junior year ABC carried the game with Jim Lampley on the sidelines, and I got interviewed as the defensive player of the game on ABC and national TV and it was crazy for me because I had never been through anything like that before.
Reese Dismukes, Auburn: It’s like no other. It’s the Iron Bowl, the biggest week of football in the state and all year long. The reason why you go to Auburn or to Alabama is to have a chance to play in that game and to have a chance to win the game.
First one: I remember it was pretty intense. It was in Auburn. … That week is kind of like a (training) camp week in a way — you’re off (from school) for Thanksgiving and everything is football; football and family and Thanksgiving and eating and doing everything you can to get your body right and getting ready for the game.
Kenny King, Alabama: Being from the state of Alabama, that’s that rivalry that you wait for every year. It was very exciting to play in because the guys you played against in high school are either now at Alabama or at Auburn, so those same guys you played against in high school, you’re able to keep competing against them. My story is coming out of high school it was me and DeMarco McNeil. We were kind of ranked 1 and 2 or 2 and 1, but never settled on probably who was the best D lineman. Looking back, I always say he was No. 1 and I was No. 2. I went on to play at Alabama and he went on to play at Auburn and it was all about trying to compete against — you’re playing against Auburn, but I was always playing to try and outshine him. But when we got in those games he did a heck of a job, and I always admired the things he was getting done. It was a great experience. It was funny, my freshman and junior years, we won the two games at their place, and my sophomore and senior years they won at our place. It was a great experience and I enjoyed it.
First game: It was crazy. My freshman year I was able to start, and we played at Auburn. Running out on that field and hearing that initial “boo” (from the fans), that’s when you realize how big the rivalry was. It had you pumped up because you knew it was business. It was a great feeling, but it was one of those games where you knew you had to compete because everybody in the state was watching you. It didn’t matter what your record was; you could be .500 or undefeated, but in that game, it didn’t matter, it was whoever wanted it the most.
Stan White, Auburn: Oh wow, it’s one of those things, growing up as a kid in Alabama going to the games, it’s hard to describe but I guess it’s just special is the word that comes to mind. It’s incredibly special, and you’re privileged to play in it. For kids that grew up in the state of Alabama and rooting for one or the other, it’s one of those monumental moments in your life that you’ll never forget. I played and started in four of them, so I’m even more grateful and privileged to have had that experience.
First time: My first one, my redshirt (freshman) year when I didn’t dress out was the first one in Auburn (1989). Then my first one to start in was 1990 at Legion Field. There were a lot of emotions, excitement, nerves, everything. The game itself, quite honestly, after the game starts it’s — the game, you know those guys on the other side of the line a lot more than you know the guys from Tennessee, LSU and the other schools you play. The big thing and the hardest thing is actually the week of the game. Then, we had a week off (before playing the Iron Bowl), so you had two weeks and that’s the longest two weeks you go through. That was the toughest part was the lead-up to it because it just never seemed to get there. But once it starts and you get going, you go through what you’ve been taught and what you have practiced for it, you play the game to the best of your ability. Back then, 70 percent of both rosters were typically from the Southeast and the state, so it was one where you’re playing against your buddies from high school.
Mark Barron, Alabama: I guess it’s probably everything that you think it would be. It’s intense, you had a week of preparation going into it, and it’s something you dream of. If you’re like me you love to compete and you love the game of football, it’s what you dream of, getting to go and play in those intense environments and being a part of history, because every single one of those games will be a part of history because it’s the Iron Bowl and every one of them matters.
First time: I didn’t even play that much. I was playing special teams that year, that was my freshman year. But it was still exciting, even that part of it, the build-up of it, a rivalry game.
This page is available to our local subscribers. Click here to join us today and get the latest local news from local reporters written for local readers. The best deal is found by clicking here. Check it out now.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here