The Iron Bowl has been the focus of college football at the end of November for the past half-decade. The past three games have seen the winner go on to win the national title game, with this season having the chance to be the fourth consecutive year with a national title winner taking the field.
The past few seasons have solidified why the Iron Bowl is a top college football rivalry, but the past helped build the foundation for this historic matchup from the SEC.
There are rivalries across the country that bring out the best and worst of fanbases, but few—if any—can rival what the Iron Bowl has to offer. From amazing finishes to crazed fans, this is as unique of a rivalry as college football has to offer.
With Iron Bowl week upon us, here are the five reasons that the Iron Bowl is one of the top rivalries in college football.
Every rivalry has some level of family division built into it, but rarely does a rivalry game meet the level of division that the Iron Bowl brings.
Bumper stickers and car tags labeled “A House Divided” with emblems of both Auburn and Alabama on them are found all over the state year-round. Some fans (h/t auburntron.com) have even painted their home to show the split the rivalry brings to the home.
This is a game that polarizes a state overnight, and the ramifications of the win last all year. Depending on how close the game was also adds fuel to the fire.
After the 2010 comeback win for Auburn, the state may have reached its worst level of division thanks to the rivalry. With the recent success found by both teams, families put this discussion in the same “off-limits” category that holds religion and politics.
From the moment that you enter the state of Alabama, a side must be chosen. You are either Alabama or Auburn. There are a number of other FBS programs inside the state of Alabama, but the Crimson Tide and the Tigers are the only two that matter to the majority of the state’s residents.
Being an Auburn or Alabama fan is a part of culture in the state. From school days that are labeled “Iron Bowl Colors Day,” where students don their favorite team’s colors to local businesses that rely on Tigers and Tide fans to keep their doors open.
If you are in Auburn and are seen wearing the scripted "A" that is affiliated with Alabama, you receive odd stares and may get asked if you are lost. The same will occur in Tuscaloosa if you decide to sport the interlocking "AU."
While this may seem similar to other major college football rivalries, few can compare the level of dislike that can also become part of the Iron Bowl culture.
Just listen to the Paul Finebaum Radio Show for an hour or two during July, and it becomes apparent that this game never sleeps and defines the culture inside the state of Alabama.
The level of fandom can flow so deep with men and women in Alabama that they avoid beginning relationships with fans of the opposite team.
Childhood friendships can be strained as kids become adults and realize the division that this rivalry brings to everyday life. Many times, a friend will be introduced to others with their name and “he’s cool, even though he’s an Alabama/Auburn fan.”
Just as the Iron Bowl was reaching the highest level of national intrigue after back-to-back national championships, Harvey Updyke entered the picture.
The Auburn Tigers were fresh off of their first national title in over 50 years, and the state of Alabama was on top of the college football world. After winning the national title, some fans' feelings turned from frustration to hatred over the success that Auburn was having across the state.
Harvey Updyke was one of those people, and he decided to take his disdain for Auburn to new heights. He poisoned the Toomer’s Oaks and ended a long-standing Auburn tradition by killing the historic landmarks.
While the Toomer’s poisoning is an extreme example of the level of fanaticism that some fans take this game, it is a sign of how serious this rivalry can be.
College football rivalries are played for a number of reasons. The Iron Bowl may be the only game in history to be forced by state legislature.
After the 1907 contest between the Tide and Tigers, the series was cancelled because the two schools could not decide on how much per diem should be paid to the players and where the officials should be pulled from.
In 1947, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution encouraging the schools to rekindle the rivalry. When the schools still refused to play, the Alabama Congress threatened to withhold state funding from the schools. The rivalry was resumed the following year.
These are two schools that rarely agree on anything, and if not for the interdiction of the Alabama State Legislature in the 40’s, the bitterness between Alabama and Auburn the Iron Bowl would still be sidelined.
Love them or hate them, Alabama and Auburn have fielded two of the most successful football teams in college football history.
The Crimson Tide claim 14 national titles and have four others that are unclaimed. Auburn claims two and has four others that have been awarded but remain unclaimed by the school.
Most recently, these two teams have been one-half of the national title game three years in a row. This could be the fourth consecutive year if Alabama finishes the season undefeated.
Auburn has three Heisman winners and 66 consensus All-American winners. Alabama has one Heisman and 47 of its own All-Americans.
Both of these schools have built teams with the most elite talent in the country and have consistently been in the Top 25 year in and year out. As both schools continue to pile up the wins in the future, this game will maintain its stature as one of the top rivalries in college football.