No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn are set to meet Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, in what has been billed as one of the biggest Iron Bowls in series history, and the first Top 10 meeting between the schools since the epic 2010 showdown.
Entering that game, Auburn was in the midst of a dream season, Cam Newton was the prohibitive Heisman favorite, the Tigers were No. 2 in the nation and in control of their SEC Title and National Championship destiny.
Defending National Champion Alabama had suffered a pair of early season losses, but the Crimson Tide were still ranked ninth in the country—and heavily favored by most analysts in the country.
The 2010 Iron Bowl may not have featured two undefeated teams, like in 1971, and it may not have featured two teams ranked in the nation's top four as it will in 2013—but this was the Iron Bowl that inspired the passions of the fans, reduced Harvey Updyke to poisoning the famed trees at Toomer's Corner, and had Alabama staffers playing "Son of a Preacher Man" and "Take the Money and Run" to prod Newton.
While other editions may have been able to rival the game's grandeur and national hype, the 2010 Iron Bowl remains the most bitter meeting between the teams to date.
Bleacher Report has tracked down the men who were closest to the action and asked them reveal what it was like to be in the thick of the game that has become to be known as 'The Camback.'
Former Auburn safety Ikeem Means was on the sidelines that fateful day at Bryant-Denny Stadium. He will take us inside the locker room and behind the scenes.
Opelika-Auburn News sports editor Mike Szvetitz and Tuscaloosa News sports editor Cecil Hurt, were in the press box, they will provide the media's version of the game..
Jeremy Henderson, from TheWarEagleReader.com, was in the stands in the Auburn section and Alabama student Charlie Deer was in the Tide student section. They represent the fan perspective.
The Build Up
Going into the game, Alabama had won two straight over Auburn—a fact that was certainly not lost among Tigers players, even in the midst of their undefeated season.
"It was just really trying to get the state back," Means said. "Because football, that's all we know down here in Alabama. There are no professional teams, so this is the Super Bowl. We knew we had a chance to do something great. The way we had beat LSU, we had all the momentum. To finally get the opportunity to say, 'If we win, we know where we're going.' Just to be in the situation made you anxious to play and made it a bigger game than anything."
"[There is] just so much hatred for them, period. When you're in Alabama you have to choose at an early age what you're going to be. You really can't explain it. People that I work with now, they're like, 'Oh, I'm from Alabama, and I can cheer for the other team when they're not playing each other'—no. There's no such thing as that. That's what the coaches drove into us. That's how it's supposed to be. This is a rivalry game, there's no friends, no helping them up after a hit—none of that."
For fans, the regular, stirring feelings leading into Iron Bowl were even further amplified by the national hype, controversy, and implications surrounding the 2010 Iron Bowl.
"It had that weird, kind of sickening feeling to it," Henderson said. "The Iron Bowl always does, because you just don't want to lose. I hate it. I hate the Iron Bowl. It's the worst feeling."
"I remember we were supposed to have a great team coming off the 2009 championship, had a couple losses and then Auburn wasn't supposed to do as well as they had," Deer said. "I felt like there was a lot of buildup coming into the game. I felt like a lot of Alabama fans were pretty confident, but were also kind of scared at the same time."
"For them, it was going to be this thing where they're going to totally try to spoil everything," Henderson said. "We've got Cam, and (Alabama fans say), 'He's the reason they're doing so good, and it's totally unfair, and obviously they're cheaters.' It gets lost now after the fact, but for us to have somehow matched [Bama's 2009 National Championship and Mark Ingram's Heisman Trophy] it was like the moon slowly eclipsing, the sun setting, the-winter-is-here kind of thing. And then out of nowhere we have this miracle man pop up, and we have this season where we were on the verge of matching that, and they were going to be the last people with a chance to stop it."
"If we were going to beat them, we were going to beat anybody. That's just the way it felt. So it just had that sickening feeling of the possibility of that happening, and how much they would relish it."
Going into Iron Bowl week, Alabama was coming off a Thursday victory over FCS opponent Georgia State, with an extra day to prepare for the Iron Bowl, which was played on a Friday that year. Auburn had taken a bye the week before, to give the Tigers a full 13 days to prepare for the Crimson Tide.
"The preparation was like none other I had ever seen before, as far as film, as far as dedicating the week off to football," Means said. "We didn't have class, we didn't have anything. I'm talking about getting up at 7:30, being at the complex all day, getting a two-hour break to go home, then coming back for an hour-and-a-half film session. They would describe it as NFL-like. That's what the coaches used to explain. 'This is what life will be like if you play in the NFL.'"
The controversy surrounding Newton was in full swing, as reports involving disassociated Mississippi State alum Kenny Rogers and Newton's father, Cecil, had begun to circulate weeks before.
"Leading up to that game, even the Georgia game, it was, 'Will Cam play or not?'" Szvetitz said. "We all watched Tiger Walk. It was probably the most viewed Tiger Walk in history at the Georgia game because everybody was wondering if he was going to play. And he showed up. Then obviously it was the same thing for the Iron Bowl."
"There was so much talk about Cam Newton before the game that there really was not as much focus on the game itself. Alabama had lost to LSU, so you didn't know how much steam they had left in terms of what they had to play for."
"We had a Thanksgiving dinner with the team," Means said. "We had a big dinner with the players and all that, we were talking about 'What are you going to do when we win?' It was just a confidence that 'We can win this game.' Everybody had respect for Bama, but at this point in time, we respected them, but we didn't fear them."
"All I know is, at the game itself, it was just trumpets-to-Jericho," Henderson said. "The (Auburn fans) outside of the stadium, it was like, 'We are going to burn your place to the ground. This is it. This is destiny.' That's honestly what it felt like. Like there's not going to be any stopping us."
"It was very tense," Deer said. "It had been a long time since where there had been so much on the line. In the past decade or so, it had pretty much only been one team was really highly ranked and the other was having an OK year. But in this case both teams were top 10, and had something to play for."
Prior to the game, during Auburn's team walkthrough, the Bryant-Denny Stadium crew played "Take the Money and Run" and "Son of a Preacher Man" over the stadium's PA system—presumably a shot at Newton and his father, who is a preacher.
"We heard it," Szvetitz said. "Immediately, everybody knew what was going on. He came out on the field, and (the music) started happening, then also the fans. It was already at a fever pitch before that and that was just one more thing."
"That's the way this series has gotten in the last 10 years," Hurt said. "That's unfortunate. It's not one side or the other. For whatever reason, there's more of that. It’s always been a heated series, but there's been more real hostility off the field. That's unfortunate."
The Auburn players also took notice.
"It was just the ultimate disrespect," Means said. "As you can see now, and you can see last year, when they talk about the Heisman and they talk about Johnny Manziel and all the bad things he does, they don't say anything of the good he does. With that being your rival, and you get hands-on with the straight ignorance that they portrayed—and they even played the songs and made it worse. They can say that it wasn't intentional and that they weren't trying to do that, but we all know they were trying to get to him, and get him out of his game. They just couldn't face that we were good. They were scared."
11:34, 1st quarter: Mark Ingram runs in a 9-yard touchdown. (7-0)
08:39, 1st quarter: Greg McElroy hits Julio Jones for a 68-yard touchdown pass. (14-0)
01:58, 1st quarter: McElroy connects with Darius Hanks for a 12-yard touchdown. (21-0)
"I was having a great time," Deer said. "They had that busted coverage on Julio, Ingram had a touchdown, I know (Darius) Hanks had a touchdown too. Everything was going pretty well."
"I didn't think that Auburn would struggle to score in the first half the way that they did," Hurt said. "But they did. I wasn't surprised that Alabama was able to score on Auburn."
"There weren't any long faces," Means said. "It was more of, like, trying to pick each other up. That's where the senior leadership came in. They didn't even give us a chance to be down on ourselves, like 'Dang man, we can't do this. It's impossible.' Each time we came on the sideline it was like, 'Come on y'all, pick it up. We can do this, man. There's plenty of time.' That's all you heard. At that time, there wasn't any momentum. It was just the seniors holding the team together by not letting us get down on ourselves until plays started to happen and the game started to take a turn. We knew what we could do, but we just didn't want to get down on ourselves to get completely out of the game and just give up."
"For it to start out the way it did, and I can say this completely honestly, I was not worried for a second at all," Henderson said. "I wasn't worried. Even though everything was crumbling—dreams, everything. Honestly, I was not worried.
"Now, when Ingram broke it on that run, I was getting close to preparing to worry..."
With Alabama leading 21-0 in the second quarter, and the Crimson Tide at their own 40-yard line, Greg McElroy threw a screen to Mark Ingram, who carried it upfield for 40-plus yards—and it appeared that Alabama would be going in for yet another score—before Auburn senior defensive end Antoine Carter caught the Heisman winner from behind, and punched the ball out from his grasp.
Somehow, the ball stayed in bounds, and rolled down the sideline for nearly 20 yards before the Tigers recovered it in the end zone for a touchback.
"That was the spark that we needed," Means said. "Without Antoine Carter making that play, that game would've been well over. That just shows the determination of how the seniors really thought, 'We could do this.' That sparked the turnaround. The ball just magically didn't go out of bounds for—what—20 yards?"
"It was something so weird for the ball to roll down and for us to recover it, as opposed to it going out of bounds or something," Henderson said.
"Everybody talks about that fumble, Antoine Carter knocking it out—and it staying in bounds," Szvetitz said. "That was the crazy thing. You know, it's a weird shaped ball, for a reason. And it bounces weird. But the ball just stayed in bounds like that."
"Obviously the Ingram fumble going down 20 yards into the end zone on a straight line, which 99 times out of 100 wouldn't happen," Deer said.
"As soon as soon as he knocked it loose and we stopped it, it felt like, 'That's it. We're good to go,'" Henderson said. "It just seemed too improbable for it not to be like, 'Alright this is it. It's changing.'"
"It was just like, 'Man, we can do this. We just stopped them,'" Means said. "They were so hyped on Ingram, so having him fumble, and then T-Zac making that play, we were like, 'We're back in it. We can play our game now instead of being nervous on the road and all this.' It's just like the nervousness just dropped after those couple of plays."
08:01, 2nd quarter: Jeremy Shelley hits a 20-yard field goal. (24-0)
05:08, 2nd quarter: Cam Newton hits Emory Blake for a 36-yard touchdown. (7-24)
"I just remember, at halftime, going to getting something to eat," Szvetitz said, "and just talking, and everybody's like, 'Are they going to be able to come back from this?' They got that touchdown right before the half, so that kind of gave them some momentum, and then they were getting the ball to start the second half. So it was kind of like, 'If they're going to do something, it's going to have to be quick.' The feeling was, for me at least, that if Alabama came out and got a three-and-out and score another point, then it was ballgame."
The Locker Room:
From an outsider's perspective things weren't looking great for Auburn at halftime, but Blake's late touchdown had given the Tigers some much needed energy, plus they were getting the ball to start the second half.
"I remember Cam, he was still keeping us in it, like, 'We can do this. Let's go out and fight,'" Means said. "I think it was Bull (Eltoro Freeman), he was the most energetic on that defense at that time, and he was just saying, 'Let's go beat em.' He was getting us really pumped about going back out. Just to see how confident everybody was. You didn't see any, 'Oh my God, we could've did this, we should've did that'—it was more like, 'This is what we're about to go do now.' There was no time to harp on the past at that point. I've never been on a team with that many leaders that drove the team to success. And without that leadership and guidance in having to fight through a situation, we wouldn't know where to even turn. But that whole season built up to that game.
"You can go all the way back to [Week 1] Clemson. That was a game where we clearly should've lost. Even Kentucky, winning with a game-winning field goal. It was like everything we went through during the season was basically preparing us for that game. It was like, 'This game taught us to come back down from halftime. This game taught us how to keep a lead and not blow it.' Every game seemed like a different situation, and for Bama, it was like, 'We've got to put all this together as a collective group, special teams, defense and offense, just to come back and make this a magical year.'"
"You could just tell that they had the belief that they weren't going to lose, and I think that went all the way back to the beginning of the year when you look at all those close games they played—Clemson in overtime," Szvetitz said. "There was a pass right before overtime where a guy was wide open and Kyle Parker just missed the pass. It was so many little things—the Kentucky game—so many games they could have lost. Or maybe even 'should' have lost, I don't know. But that's what Gene Chizik said all year, that they've been in close games, they've been behind, and they don't panic."
"(Auburn defensive tackle) Jeff Whitaker told me the story last year about that locker room—They're down 24-7, they're getting the pants beat off of them," Szvetitz said. "And Nick Fairley goes around asking questions like, 'What are you thankful for?' in the locker room. Just talking about, 'We've come this far. What are we going to do?' Taking the emphasis off the game and more of about who they are and how they were going to be remembered."
"We knew we shot ourselves in the foot the first half," Means said. "So going in the locker room, regrouping, going over the busted coverages and what can work specifically on offense, and what did they miss—we knew we shot ourselves in the foot, and it was like, 'If we had played our game, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.' We were saying, 'We know we've got their number, because we did all this wrong, but we're still in the game.' It just gave us that confidence that, 'If we go out there and play our game, I don't think anybody can play with us.' That was basically what it was. As a collective group, special teams, everybody had that swagger that, 'Man, we are No. 1.'
Everybody in Bryant-Denny stadium knew that Auburn's season likely rode on Cam Newton's ability to put up points on that first possession of the second half. Auburn's Superman didn't disappoint.
"I remember, I think it was Coach Chiz just said, 'If we go out and fight, we can win this game,'" Means said. "And we really believed what they said. It was not only the coaches but the players were like, 'Come on man, we can do it. We're two quarters away. Anything can happen. We can go out here and fight—and these boys ain't really what we thought.'
14:04, 3rd quarter: Cam Newton connects with Terrell Zachery for a 70-yard touchdown. (14-24)
"They came out in the second half and you could just tell," Szvetitz said. "They got that first touchdown, and the defense started playing well. You could almost physically see the shift in momentum."
"As soon as that pass, coming out of the second half, you could just feel the fear come into the stadium," Henderson said. "The second play after halftime, the Zachery bomb, you could just feel it in the stands."
"The long pass that Cam just literally threw up for grabs that Mark Barron couldn't make a play on because of his shoulder—I think that gave them a lot of life, a lot of energy," Hurt said. "You could tell they just had more energy in the second half, credit to them."
"It was weird," Henderson said. "Even when we started coming back, I never even started cheering. I sat there just calmly, watching it happen, almost like you're watching a tape. There's no reason to get nervous when you're watching the '87 Iron Bowl, because you know that, sure, they just got a first down or something, but Clay Whitehurst is about to be knocked unconscious. Everything is good to go. You don't get antsy.
"That's honestly how I felt—because of Cam."
04:25, 3rd quarter: Newton powers in a 1-yard touchdown run. (21-24)
"When we looked at him, and we saw him not celebrating, no nothing, you could just see in his eyes that he was going to lead the team to victory," Means said. "After he scored that touchdown, I really wasn't worried about the game at all after that. I was like, 'We have to win. There's no way this guy can go and power his way like this, and us not be victorious at the end of the day.' Usually you're jumping around going all crazy, you know—he walked off, and I still remember, he walked off and went and sat down like nothing happened. And you're just like, 'If he's fighting like that, why can't we fight?'
"We're on the sideline with this dude, and he's got the heart of lion. It's just like—You can't lose."
Defense Holds On:
3rd quarter, 01:05: Jeremy Shelley hits a 32-yard field goal. (27-21)
4th quarter, 11:55: Cam Newton throws to Philip Lutzenkirchen for a 7-yard touchdown. (28-27)
"When he caught that pass, the air kind of got let out of the stadium," Szvetitz said, "and everybody started to think, 'This might happen.'"
"It was honestly just more shock than people being upset," Deer said. "People just didn't really see it coming. It really sucked."
"If you go back the year before, Auburn was up and then Greg McElroy led them down and they scored the touchdown there at the end to beat Auburn," Szvetitz said. "For me, it was when T'Sharvin Bell sacked McElroy. That was it. Because you never knew, 'Did Alabama have one of those drives?' They were at home, and McElroy was a senior. But T'Sharvin Bell gets that sack and knocks him out of the game, and then it was like, 'Alright, this is happening.'"
"For the defense to be shutting them down like we did—That was really gratifying, for the defense to step up toward the end," Henderson said. "Slamming McElroy, and Julio dropping passes—it was like they broke down. They gave us their best shot, it didn't work, and then they just crumbled."
"I stuck in the stadium," Deer said. "Greg got taken out, and when AJ (McCarron) came in for that last drive you knew all hope was lost."
"The sun was setting orange and blue," Henderson said. "It was just so perfect. The nausea—because you knew that they knew, too. You knew that they knew that we were going to win the National Championship Game. You knew that they knew that we had it all."
"I can just remember Cam running around, and he wasn't talking junk, but he just had his hand over his mouth, pointing," Means said. "It was basically saying, 'They can't say nothing now.' All of the stuff they used—throwing the money out and all the trash they talked—and he simply put his hand over his mouth, and was just pointing in the crowd like, 'We know y'all are in awe, but we're not going to say nothing.'"
"I remember standing there and watching Cam and Nick running, doing the hands-over-their-mouth thing," Szvetitz said. "You saw them running, and it was kind of like, 'Did this happen?' And everyone knew from that that this was something that we had never seen before. It was crazy.
"You knew that team was going to win it all after that game. If they can do this, then South Carolina's not going to beat them, and Oregon's not going to beat them."
"It was an unbelievable feeling," Means said. "Because we knew, the only time stuff like that happens is on NCAA the video game. To have a comeback win like that, at their house, it's the biggest rivalry in college football—to come back from that deficit, you couldn't explain it.
"That was the national championship in our eyes. That's the type of atmosphere it was. That's the type of hate there was. That was the national championship."
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained first hand.