Why Didn't Alabama and Auburn Play Football Against Each Other for 40 Years?
It does seem difficult to believe but, it is true. Alabama and Auburn went 40 years without playing their annual rivalry game.
The most obvious question should be "Why" but, the more interesting details may surround "Who" as in who was responsible for ending and then recreating the series that seems so much a part of each football season?
For whatever reason, the rivalry was suspended from 1907 to 1948.
The following information suggests possible reasons for the 40-year void in the record books of one of America's most intensely fought yearly competitions..
Part One: Disagreements from the Beginning
College football began in the North in 1869 and later spread to the South.
Alabama and Auburn did not have university-sponsored football teams until the 1890s.
By this time, the mighty powers from the North had perfected the art of football and ruled the sport in the first half century of competition.
The occasional match between teams from Dixie and the powers from north of the Mason-Dixon line typically resulted in one-sided blowouts with the Southerners suffering many lop-sided defeats.
Teams from the Deep South avoided such opponents and spent their time playing among themselves.
Two of the most ambitious programs were the Agricultural and Mechanical school of Alabama and the University in Tuscaloosa.
Because of the familiarity of teams from the region with one another, yearly rivalries developed. Since the two Alabama teams were in the same state, it was natural they would begin playing each other.
And there is where the disagreement began. Exactly when did they start playing?
For Alabama's part, the Tide faithful maintain the series began in the 1892
season, in February 1893.
Auburn, formerly Agricultutral and Mechanical of Alabama, maintains the rivalry began in 1893 because it was 1893.
It does appear Auburn has a point there.
Perhaps Alabama uses the Mayan calendar.
For whatever reason, the Auburn team defeated Alabama in Birmingham that day in 1893, 32-22, and continued on to capture seven of the first nine contests between them.
Part Two: You Cheated, You Lied
By 1905, Alabama followers had seen enough.
Changes were made in how the football team was chosen and in who the leader, or coach, of the team would be.
In '05 Alabama captured the rivalry game by a score of 30-0.
For the 1906 season J.W.H. Pollard, also known as "Doc," was brought in from Lehigh to take over the reins in Tuscaloosa.
Pollard had been a disaster at Lehigh against the Eastern powers of the day, winning only one game in his single season as head coach.
But, in the Deep South, he thrived against the simple defenses and primitive offensive schemes of the region.
In 1906 Pollard's boys shut out Auburn 10-0 and the following year the two teams played to a 6-6 tie.
It was at that point Auburn accused Alabama of cheating and lying.
The men on the Plains had a truly superior leader in Coach "Iron" Mike Donahue, a two-fisted Irishman who had been the star quarterback at Yale around the turn of the century.
Coach Donahue was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951 and the Auburn stadium sits on Donahue Drive to this day.
Let there be no doubt, Iron Mike knew junk when he saw it.
He called Alabama and their "ringer" coach on it. But, was he correct in doing so?
Donahue accused Pollard of using illegal multiple motion and shift activity. He further advised that he had "known of Pollard" when he was at Lehigh and his Engineers were shut out in 10 of their 12 games that season.
In their defense, the Alabama folks suggested Pollard simply employed "elaborate" formations.
Further, fans of the Crimson Tide felt the hot-tempered Irishman was "blowing his top over nothing" and pointed out Iron Mike did not even coach in the 1907 encounter which ended in a 6-6 tie.
Iron Mike pointed the finger directly at Pollard and maintained the Alabama administration had orchestrated a hiring of referees process that yielded only those who would look favorably upon the "illegal" shifts and gadgets of Pollard.
Donahue stated, this was something Pollard could not get away with in the vastly more sophisticated Eastern leagues as it was downright cheating, and if it as not stopped, the entire future of college football in the South was at risk.
The subject of "bought refs" is still debated today.
To further complicate matters, the people responsible for putting on the Auburn-Alabama show, school administrators, could not agree on how much money to pay the players.
For one reason or the other, 1907 would be the last time Auburn and Alabama would face each other until 1948.
At the rate they were progressing, that may have been a good thing.
Part Three: The Coming of the Cold War Thaws Tide-Tigers Relations
By 1947 the Alabama Crimson Tide had long since passed the need to employ debatable formations and allegedly biased officials in order to create and maintain a winning program.
Auburn had been reduced to poverty level in the football program during the War years and produced a losing record in the 1940s decade following the '47 season.
In 1947 the Alabama Lawmakers passed a resolution to encourage Alabama and Auburn to begin play again.
Two fine gentlemen headed the schools, Ralph Draghon at Auburn and John Gallalee in Tuscaloosa.
They decided to meet during the first few months of 1948 to discuss the matter of bringing back the rivalry game.
The two presidents found they enjoyed each other's company. So much so, they determined over the course of Winter turning into Spring, the two schools should renew their rivalry the following Autumn.
So as to make all things equal, the men agreed to hold the event in the neutral city of Birmingham. Legion Field was the largest venue in the state, seating 44,000 at the time, and the series would be reborn in that location.
When they did, Alabama achieved a remarkable milestone. The largest margin of victory in series history, 55-0. It is a record which continues to stand the test of time.
Coach Earl Brown of Auburn, properly incensed at what he viewed as the running up of the score in '48, recovered to have his Tigers defeat Alabama the following season, 14-13.
The '49 win over 'Bama would be the final victory achieved by Earl Brown at Auburn. His 1950 team went 0-10 and he was replaced the following season by Ralph "Shug" Jordan (pictured).
Shug Jordan had been the head basketball coach at Auburn for 10 years prior to to becoming the football coach.
Jordan promptly lost his first three battles with the Crimson Tide.
Fortunately for fans of the Plainsmen, the hair trigger of the coach removal gun did not exist in the nifty 50s and Jordan survived.
Survived to become the greatest coach in Auburn history.
Not a bad biography for a guy nicknamed "Shug" as a child because of his love for sugar cane.
And so it continues.
Part Four: The End of the Legend of the Legion
By the end of the 1980s, the Auburn Tigers (pictured) had enough of the neutral site of Legion Field in Birmingham and wished to bring the game to their own stadium, Jordan-Hare, on a regular rotating basis.
Auburn's fine football palace had grown to seat more than Legion Field so there was no reason to continue to play each year in Birmingham, a city much closer to Tuscaloosa than to the plains of Auburn.
It was agreed the 1989 game would be held in Auburn, return to Legion Field for 1990, remain there for "Auburn's homegame" in '91 before going to a rotating basis with Jordan-Hare hosting from 1993 on.
Alabama chose to continue their relationship with Birmingham through the decade.
However, by the end of the 20th Century, the enlarged Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa was designated by the Crimson Tide to host "their" rotating home game instead of continuing to play at Legion Field in Birmingham.
In 2000 Alabama played Auburn in Tuscaloosa for the first time since 1901 as the subsequent games during the early days were played in Birmingham and Montgomery.
It was the end of a legendary relationship with Legion Field, one that had made the stadium known to football fans throughout the nation.