It was November 22, 1997. All Bama needs is a first down, and the game is over. Fumble. Auburn ball. Jaret Holmes hits a 39 yard field goal to win the game for the Tigers with seconds left on the clock. Nothing can compare to the emotions that flooded Jordan-Hare at that moment. To the people who cared, it was bigger than winning the lottery; bigger than winning the Super Bowl. Nothing else mattered.
Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, I didn't know much about SEC football. I didn't understand the passion. I didn't understand the pageantry. I didn't understand that college football is a way of life in the Deep South, especially in the state of Alabama.
When I was 11 years old, we went to visit some family friends in Birmingham. We were lucky to get tickets to the Iron Bowl. I was young, oblivious. I knew it was a big game, but there was no way I could possibly understand the scope and importance of the rivalry to the people in that state. On that fateful day in November of 1997, I understood.
Now, looking back, I realize that there is no other rivalry that can compare to the Iron Bowl. Yes, there are some major rivalries in College Football that mean everything to their respective fans, but they are different.
The Game- Ohio State vs. Michigan- huge rivalry with big implications every year, but they aren't even in the same state. Army vs. Navy- Old, traditions galore, but just not that big anymore. USC vs. Notre Dame- fun to watch, pure hatred, but the schools are 2,000 miles away from each other. The Red River Rivalry- Close, but no cigar.
Last year, ESPN said that the Backyard Brawl between Pitt and West Virginia was going to be the biggest rivalry of the year. I laughed. They couldn't even fill the stadium. The 2009 Iron Bowl ended up being one of the best games, if not THE best game of the year in College Football. It was just a precursor, an appetizer, for things to come.
Now that National Signing Day 2010 is in the books, everybody is talking. Everybody is talking about Florida, Texas, USC, and Alabama individually. They talk about the teams and what it means for them on the national scene. Who is going to win the BCS National Championship? Will Texas and Ohio State fall short again?
How about this: Two teams from the same state finish with top 5 recruiting classes. No, not from the state of Florida. Not from Texas or California. Nope, they are from the great state of Alabama. See stats:http://bleacherreport.com/articles/338989-the-state-of-alabama-is-the-real-winner-on-signing-day.
The results are staggering, and it proves that the Iron Bowl is back on top, where it should be. The Iron Bowl trumps all things in Alabama. To the the fans and alumni of the two schools, there is nothing bigger. Yeah, National Championships are cool, and we all want to win them, but, in late November, in Alabama, there is one game that matters. It is an in-state rivalry like no other. If you are a College Football fan, and you want to experience something truly amazing, go check out an Iron Bowl.
The next few years could provide some of the best Iron Bowl matchups in history. I'm afraid that the more hype we build up, the less likely the chances of success. But, there is no denying it right now. The hype is well deserved, and there's nothing that will get in its way.
War Damn Eagle.