As we get ready for the latest installment of the Iron Bowl, this Alabama fan felt it was time to reminisce. The Iron Bowl holds some of the best and worst memories from my childhood and my adult life. The last one that I failed to attend was the 1989 edition, which just so happens to be exactly 20 Iron Bowls ago.
I will give you my best five and my worst five, but bear in mind that these are through very crimson-colored glasses.
If you had told me before the game that the Freddie Kitchens-led Alabama offense would roll up 475 yards, I would have felt pretty good about the outcome. However, on 4th-and-22 with seconds left, Kitchens' pass to Curtis Brown was ruled incomplete in the back of the end zone.
From my seat in the end zone, the play occurred directly in front of me. The picture the following day in the Birmingham News would confirm what I thought I had seen: Brown in control of the ball with one foot in-bounds. With probation in full effect and dark days looming, this was a tough pill to swallow.
During my freshman year at Alabama, we had very little to cheer about. However, Alabama looked better than it had all year and was in position to win, bleeding the clock late in the fourth quarter.
With one more first down needed to seal the win, a controversial screen pass was called. The play was executed well, but Ed Scissum fumbled, and Alabama lost 18-17.
To this day, this was one of the worst experiences of my life. We don't often see sleet in Tuscaloosa, but we saw it that day. The lasting memory of my last Iron Bowl as a college student would not be the dominating defensive performance by Auburn, but the look of hatred in my date's eyes as she told me she was leaving because her hair had frozen...solid. 'Bama loses 9-0.
As a child, I remember thinking that this was a foregone conclusion. I wasn't old enough to understand Las Vegas point spreads, but I knew that we were a huge favorite—undefeated and on track to play for the first national championship of my lifetime.
We were beaten soundly, 30-20. Auburn ran the streak to four in a row. This was the low point until....
Forever to be remembered as the Brodie Sack Game, this was misery in its purest form. I had seats on the first row, above the Alabama tunnel. I remember looking at my wife and saying, "Do you think Shula looks scared? I think he looks scared."
Looking back, he looked like the poor guy in Hostel, just before that crazy guy went medieval on him with a power drill. I also remember Chris Capps missing "eleventy" billion blocks and Brodie in the fetal position. I think I'm going to be sick again.
Now to the good....
This was my first Iron Bowl to attend in person. I will always remember Byron Holbrooks bursting through the line and swallowing Stan White on the first play from scrimmage. After four years of hell, Alabama broke the streak and won 16-7 in Gene Stalling's first year.
At the time, going to Auburn officially struck fear into Alabama fans. We had blown games there, and we had started to wonder if some supernatural force would keep us from winning at Jordan-Hare.
Shuan Alexander made sure that didn't happen. Behind the blocking of Chris Samuels, Alexander punished the Auburn defense in the second half, and Alabama got the monkey off its back, winning in Auburn, 28-17.
I will always wonder why Auburn refused to defend the screen pass. Down 23-17 late in the fourth, Freddie Kitchens drove Alabama the length of the field, never throwing the ball over the line of scrimmage. Dennis Riddle caught the pass to cap the drive, cutting back to the middle of the field and scoring untouched for a 24-23 victory.
The buildup was eerily similar to the buildup of Saturday's game. Alabama was undefeated, Auburn was mediocre at best. The defense played well all day, but the offense was stagnant as the game went to the half scoreless.
In the third, Auburn drove the ball to midfield, and we wondered if this was going to be 1989 all over again. But Antonio Langham stepped in front of a Stan White pass and took it the distance to break the tie. Alabama went on to win 17-0 and notch the third win in a row in the series on the way to national title No. 12.
To this point, this is the best. An underdog Alabama team went into Auburn and dominated every facet of the game. The lasting image would be Andrew Zow throwing off of his back foot to a wide-open receiver for a score. Alabama went on to win the most lopsided Iron Bowl of the past 25 years, 31-7.
I remember being impressed with the pride of the Auburn fans, who formed a human shield in front of the tree at Toomer's Corner after the game. Unfortunately for us, the best memory was also the last good one.
I hope this brings back some memories for the fans of the greatest rivalry in college football. Now let's see if we can't go get another monkey off of our back, this time in Tuscaloosa.