Best Moments of the Alabama-Auburn RivalryMay 4, 2020
Best Moments of the Alabama-Auburn Rivalry
Whether you think the Iron Bowl is the greatest rivalry in any sport or simply a pretty solid annual college football tradition around Thanksgiving, there's no denying Alabama and Auburn have produced some unforgettable moments over the years.
There has been plenty of last-second drama, special teams gaffes, national championship implications and, in several cases during recent years, all three at the same time.
Rather than ranking the greatest moments and allowing recency bias to creep into the picture, we've simply listed them in chronological order. However, we can probably all agree that the 2013 Iron Bowl would have been No. 1. Aside from the 2006 USC-Texas Rose Bowl, that might be the No. 1 college football game of all time.
1967: The Run in the Mud
This was the first night game in Iron Bowl history.
It was also unofficially the only game of this rivalry played on what appeared to be a platter of chocolate mousse.
Rainstorms pummeled Legion Field all day and night, resulting in a playing field fit for either a herd of hogs or a concert at Woodstock. There were only three points scored in the first three quarters, and it was improbable that a fourth quarter played in a bed of mud would bring about any more scoring.
But early in that final quarter, Alabama quarterback Ken Stabler kept the ball on an option and scampered 47 yards for what proved to be the game-winning score. He was virtually untouched before reaching the pylon, at which point Auburn's Jimmy Carter tackled him for a 10-yard slip-'n-slide ride.
Alabama won 7-3, extending its winning streak in the Iron Bowl to four games.
1972: Punt, Bama! Punt!
Alabama was undefeated and trying to secure its third AP national championship in less than a decade. The Crimson Tide entered the game at No. 2 in the AP poll, and a convincing win over No. 9 Auburn (8-1) just might have pushed them ahead of USC for the top spot in the final rankings.
For the first 50 minutes, things were going according to plan for Bear Bryant's guys. Alabama led 16-0 and Auburn's anemic offense—the Tigers didn't score more than 27 points in any game that season—had little hope of changing that. They did finally put together a nice drive midway through the fourth quarter, but they settled for a field goal to make it 16-3 with less than six minutes remaining.
Had there been win probability metrics in 1972, they likely would have given Alabama a 99.9 percent chance of victory at that point. The odds of losing when you've got the ball and a 13-point lead that late in the game are slim to none.
But Auburn's defense dug in its heels, and its special teams captured lightning in a bottle twice.
Defensive tackle Bill Newton blew straight through Alabama's protection to block Greg Gantt's punt attempt. David Langner scooped it up on a perfect bounce at the 25 and ran it in for a touchdown. That made the margin 16-10.
Then it happened again. Alabama went three-and-out, Newton blocked the punt, it bounced perfectly to Langner at the 25, and Auburn took the lead on a most unlikely sequence.
Just for good measure, Langner also made the interception that sealed the game moments later, ending Alabama's dream of a perfect season.
1982: Bo over the Top
For 23 of the last 63 meetings, both Alabama and Auburn have been in the AP poll. And in 61 of those 63 games, at least one of the sides has been ranked.
The 1982 showdown was a rare exception to that rule. Each team was 7-3 overall and had lost two of its previous three games. It wasn't exactly a sprint to the finish line by either squad, yet it produced one of the more dramatic finishes in Iron Bowl history.
Trailing 22-17 with less than three minutes remaining, Auburn was facing 3rd-and-goal from the 9-yard line. Quarterback Randy Campbell connected with freshman running back Bo Jackson on an out route at the 5. He was upended by two Alabama defenders at the 1. One of those defenders, Tommy Wilcox, was injured on the play, resulting in a several-minute delay before the crucial fourth-down play.
The Tigers came out in a tight wishbone formation, handing it off to Jackson, who went up and over the linemen for the touchdown that gave Auburn a one-point lead.
Alabama's Walter Lewis was nearly picked off on the first play of the subsequent drive and then did throw an interception on fourth down. Jackson fumbled it back to the Tide when he tried to go over the top once again on what would have been the game-sealing first down, but Alabama was unable to get back into field-goal range.
Auburn won 23-22, snapping a nine-year losing streak in the Iron Bowl.
1985: Van Tiffin's Kick
Even in a rivalry fraught with fourth-quarter drama, the 1985 iteration of the Iron Bowl takes the cake for the battiest final 15 minutes.
After a scoreless third quarter, Alabama entered the fourth holding a 16-10 lead. The Crimson Tide had the ball inside their own 5 and got out to midfield before a Mike Shula deep ball was intercepted in the end zone for an Auburn touchback.
Led by Bo Jackson, who punched it in with his patented leap over the line on 4th-and-goal from the 1, the Tigers marched down the field on a 16-play, 80-yard drive to take a 17-16 lead with seven minutes remaining (with some help from an Alabama too-many-men-on-the-field penalty on a missed extra-point attempt).
The Crimson Tide subsequently went 90 yards in three plays with Gene Jelks scoring on a 74-yard rushing touchdown. The two-point attempt was no good, so Alabama led 22-17 with six minutes to go.
Jackson and Co. went right back to work on an 11-play, 70-yard touchdown drive to retake the lead. The Tigers were also unsuccessful on their two-point try, keeping the score at 23-22—eerily similar to the 1982 game, except Alabama had less than a minute to work with this time.
Shula committed the cardinal sin of the two-minute offense, scrambling around in the backfield before taking a bad sack with 37 seconds to go. It forced Alabama to burn its final timeout facing 3rd-and-18 from its own 12. The Tide got the first down two plays later on a gutsy fourth-down reverse on which Shula delivered the key block, springing Al Bell loose for a 20-yard gain.
Two plays later, wide receiver Greg Richardson got open over the middle for another 20-yard gain, barely making it to the sideline at the Auburn 35 before getting tackled. That set Van Tiffin up for the game-winning 52-yard field goal as time expired.
2009: McElroy to Upchurch
National championship implications are quite common in this rivalry. Dating back to 1957, there have been 24 instances in which either Alabama or Auburn was ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the AP poll: 20 times for the Crimson Tide; four times for the Tigers. Nine of those games were decided by eight points or fewer, too.
This one felt more monumental than most, though, because it was a come-from-behind thriller that played a key part in Nick Saban's first national championship with Alabama.
Aided by a successful onside kick, Auburn jumped out to an early 14-0 lead. It was the first time in the entire season that Alabama trailed by more than seven points and just the second game in which it faced a deficit of more than one point.
Though it was unfamiliar territory, Greg McElroy and Co. did not panic. Alabama knotted it up at 14-14 midway through the second quarter of what was a good ol' fashioned nail-biter from there. Auburn retook the lead on a 72-yard touchdown pass early in the third, and a pair of Leigh Tiffin field goals made it a 21-20 game heading into the fourth.
That was still the score when Alabama got the ball on its own 21 with eight minutes to go, setting the stage for Alabama's version of "The Drive."
Each of the first four first downs came on short passes to Julio Jones. After the fourth, Alabama was at the Auburn 28 with less than three minutes remaining. At that point, if the Tide didn't score, they probably weren't getting the ball back. And after Trent Richardson led them inside the Auburn 5, McElroy connected with Roy Upchurch for a touchdown on 3rd-and-3.
It was the only receiving touchdown of the senior running back's career, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
Auburn was able to get the ball into Alabama territory before the clock ran out on a 26-21 win for the Tide. They went on to crush Florida and Texas to cap off a 14-0 championship campaign—shockingly the only undefeated season Alabama has had since 1992.
2010: The Cam Newton Comeback
Alabama overcoming a 14-0 deficit in 2009 was mighty impressive, but Auburn played that comeback game at an even higher difficulty level the following year.
The Cam Newton-led Tigers were a freight train on offense. They were 11-0 on the year and had averaged 48.6 points in the seven games immediately preceding the Iron Bowl. They were particularly unstoppable on the ground, entering the contest averaging 307.9 rushing yards per game.
But that offense was nowhere to be found in the first quarter. Alabama scored touchdowns on each of its first three possessions while Auburn didn't even get its initial first down of the game until three minutes into the second quarter. The Crimson Tide added a field goal and led 24-0 midway through the second.
Then the rally began.
Newton connected with Emory Blake for a 36-yard touchdown late in the first half and hit Terrell Zachery with a 70-yard strike on the second play of the third quarter. He added a one-yard rushing touchdown about 10 minutes later, cutting the deficit to 24-21. Alabama tacked on another field goal, but Newton's seven-yard pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen put the Tigers ahead 28-27.
Alabama got down inside the Auburn 35 on the subsequent possession but was unable to get into Jeremy Shelley's field-goal range. Auburn won by a point, smashed South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game and eked out a national championship victory over Oregon.
2013: The Kick Six
There has only been one game in this epic rivalry pitting a pair of AP Top 4 teams against one another, and it fittingly became one of the greatest games in college football history.
Alabama was the undefeated and barely challenged No. 1 team in the nation. After getting a scare from Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M in mid-September, the Crimson Tide outscored their next nine opponents 353-50. But Auburn was no slouch at No. 4 and had already been well-acquainted with dramatic endings, beating each of Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Georgia on touchdowns scored with 10, 79 and 25 seconds remaining, respectively.
This thing was a gem long before the final-second chaos everyone remembers.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall got the scoring started with a 45-yard rushing touchdown. Then Alabama reeled off 21 straight points in less than eight minutes. Auburn tied the game at 21-21 early in the third quarter. A.J. McCarron connected with Amari Cooper on a 99-yard bomb to take the lead back with about 10 minutes remaining.
Alabama had plenty of chances to put the game away. Rather than trying a 30-yard field goal—Cade Foster had already missed from 44 and 33 earlier in the game—the Crimson Tide turned it over on downs at the Auburn 13 with five minutes to go. Then with two minutes and 30 seconds remaining, Alabama attempted a 44-yard field goal, only to have it blocked. The cats with nine lives were given another chance, and Marshall found Sammie Coates for a game-tying, 39-yard touchdown with 32 seconds left.
All that to set up the Adam Griffith 57-yard field-goal attempt that was fielded by Chris Davis in the back of the end zone and returned 109 yards for the unforgettable walk-off touchdown.
Between that win and the subsequent 59-42 victory over Missouri in the SEC Championship Game, Auburn leaped up to No. 2 in the final BCS rankings before its luck finally ran out in the national championship against Florida State and Jameis Winston.
2019: Too Many Men on the Field
Scoring tends to come at a premium in this rivalry. In 78 all-time meetings, there have only been two cases of both teams scoring more than 28 points: Alabama's 55-44 victory in 2014 and Auburn's 48-45 win in 2019. The former included Alabama coming back from a 12-point deficit with a 34-3 run in the second half, while the latter was much more of a back-and-forth slugfest.
Alabama's Mac Jones threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns, but he also threw a pair of pick-sixes to keep Auburn hanging around during a battle in which neither team led by more than seven at any point.
More than half of the points (48) were scored in the second quarter, and most of that came in the final six minutes of the half. One of the aforementioned pick-sixes was followed by Jaylen Waddle taking a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Waddle would score three more times in the game, including the 28-yard reception that gave the Crimson Tide a 45-40 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Auburn regained the lead with eight minutes to go, followed by one of the many times Nick Saban has been let down by an Alabama placekicker. Joseph Bulovas doinked a would-be game-tying 30-yard field goal.
Alabama had two timeouts left, though, and it forced a three-and-out to get the ball back with one minute remaining.
Or so we thought.
On 4th-and-4, Gus Malzahn threw some trickery at Saban, lining up in a traditional offensive set with his punter spread out at wide receiver. With mere moments to figure out how to respond, Alabama rushed guys on and off the field and got hit with a substitution infraction penalty. Those five yards gave Auburn the first down and, effectively, the win.
Alabama probably wasn't going to make the College Football Playoff, but Auburn made (war) damn (eagle) certain that the Crimson Tide would miss the CFP for the first time.