Alabama has an unwritten rule that gives players and coaches guidance on how to celebrate a win or reflect on a loss.
The 24-hour rule was in effect after an emotionally charged last minute victory over LSU in Death Valley. The 24-hour rule helped players and coaches get past its deflating loss to Texas A&M in Bryant-Denny Stadium that, at the time, appeared to destroy Alabama’s chances at repeating as national champions.
But the 24-hour rule doesn’t apply here. Not this week. Not for this particular opponent.
“I’m not even doing the 24-hour rule,” said safety Vinnie Sunseri following Alabama’s beatdown of Western Carolina. “I’m already thinking about Auburn. This is the game everybody looks forward to 365 days a year. It’s the Civil War of Alabama. So we’re excited to play.”
It’s the Iron Bowl, one of college football’s most intense, storied rivalries. The rivalry dates back to 1893, and after a 41-year hiatus, the game picked back up in 1948 and has taken place every year since. Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium will mark the 77th meeting between these two teams.
Throughout the years, Alabama and Auburn have brought college football some of the best games including the “Run in the mud,” in which former Alabama quarterback Kenny Stabler ran 47 yards to give the Tide a 7-3 victory in the first night game in the series. And “Bo over the top”, when legendary running back Bo Jackson gave Auburn a 23-22 victory in Paul “Bear” Bryant’s final Iron Bowl.
It features two teams, occupying a state divided by crimson and white and burnt orange and navy blue, separated by 160 miles but on completely different ends of the college football spectrum.
The No. 2 Crimson Tide (10-1, 6-1 SEC) is trying to clinch its first trip to the Southeastern Conference Championship game since 2009. With the chaos that ensued last week in college football, Alabama controls its national championship destiny – marking the fifth straight year the Iron Bowl will have one participant controlling its BCS championship fate.
The Tigers (3-8, 0-7 SEC) need a win in the worst way. Auburn is experiencing its worst season in 60 years and is on track to finish winless in the SEC for the first time since going 0-6 in conference in 1980.
The Tigers have had quarterback issues and have been routed in several games including blowout losses to Texas A&M and Georgia.
Alabama leads the all-time series 41-34-1 and opened as a 34-point favorite, which is the highest Iron Bowl since they began recording 32 years ago.
But the records and statistics go out the window on Iron Bowl weekend.
“Everybody understands what’s at hand,” said defensive lineman Damion Square. “That those guys, regardless of what they’re going through down there, are going to come and put up a good fight against us and we’re going to come and play Alabama football.”
This will be the final regular season game for seniors such as Square and Barrett Jones. Ending their time in Bryant-Denny Stadium with a victory is paramount.
“It’s going to be bittersweet, probably pretty emotional, you know we got to end it the right way; it’s pretty cool to be able to do that against a team that’s your in-state rival like Auburn,” Jones said.
When the discussion of greatest college football rivalry comes up, games like Michigan-Ohio State, Texas-Oklahoma and Florida State-Miami all come up. The recent national success of the two Alabama teams has elevated the rivalry to a whole new level. If Alabama is successful in its quest of repeating, this will be the fourth consecutive year the state of Alabama has hoisted the Coaches Trophy.
But arguably the biggest reason this rivalry is considered the best in college football: the fans. Yes, there are the radicals who give the rivalry a black eye nationally, but the passion and love for the game exuded by both fan bases is second to none.
“They’re so passionate year-round about this rivalry that it’s got to rub off on the players, whether they’re from Alabama or Alaska,” said Associated Press sports writer John Zenor, who covers both Alabama and Auburn. “They know they can be heroes for 364 days if they win. If they lose, they’ll hear about that for just as long. But that said, the history of this rivalry doesn’t include all that many huge upsets. There seem to have been plenty of games that were more competitive than expected. Auburn’s hoping this will be another one.”