What is the Iron Bowl? Alabama vs. Auburn rivalry explained

Thanksgiving weekend sees the resumption of one of college football's fiercest rivalry games -- the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn.

Every fan base claims that their rivalry game is the most hate-filled and competitive in college football. Nowhere, however, is the sense of vitriol so apparent all year round than in the state of Alabama. The Auburn Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide have been at bitter loggerheads since 1893, with the Iron Bowl becoming the epicenter of their emotions. 

What is the Iron Bowl?

When you hear the word “iron,” it conjures up all types of imagery — cold, hard, steely. Nothing could be more apt to describe the hatred between Alabama and Auburn fans. Their despise of each other is a year-round pursuit, culminating in the end-of-season rivalry clash that has become known as the Iron Bowl. 

It all began in February 1893 at Lakeview Park in Birmingham. A long-running heated political divide broke out into a football game, with Auburn emerging with a 32-22 victory. Even then, the teams were divided by argument. Auburn claimed that the triumph concluded the 1893 season. Meanwhile, Alabama decided that the game was the final act of the 1892 campaign. 

Disagreements even raged when the annual matchup was suspended following the 1907 game. While some claimed that acts of violence seen before and after the contest, on and off the field, caused a cessation of the rivalry, others contended that a bitter financial dispute was the reason for the suspension.

They wouldn’t meet again until a 55-0 win for Alabama in 1948, a result that remains the biggest victory in Iron Bowl history. The game was held at Legion Field, a “neutral” venue located 45 minutes west of Tuscaloosa. It remained there until 1989, much to the chagrin of Auburn fans who claimed it was essentially a home game for their hated rivals. 

Becoming the Iron Bowl in 1964

The Auburn vs. Alabama rivalry didn’t receive its iconic name until 1964. While the name is grounded in Birmingham’s role in the steel industry, Auburn coach Ralph Jordan first deemed it the Iron Bowl. Facing questions about the Tigers not being bowl eligible, Jordan was famously quoted as saying:

“We’ve got our bowl game. We have it every year. It’s the Iron Bowl in Birmingham.”

While the Auburn coach coined the Iron Bowl, it is Alabama that holds a distinct advantage. Through iconic games like “The Camback,” “The Kick Six,” and the 1985 edition where Van Tiffin kicked a winning field goal for the Crimson Tide as time expired, Alabama holds a 47-37-1 advantage in the head-to-head record. 

In addition to the head-to-head and largest victory, Alabama holds the longest win streak in Iron Bowl history. The Crimson Tide won nine games between 1973 and 1981. They also won the last matchup between the two teams. After Auburn won 48-45 in 2019, Alabama recaptured the Iron Bowl with a comprehensive 42-13 win in Tuscaloosa last year. 

When is the Iron Bowl in 2021?

The Iron Bowl has been traditionally held on Thanksgiving weekend. However, in 1993, the two teams had a rare moment of unity and agreed to move the game to the week before. The intention was to give the teams a bye before a potential appearance in the SEC Championship Game. Yet, that was outlawed in 2007, and the game returned to its traditional spot.

As a result, the 2021 Iron Bowl will be held at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, November 27. The kickoff is 3:30 PM ET, prime time for college football fans across the nation. Alabama has secured a spot in the SEC Championship, but a win will be crucial in a bid for the College Football Playoff. Meanwhile, Auburn is bowl-eligible ahead of the Iron Bowl and will be wanting to throw a wrench into the works of their hated rivals’ playoff plans. 

NFL Draft prospects to watch in the Iron Bowl

As you’d expect from two of the most successful programs in college football history, there are plenty of high-caliber prospects on display this Saturday. Who are some of the 2022 NFL Draft prospects to watch for?

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter: @ojhodgkinson.

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