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Yellowhammer Hatred

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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From Ken Stabler’s run in the mud, to the deus ex machina more commonly known as the ‘kick six’, there is no shortage of memorable moments throughout Iron Bowl history.

“It’s like the Hatfields and McCoys. Right after they tell you the sex of a child, the kid has to pick a school.”
~Former Auburn OL Wayne Gandy

The Iron Bowl is in the conversation for best college football rivalry.

It is, incontrovertibly, the best in-state rivalry.

Overall, there’s a compelling case for Army-Navy. The same could be said for Ohio State-Michigan by people who are wrong. Suffice it to say, it’s in the top three and it’s not third.

From Ken Stabler’s run in the mud, to the deus ex machina more commonly known as the ‘kick six’, there is no shortage of memorable moments, nor controversy.

As a matter of fact, the only thing lacking in this contest is love lost between the schools.

Folks who aren’t a part of it simply don’t get it. It’s not for lack of trying, either. How could they? There’s nothing else like it.

“I was from Florida,” explained former Auburn All-American offensive lineman Wayne Gandy, “so I really didn’t have a sense of it. Growing up, I knew about Florida-Florida State, but I quickly realized that (the Iron Bowl) is even more deep-seated.”

Deep-seated, indeed.

The mutual disdain for one another can be traced back to the 19th century, years before a football game had ever been played. Not an Auburn-Alabama game, either -- an American football game, full stop.

Something or another about land grants and state funding, or whatever. In any case, 150 years later, everything has changed, but nothing is different.

“We've got the state divided up by Alabama people and Auburn people,” former Alabama linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, a College Football Hall of Famer, told the Southern Pigskin Radio Network.

Gandy echoed the sentiment, half-joking, “It’s like the Hatfields and McCoys. Right after they tell you the sex of a child, the kid has to pick a school.”

Even all these years later, legends of the game are still quick to throw a jab.

Upon being asked how he’s going to spend his Iron Bowl Saturday, Jordan, who despite having probably lost a step on the blitz, has yet to do so when it comes to his wits, cracked, “I’m going to be celebrating.”

On a more serious note, he continued,  “This is a very important game for the university and for the state of Alabama. I would impress that upon the players and that they have to be on the peak of their game. You can't really have a successful season without beating Auburn.”

Especially given the Tide’s return to prominence, under Nick Saban, this game has carried a heightened big-picture relevancy over the past decade, although Auburn has certainly held up its end of the bargain.

This year is no different. Ranked first and sixth, respectively, in the most recent College Football Playoff poll, the Iron Bowl will be the biggest game of rivalry week, as it should be.

For Auburn, it’s an elimination game, in regards to championship aspirations, both conference-wise and nationally speaking.

Even for unbeaten Alabama, a loss would, at best, remove from the Tide control of their own fate.

The battle got its name due to Birmingham’s reputation as a producer of metal and steel. Fittingly, just as iron sharpens iron, the two preeminent powers in the Yellowhammer State make one another better. When they’re both good, college football is too. So, by that barometer, this is one of the best seasons of all time.

Perhaps Gandy summed it up best, simply stating, “There’s nothing greater than an Auburn-Alabama game.”

That might be the only thing both sides can agree on.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP