My most memorable Iron Bowl

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Before it was the “Iron Bowl” it was just the Auburn-Alabama game.
Just?
Even then it was THE game.
What you called it identified you.
If you were an Auburn fan, it was the Auburn-Alabama game.  If Alabama was your team, it was the Alabama-Auburn game.
In my family it was the Auburn-Alabama game, except for our cousin, “Little Mary,” who was, as my Daddy was known to say, “born in the objective case.”
“Little Mary” kept cats in a “Kitty Motel.” Though she inherited a fortune, she collected cans, lived like a bag lady, and when she died she left $1 million to the Methodist Church.  She worshipped Bear Bryant, kept a shrine to him in her china cabinet.  Looking back, I think her devotion to the Tide was mostly to irritate my father, which it did.
Daddy could give as good as he got. He once bought “Little Mary” a U of A sweatshirt, crimson so you could identify it at a distance. She wore it on her morning can collections.  Alabama fans were aghast. Daddy loved it
The Bear Bryant years were hard on Daddy. “Friends” like “Little Mary” sent him sympathy cards and crying towels when his Tigers were whipped by their Elephants.
To avoid their post game phone calls, Daddy would slip off and listen to the game in splendid solitude in the trailer at our farm, which was out from town. Mama would listen to it at home. If Auburn won, which was seldom, Mama would fix Daddy a nice supper and await his return. If Auburn lost, which usually happened, Mama would tidy up the kitchen, make sure there was stuff for sandwiches if he came home hungry, and go to bed. Defeat was not something my family liked to share.
Later, when the game was regularly televised, he would watch it in his Poutin’ House.  By then he had mellowed enough to invite a few friends to join him.  Most were of the Auburn persuasion, but occasionally an Alabama fan was allowed in, if he promised to keep his opinions to himself.
“Little Mary” was never invited.
Over the years, I can recall watching only a handful of Auburn-Alabama games with Daddy and they were all on TV.  Daddy refused to attend in person. The game was played in Legion Field, in Birmingham, which Daddy considered a suburb of Tuscaloosa.  Though the tickets were split 50-50 between the two schools, because Alabama played three or four games there every year, my father felt it was not a neutral site.
For years Auburn tried to get the game changed to a “home-and-home” series. The University of Alabama resisted.  UAT (as Auburn fans call the Tuscaloosa school) claimed Auburn’s stadium wasn’t big enough. They also said that Auburn (the city and the school) was not capable of managing such a crowd.  There were not enough restaurants, they said.  Not enough restrooms.
However, most wearers of the Crimson and White simply did what Tide coach, Ray Perkins did. They refused to consider the idea.
“Alabama will never play in Auburn” said Perkins.
“Amen” said the Tide faithful.
Auburn kept pushing. The stadium was expanded and the restaurant/restroom argument was dismissed for what it was, ludicrous. Meanwhile, rumors swirled that Auburn might just cancel the series if that other school did not come to its senses.
Then, in 1988, the University of Alabama agreed to lower itself to visit Auburn and play the annual game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
There were other factors.  Both schools had alumni groups who wanted tickets but with only half the stadium, neither could meet the demand. Then the NCAA tightened rules on recruits attending neutral site games. That did it.
When Daddy got the news, he vowed that he would have to see it to believe it, so he upped his contribution to the Auburn Alumni Association, rose on the ticket list, and got us a couple for the big day.
I was teaching in a college south of Atlanta when he called to tell me.
“Meet me there.”
Meanwhile Alabama fans, not inclined to take the move lying down, prepared instructions for the faithful who claimed not to know where Auburn was – “go east from Montgomery and when you smell the manure you are getting close.  Watch for cow pies when you walk to the stadium.”
I did not need instructions.  I knew the way.
We met. We ate barbeque, drank beer, went in and found out seats.
Auburn won.
Daddy was so excited that rather than spend the night with friends, he drove three hours back home to Mama, who had a nice supper waiting.
Naturally.
As we left the stadium Daddy observed, to no one in particular, that as far as he was concerned, he was fulfilled, and could live out his days without ever attending another.
He never did.
From that day forward he was satisfied to watch the Auburn-Alabama game on TV.
Daddy died in 2010. A few days after his funeral (we buried him in an Auburn SEC Championship T-Shirt), I found among his “treasures” his ticket to that first in-Auburn Iron Bowl.  For two decades he had saved it to remind him not to forget the day – not that he ever would.
I framed it and hung it with other Auburn mementos to remind me not to forget — not that I ever will.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. He can be reached at hjackson@jsu.edu.

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