Saturday, November 24, 2007

iron bowl

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Wounded and embarrassed, Auburn and Alabama limp into the Iron Bowl. They won't be playing for national or Southeastern Conference titles or BCS bowl bids.

What is at stake? Merely their seasons.

The 25th-ranked Tigers (7-4, 4-3) enter Saturday night's game two weeks removed from an embarrassing loss at Georgia. The Crimson Tide (6-5, 4-3) is still crimson-faced after an even more humiliating loss to Louisiana-Monroe.

In this state, there's only one way to rescue a mediocre season: Win the Iron Bowl. Nothing else will do.

"That game can change your whole life," Auburn defensive tackle Josh Thompson said. "If you make a big play in that game, it can change your life."

Besides that life-changing impact, the winner improves its bowl credentials and gets the modest distinction of finishing second in the SEC West behind No. 1 LSU.

The Tide might even wind up needing a win to assure itself of a postseason trip to cap Nick Saban's first season since up to 11 SEC teams could be bowl eligible. Alabama will try to keep Auburn from extending its Iron Bowl winning streak to six years, which would be the Tigers' longest reign of state supremacy.

This isn't the way Tide fans were hoping Saban would bring the team into this game. Alabama has dropped three straight games and has the exact same record it did entering the regular season finale last year.

A former LSU coach, Saban isn't a complete stranger to the rivalry.

"I understand and respect this rivalry," he said. "I've been in this league before. I respect the rivalry and certainly want to have our people be proud of how we represent the university of Alabama in this rivalry."

The week has featured potential distractions for both head coaches.

Saban stirred up controversy Monday by using America's responses to Pearl Harbor and 9/11 in analogies about his team's situation after the Louisiana-Monroe loss. He later apologized for referring to such tragic events in connection with a football game, but it probably wasn't the way he wanted to start such a big week.

"I'm sure there are better ways that I could've put it," Saban later said. "But the message was a simple message: that with adverse situations, that positive change, togetherness, and a special spirit can result from that. That was the message."

Not to be outdone, a few hours later Tommy Tuberville said Monday he would remain at Auburn "as long as they want us here" in his strongest statement addressing rumors that Texas A&M would target him if it fires coach Dennis Franchione.

Back to the regularly scheduled Iron Bowl programming. It will be only the eighth time the teams have played at night out of 72 meetings, and only the ninth time both have entered coming off losses. They haven't met on Thanksgiving weekend since 1992 when that tradition ended with the advent of the SEC championship game.

The two seasons have played out with eerie similarities. Auburn has one huge win, at Florida. Alabama has one over Tennessee. Both had heartbreaking losses to No. 1 LSU, lost to Mississippi State and pulled out last-minute wins over Arkansas.

Quarterbacks John Parker Wilson of Alabama and Auburn's Brandon Cox have struggled with mistakes and come up big at key times, also.

The Tide is hoping for a big spark with tailback Glen Coffee and offensive line starters Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis returning from suspensions, along with reserve defensive backs Marquis Johnson and Chris Rogers. That should provide a big boost for a struggling running game and a line that has had troubles during the losing streak.

Alabama's offense is led by receiver DJ Hall, who tops the SEC in receiving yards. Hall has modest totals in three previous Iron Bowls, managing just eight receptions for 93 yards and failing to score since a touchdown catch in his freshman season.

"He's a huge part of their offense," Auburn cornerback Jerraud Powers said. "He's been putting up numbers every game. John Parker looks for him. If he gets open, John Parker gets him the ball."

Tuberville said receivers are the strength of Alabama's team. The Tigers have the nation's No. 7 scoring defense but have been victimized by quarterbacks like Georgia's Matthew Stafford and LSU's Matt Flynn.

"They've made a lot of big plays," Tuberville said. "You don't have to look very far back in our season to where we didn't defend the pass very well."

The Tide might be without the league's No. 2 punt returner. Javier Arenas, who also has gained increased playing time at cornerback, is doubtful with a high ankle sprain.

Auburn, meanwhile, could welcome the return of dangerous kick return man Tristan Davis, who has missed most of the season with injuries.

Players from both teams understand the long memories fans in the state have for these games.

What's a win mean? "That's like bragging rights forever," Tide receiver Matt Caddell said. "So much pride, tradition. It's a game like no other."

Adds Tuberville: "As I told our players every play goes down in the history book. They have an opportunity to put their name in it, whether it's good or bad."

Alabama defensive end Wallace Gilberry had a less dramatic take. Nobody summed up the potential impact on both seasons better, though.

"To be able to go down to Auburn and hopefully win this one would kind of put a smiley face on the end of this season," Gilberry said.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Iron Bowl
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The Iron Bowl logo.The Iron Bowl is the name given to the annual intercollegiate football game between the teams of Auburn University and the University of Alabama. The deep-seated football rivalry between Alabama and Auburn has historically spilled over into the politics and society of the state of Alabama. As is typical of such games, it is usually scheduled to be the final regular-season game for each team and is always played in late November.

1 History
2 Game results
3 Statistics
4 References
5 See also

[edit] History
Alabama and Auburn played their first football game in Lakeview Park in Birmingham, Alabama on February 22, 1893. Auburn won, 32-22, before an estimated crowd of 2,000. As if a signal of the future, disagreement between the schools began immediately as Alabama considered the game to be the final matchup of the 1892 season and Auburn recorded it as the first of 1893. The series was suspended after the 1907 game when the schools could not come to agreement over the amount of expenses to be paid players, as well as from where officials for the game should be obtained.

Auburn president Dr. Ralph B. Draughon and Alabama president Dr. John Gallalee decided during the winter and spring of 1948 to end the disagreement and renew the series after fighting what they considered interference into their internal affairs by the state legislature. The teams met in Birmingham because it had the largest stadium in the state, 44,000-seat Legion Field. Alabama won that game, 55-0, in the most lopsided victory of the series. The game would be played exclusively at Legion Field until 1989 when Auburn hosted the game in Jordan-Hare Stadium before a (then) record crowd of 85,319.

Ties (1)
For most of the 20th century, the games were played at Birmingham's Legion Field. Alabama played many home games here due to the difficulty of travel to Tuscaloosa, yet still called it a "neutral site" for purposes of the Iron Bowl. When the series was resumed in 1948, the Alabama State Legislature and the schools agreed to play at a neutral site in Birmingham. Legion Field was the largest stadium in the state at the time. There was supposed to be a 50-50 split of tickets, but because of Birmingham's proximity to Tuscaloosa the split usually wound up being 65-35 in Alabama's favor. Between 1948 and 1988, this ticket division continued, effectively making every game a home game for Alabama.

By 1980 the series had come to be called the Iron Bowl, due to Birmingham's prominence as a center of iron and steel production. Throughout the 1980s, Auburn made additions to Jordan-Hare Stadium in response to their success under Pat Dye. Soon, this stadium eclipsed Legion Field in size and Auburn desired to move this game from Legion Field to a home-and-home series as Legion Field was never actually a neutral site. Alabama coach and Athletic Director Ray Perkins objected, saying that "it will never happen." However, both schools reached an agreement where Auburn could play their home games for the Iron Bowl in Auburn starting in 1989, with the exception of 1991, and Alabama would have a home ticket allocation for games in Legion Field. On December 2, 1989, Alabama came to Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time in the history of the rivalry. A sellout crowd would witness Auburn win its first true "home" game of the series, 30-20 over an Alabama team that entered the
game unbeaten and ranked #2 in the country.

Alabama officials had fought the move from Birmingham and continued to hold their home game at Legion Field until the 2000 season where it was once again played in Tuscaloosa in Bryant-Denny Stadium after the capacity of the Crimson Tide's on-campus home was expanded to more than 83,000, exceeding the capacity of Legion Field. The game had been played in Tuscaloosa only twice before early in the series in 1895 and 1901. A new attendance record was set in 2006 as the latest expansion to Bryant-Denny increased its capacity to 92,138.


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