Best Iron Bowls Ever

Hunter Ford has a new column. Here it is. Enjoy.

Poetic justice and the Super Six Iron Bowls
By Hunter Ford

Poetic justice is great isn’t it? In keeping with the theme of yearning for college football season to begin, I will replay the best Iron Bowls ever. But first things first, I made a small error in my column last week. I wrote that Ray Perkins’ (1987) Alabama team beat Notre Dame at Legion Field. It was actually 1986 (Perkins last season coaching the Tide) that Alabama defeated Note Dame 28-7. Cornelius Bennett recorded his famous sack that was immortalized in a Daniel Moore painting.

The poetic justice lies in the fact that Perkins was the first, last and only Alabama coach to record a victory over Notre Dame. Why is this poetic justice? Well, in 1966 Alabama was 11-0 and scored a resounding victory over Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl to cap the season. Notre Dame had been 9-0-1 that year with an infamous tie against Michigan State and no bowl game to spice up the record. Alabama got snubbed by the pollsters that year and finished third. Had the tide been awarded the title it would have been a record third Associated Press championship. Ray Perkins was a receiver on the ’66 team, so I’m sure he felt a little bit of vindication in taking the Irish to the woodshed twenty years later.

There have been many great Alabama-Auburn games over the years. You can point to the 1972 “Punt Bama Punt” game or the 1967 Kenny Stabler “Run in the Mud” game. But between 1981 and 1986 the six greatest Iron Bowls were battled for at Legion Field. Most of these games were decided by three points or less and all were drama-packed. Alabama won three and Auburn won three. By the way, I don’t believe the Alabama-Auburn game, or Auburn-Alabama game if you prefer, should be called the Iron Bowl any longer since it’s not played in Birmingham where the name originated. When it’s played in Auburn it could be the “Cow Pie Bowl” and when it’s played in Tuscaloosa it could be the “Snobby Rich Kids Fraternity Party Bowl” Okay, nevermind…

Iron Bowl is fine. Here are the Super Six Iron Bowls.


Old man Bear needed nine wins in this season to break the all-time victory record. Underdog Georgia Tech (coached by Bill Curry) scored a shocking win over Bear’s boys and Southern Mississippi earned an unlikely tie. When the Tide Rolled into Birmingham only first-year Auburn Coach Pat Dye and his Tigers stood in the way of the record. The Tigers scratched and clawed to a 17-14 halftime lead. Bama came back with two unanswered touchdowns in the second half. The crowd chanted “three-fifteen…three-fifteen.” The Bear got a call from

President Ronald Reagan in the locker room. And Auburn fans had suffered a ninth straight loss to Alabama. 1982

Nine straight losses had left the Tigers licking some painful wounds. But the Tigers gained strength in 1982 under Dye’s guidance. Dye, who learned a lot of football as a Bryant assistant in the 1970’s had his team playing like the younger Bryant Tide teams…with pride and confidence. Meanwhile, Bryant’s ’82 team had suffered humiliating losses to Tennessee, LSU and Southern Mississippi (at Bryant-Denny no less). With freshman sensation Bo Jackson leading the way, Auburn nipped the Tide 23-22 when Bo “went over the top.” Goal posts were torn down and teary-eyed Auburn players leaped into the stands to celebrate with their long-suffering fans.

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Ray Perkins took over at Alabama for the Bear and brought his Tide into the Iron Bowl with a 7-3 record. Auburn, after an early season loss to a powerful Texas team, had run the table. Tornados swirled in the air around Birmingham and the game was played in a Biblical rainstorm. A memorable touchdown came when Bo swept to the right, was walled up by Tide defenders, swiveled on a dime, and raced down the opposite sideline for a touchdown. Auburn prevailed 23-20. The Tigers defeated Michigan in the Sugar Bowl to cap an 11-1 season that some football experts said should have been rewarded with a national championship.

The poetic justice here is that after nine years of frustration Auburn had turned the tide on Alabama and won two straight games with one of Bear’s former top assistants.


Auburn was poised to make a second Sugar Bowl trip. Alabama was suffering its first losing season in 25 years. Alabama fans had “Jerk the Perk” stickers on their cars.

Auburn fans were licking their chops. But a funny thing happened on the way to New Orleans. Bama jumped out to a 17-7 lead and held on tight. Late in the game with the score 17-15, Auburn had the ball fourth and goal at the one. A chip shot field goal would put Auburn up by one. With Bo in the backfield, another “over the top” play would be a natural choice. Dye chose to give the ball to Brent Fullwood, Bo ran the wrong way on his blocking assignment. Alabama defensive back “waxed” the unprotected Fullwood. Bama salvages a terrible season with a 17-15 win.

But wait. Here’s the poetic justice angle. Before the ’84 Iron Bowl was over Auburn had a chance at a 47-yard field goal to win the game. Tiger kicker Robert McGinty shanked it wide left and was so humiliated he transferred to Florida. McGinty would later kick a game winner for the Gators over his former Auburn team.


Alabama comes in to the game at 7-2-1 and Auburn at 8-2. Bo has had a Heisman Trophy winning season. In what is perhaps the best Iron Bowl ever played, the two teams swap leads several times. When Auburn scores a touchdown with less than a minute to go it looks like Alabama is finished. Tide quarterback Mike Shula leads a furious, nail-biting drive to the Tiger 35-yard line. With six seconds to go, tiny Van Tiffin from Red Bay fires the shot that will echo in Bama fans’ fondest memories and haunt Tiger fans’ dreams forever. Tiffin booted a 52-yard field goal to give Alabama a 25-23 win. Poetic justice? From Alabama fans perspective. No Alabama player has ever won a Heisman Trophy. But in both years when an Auburn player has earned college football’s most prestigious award, the tigers have lost to Alabama. Bama also beat Auburn in 1971 when Pat Sullivan took home the trophy.


Alabama was looking for its third Iron Bowl victory in a row. Auburn was looking keep the dam from breaking. With Alabama clinging to a 17-14 lead late in the game, the ’86 Iron Bowl was looking a lot like an eerie repeat of the ’84 affair. In a critical goal line situation the Auburn sideline was in a panic. Coach Dye was trying feverishly to call a timeout. In the chaos nobody told Tiger receiver Lawyer Tillman there was anything to worry about. He calmly took the ball on an end reverse and sprinted to the corner of the end zone for the winning score. Alabama fans got a taste of the gut wrenching last- second defeat in the face of victory. Ray Perkins was gone to the pros the next year and Bill Curry came in to play punching bag for Dye for the next three years. Alabama wouldn’t beat Auburn again until one of Bear’s favorite boys, Gene Stallings, came back to Tuscaloosa in 1990. Poetic justice is great isn’t it?