The Alabama and Auburn football programs were mere babies, not even a year old, when the
schools staged the first game of what was to become the most intense intrastate college
rivalry in the nation.
Only 450 people were at Birmingham's Lakeview Baseball Park on Feb. 22, 1893, to witness a 32-22 Auburn victory. Little did the handful of football fans on that winter day realize what would develop from the first encounter. More than 100 years later, the game has become the state's great divider.
Crimson Tide and Tiger loyalties run deeper than than any bloodline. The passion is so great in the hearts and minds of Alabamians it can cause health problems. Friends can turn into enemies during the course of the game and entire business deals can actually depend on the outcome of what has become known nationwide as the Iron Bowl.
In a state that has had a century-old love affair with college football, this one, 60 minutes of football determines bragging rights in Alabama for the next 364 days. The losers have only "next year" to cling to because the scores of other games during the season really do not matter.
There are few people in the state who have not committed to one school or the other for the Iron Bowl, so named for its traditional Birmingham home and birthplace. Birmingham, of course, was built around huge iron ore deposits in Alabama's hill country.
Perhaps the unusual fact that, after 1907, the two schools did not meet for 40 years, added to the intensity of the series when it was resumed. That intensity has not relented. Maybe the fact that, until 1989, it was held every year in Birmingham with the tickets split between the schools, has added to the passion and electricity of the game.
Whatever the reason, the Iron Bowl has incredible impact on the state and its people.
Why was the series halted?
Myth and legend indicate a controversy concerning violence and dirty play during the 1907 game brought an early end to the Iron Bowl. History records otherwise.
Records show that money within the game contracts was the primary stumbling block. Also, records show Auburn wanted an unbiased "Northern man" to officiate the game.
During the 1907 game, the hotel allowance for 17 men from each team was $2 per man, per day, including lodging and meals. On Jan. 23, 1908, Alabama coach J.W. Pollard received a proposed contract from Auburn football manager Thomas Bragg asking for $3.50 per day for 22 men from each team for two nights for a game to be played at Birmingham's Fair Grounds.
Alabama offered $3 per day for 20 men for two nights. Even then, Auburn and Alabama fans had trouble agreeing on anything and apparently a discrepancy of $34 could not be resolved until 41 years later.
On Friday, Dec. 3, 1948, Sterling Slappey of The Montgomery Advertiser wrote, "They'll take the bandages off a 41-year-old football wound tomorrow to see if the scar is healed."
Later that day, Birmingham held a "Bury the Hatchet" ceremony that ended the disputes off the field, replacing them with rivalries on the field where they belong. At the conclusion of the 1907 tie game, both infant programs had grown into 16-year-old ``teenagers.'' Auburn had a composite record of 44-29-7, while Alabama was 45-34-4.
The Montgomery Daily Advertiser reported hints of the mythical fights which allegedly occurred on the playing field: "The game was filled with rough play, and when the whistle was blown for the end of the battle, two players got together in a fisticuff. The cause of the trouble between the belligerents not being learned. An Auburn man and an Alabama man were striking at each other."
The series was not always filled with hate and discontent. The early years were highlighted by intense, hard-nosed football, promoting the traditional reasons the rivalry became so popular and important to football fans in this state.