Though we never called it that.
We called it the Auburn-Alabama game.
Note which name comes first. That is one of the many little things that the initiated look for when determining loyalty. When ESPN titled its special Roll Tide, War Eagle, Auburn faithful immediately suspected a hatchet job in the making.
As I have told you before and likely will tell you again, I grew up in an Auburn household, and that is where my loyalties lie. The fact that I did some of my graduate work at Alabama-Tuscaloosa (as Auburn fans like to call the other school) is immaterial. Just as surely as folks who have never attended a class in Tuscaloosa have a right to be faithful to the Tide, I have a right to be an Auburn Tiger.
So it follows as the night does the day, that this year Thanksgiving is again a prelude to the game.
And I am going.
First time in 22 years.
First time since the only time Daddy and I went together.
As an Auburn alumnus, Daddy could have gotten Iron Bowl tickets, but he didn’t. The game was played in Birmingham’s Legion Field, which to Daddy was Alabama’s other home. Made no difference to him that the crowd was equally divided. Birmingham was Tide territory.
This was such a point of principle with him that he vowed never to attend unless it was played in Auburn.
Not much chance of that.
Legion Field was bigger. Legion Field was in a major city with lots of hotel rooms. And Legion Field was close enough to Tuscaloosa that fans could drive in to the game and drive home afterward.
Alabama folks knew a good thing when they had it.
So Daddy stayed home, where he followed closely the ongoing efforts by Auburn to get Alabama to play in Auburn and the ongoing efforts by UAT to keep things as they were. To Daddy, Alabama’s opposition was just one more example of the arrogance of the Tuscaloosa team, a point of view reinforced by local Tide fans who condescendingly quoted UA Coach Ray Perkins who had assured the faithful that “Alabama will never play in Auburn.”
OK, I know there was more than pride and honor and ego involved in moving the game to Auburn. Stadium size, ticket allocation and such counted for a lot. But those details did not matter to Daddy. Tide fans did not want the game moved, so Daddy did.
And finally it was.
When Daddy heard the news, he immediately upped his alumni contribution so he could get tickets. Then he asked me if I wanted to go with him.
Of course I did.
Meanwhile, the fan base of both schools ratcheted up the rivalry. Auburn supporters strutted about and bragged about how the Tuscaloosa school had been cut down to size. Alabama supporters began circulating maps — “All Dirt Roads Lead to Auburn” — with advice on what to wear (“overalls and boots”) and instructions on how to clean your shoes if you stepped in a cow pie.
Then it was Game Day, Dec. 2, 1989.
Driving down from Atlanta, I found myself in a convoy of flag-flying Auburn fans, members of the large Atlanta AU Alumni club.
Daddy drove up from Grove Hill.
We met as planned, ate barbecue and drank beer. We walked about a bit, enjoying the scene.
Then we went in.
Not the best seats in the house, but they were in the house, and that was all that mattered.
To this day, I still have to be reminded that the game was significant for reasons other than where it was played. Auburn under Pat Dye came into the game with two losses and ranked No. 11 in the nation. Alabama under Bill Curry was undefeated and ranked No. 2. The outcome would determine who was Southeastern Conference champion and perhaps, for Alabama, another national title.
My buddy Jerry, an Auburn professor, had invited us to spend the night at his hunting camp north of town. After the game, Daddy said he was too excited to settle down, sit and sip, so he decided to go home to Mama. Besides, he wanted to be back to gloat.
As he got into his truck, he smiled and said, in reference to Alabama’s much-publicized decision to put Astroturf on its field, “we whipped their ass on our natural grass.”
Then he added that if he never saw another football game live and in person, that was OK. He had seen this one, and it was enough.
Now I am getting ready for this year’s game. I don’t expect the same outcome, but with this rivalry, you never know.
But you always find out.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-mail: email@example.com.