Thirty years ago, the face of the Iron Bowl changed forever when the game was played at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time in history.
“I said, ‘50 years from now, nobody will remember the score, but they will remember this was the first year the game was played in Auburn,’” former Auburn coach Pat Dye wrote in his autobiography, “In The Arena,” which was published in 1992. “It was just unthinkable to our fans that we would lose it.”
And the Tigers did prevail on that day, 30-20, in knocking off a previously unbeaten Alabama team in what would be the first of four straight Auburn wins when the two teams battled on the Plains.
Alabama would gain its first victory at Jordan-Hare in 1999 — 28-17 — and has won on four other occasions on the field. Auburn holds a 9-5 edge in games played against Alabama on its campus.
The game had previously always been played at Legion Field in Birmingham as a neutral site, though Auburn fans claimed Alabama had the home-field advantage despite a 50-50 split in ticket allotment.
Of course the game is now rotated each year between Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium and Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium — giving the home team a true advantage fan-wise when the game kicks off.
When Alabama visits Auburn on Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. start, the fans will be rocking the stadium as usual when these two rivals square off.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is banking on the atmosphere being a difference-maker.
“There’s nothing like it; the Iron Bowl’s different,” Malzahn said this week. “When I first got here, everybody would talk about it, about how special it was and you go ‘OK, yeah,’ but you’ve got to experience it.
“It’s one of those things that all you’ve got to do is experience it one time. Whether you’re a coach, player or fan, it’s different. It’s real special, and I feel blessed this will be my 10th one.”
Alabama enters the game ranked No. 5 in the country with a 10-1 record and hopes of a College Football Playoff berth still alive. No. 16-ranked Auburn is 8-3 and still searching for a signature win during a season marked by close losses at Florida and LSU and at home to Georgia.
Alabama coach Nick Saban certainly has plenty of respect for Auburn.
“So, this is the best team we’ve played, probably, so far this year, and it will be the most challenging place that we’ve played,” Saban said during his Monday news conference.
Of course, the statement raised some eyebrows since the Tide’s lone loss came at home to No. 2 LSU — though no doubt it will be the most challenging environment the Crimson Tide has played in this year.
It will mark a matchup of an Alabama offense that can be explosive with perhaps the most talented group of receivers in the nation against an Auburn defense considered by many as the best on that side of the football.
All eyes will be on the two quarterbacks playing in their first Iron Bowl — redshirt sophomore Mac Jones for Alabama and true freshman Bo Nix for Auburn.
Jones became the starter for the Crimson Tide after star Tua Tagovailoa was injured two weeks ago at Mississippi State. Nix has been the starter since Game 1 for the Tigers.
With what’s expected to be a close game, a big play here or there will likely be the deciding factor.
Keep an eye on the special teams, where Alabama has the top punt returner in the nation in Jaylen Waddle (24.9-yard average per return), while Auburn has Christian Tutt, who ranks fourth with 13.8 yards per return.