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The Global Ambassadors – The Iron Bowl – Auburn vs. Alabama

The Iron Bowl

#9 The Iron Bowl: November 2022

Over Thanksgiving weekend that same year the two of us returned to the South – Tuscaloosa, via Atlanta, to be precise – for what is arguably the country’s most prolific college football rivalry, the Auburn Tigers vs. the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Dating back to 1893, this most intense intrastate rivalry was contested at neutral-site Legion Field in Birmingham from 1904-1988. Given Birmingham’s key role in the steel industry, the game became known as the “Iron Bowl,” and has carried this popular nickname since the 1950’s when legendary Auburn coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan first identified it as such. Jordan, who coached the Tigers from 1951-1975, was to Auburn what Paul “Bear” Bryant, who coached the Crimson Tide from 1958-1982, was to Alabama.

These two fabled programs have combined for twenty national championships and seven Heisman Trophy winners, albeit recent statistics tilt heavily in Alabama’s favor. Heading into the 2022 game, the Crimson Tide held the rivalry’s advantage 48–37–1. More recently Alabama had won ten of the last fourteen; a span during which the Crimson Tide had 114 players drafted into the NFL.

Among the other outsized numbers marking this rivalry is the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium. The stadium’s capacity of 100,077 is only 541 shy of the entire population of Tuscaloosa.

Arriving in Atlanta Thursday evening, we checked into the Ritz-Carlton, where we enjoyed a gourmet Thanksgiving meal with all the customary mouth-watering side dishes and accoutrements such a hotel has to offer. Yet in our minds the feast would unlikely surpass whatever culinary delights awaited us in the Tuscaloosa parking lot we would soon call home.The Iron Bowl

Author’s Note #1: Over dinner we fully comprehended the ‘irony’ of having luxury accommodations the first night and ever-so-slightly less opulent surroundings and trappings the next two nights in our 2013 Thor Freedom Elite; a 30-foot-long beast of an RV capable of sleeping eight.

Author’s Note #2: Relying on such “transportation and lodging” is the only way to go when tailgating in SEC country.

We ubered the 35 miles to Dallas, Georgia, Friday morning to commandeer our Thor. George, looking like the novice that he was, climbed behind the wheel for our 200-mile (as the Northern Flicker flies) trek. With opposing car flags adorning each side of the RV we began our pilgrimage west along I-20, ambling to our beyond-coveted, on-campus RV slot: Northeast 179.

Because the RV lot opened the day before Thanksgiving, we were by no means the first to arrive as plenty of leftover turkey leg wielding Tide fans would attest.

In search of soccer in the South, we found ourselves at the Houndstooth Sports Bar Friday afternoon to watch the borderline scintillating USA-England World Cup game; a game that ended in a scoreless draw…a final score Auburn would have gladly taken – but more on that later. Following the game and at George’s urging, I provided the local news crew with an animated interview, regaling them with my perspectives on SEC vs. Pac-12 football, the state of Auburn football generally (after all, I was decked out in Tiger attire) and, of course, my game prediction (Alabama 42, Auburn 28), which proved to be very close to the game’s actual score – but, again, more on that later.

After sharing my pearls of wisdom, it was time to head back and partake in some boondocking as it’s affectionately known by those in the know.

Definition #1: Boondocking: Parking lot partying where the assembled masses wander from RV to RV sharing family updates, tales of Iron Bowls past, and more than a few cocktails, many of which are homemade specialties. Note: This is not an exhaustive definition as we came to learn that boondocking can be done anywhere and with little advance notice.

As rookie boondockers we were quickly identified as the guys in the “U-Haul” – an apt description compared to the dozens of six figure customized RV’s all around us.

Fun Fact #1: The first ever 911 call was made in Alabama, leaving us to wonder if that factoid was a precursor of sorts. It nearly was.

Having made a new friend who utilized a motorized La-Z-Boy to navigate the Northeast Lot, I couldn’t resist the temptation to captain it myself. Unfortunately, given my nascent boondocking skills I made it about ten yards before quickly veering hard left and crashing straight into the back of a massive RV, one with an Alabama license plate reading TEAMGOD. “The Incident” as it would soon be called by our asphalt associates, proved to be an endearing moment. It may even have been the SEC tailgating equivalent of making your bones as we were invited to, and thoroughly enjoyed, a twenty family, pre-game potluck Saturday morning – mere yards from “The Incident” as (pot)luck would have it.

With our pregame meal winding down, I found myself trading my Auburn ball cap to one of our new pigskin pals for a handful of his homemade boiled peanuts; not sure which one of got the better end of that deal. But because game time was rapidly approaching there was little time to ponder whether this was the Dutch’s acquisition of Manhattan all over again.

Having fired their coach after a dismal 3-5 start to the season, unranked Auburn entered the game with an abysmal 5-6 record. Alabama, also struggling relative to its recent playoff dominance, was ranked #7 with a 9-2 record – with both losses coming on the final play of each game, totaling a combined four points.

As evidenced by Alabama being installed as a twenty two point favorite, the game had all the markings of an old school shellacking. Nonetheless, our experience had been that when a rivalry game is all about “braggin’ rights” between storied football programs epic games result. Of course, our ‘experience’ is routinely underwhelming at best, so we had to be prepared for anything as we entered the stadium.

Wearing our respective teams’ logo-adorned hardhats, we nestled in alongside our SEC brethren overlooking the Alabama bench, marveling at one of college football’s most hallowed venues.

Prior to Senior Day festivities and an amazing flyover, we were treated to a rollicking rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama” which blared as fans passionately sang along as part of a pre-game ritual that served as a rite of passage for out-of-towners.

While we were indeed fortunate to have really great seats, a camo wearing guy two rows in front of us still relied on binoculars to view the action. We determined that he must have been looking long and hard for Auburn’s pass rush.

But enhanced vision is not required to appreciate the extraordinary game day experience within Bryant-Denny Stadium, for it is a five sensory experience that is equal parts football game, intermittent concert, and lavish block party.

Following the game and awaiting us back in the Northeast Lot were our Iron Bowl buddies who were eager to recount Alabama’s dominance and do so during a torrential downpour, all while passing around a variety of deserts. Although not really in the mood for more homemade, artery clogging sweets, we could not pass up the chance to share in the large mason jar being passed around. After all, it was ideally suited for swigging the homemade peach moonshine it contained.

Feeling as though it was the perfect way to end our virgin boondocking experience, we called it a night and headed back to the U-Haul knowing we had a long drive back to Georgia in the morning.

Final Score: Thor Freedom Elite 394 (miles) Alabama 49, Auburn 27

Given our recent run of amazing domestic events, it was now time once again to venture abroad, and do so in style; the type of style Wimbledon affords those fortunate enough to find themselves at Center Court for the gentleman’s final.

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