Coaches and players compete for three things in college football: conference titles, national titles and defeating rivals. Alabama has four rivals, three bitter ones (Auburn, Tennessee and LSU) and one that has been renewed for the first time since 1990 (Penn State). The Alabama-Penn State rivalry, which started on December 19, 1959, featured two legendary coaches, Paul Bryant and Joe Paterno.
Though the Nittany Lions won the first meeting 7-0, the rivalry didn’t take on any meaning until 1979. The ’79 Sugar Bowl was a game dominated by defense. After a scoreless first quarter, the Crimson Tide went to work. Led by quarterback Jeff Rutledge, Alabama slashed and gashed Penn State running the football. The success on the ground opened up the passing game, as Rutledge went to the air and fired a touchdown pass to Bruce Bolton.
The Crimson Tide led 7-0 at halftime. In the second half, Alabama place-kicker, Alan McElroy, missed a field goal that would have given the Tide a 10-0 edge. After the missed field goal, it was Penn State’s turn to finally get something on the scoreboard. Their touchdown was provided by quarterback Chuck Fusina, as he was able to hook up with tight end Scott Fitzkee for a 17-yard score. The game was tied at seven, until running back Major Ogilvie ran in untouched for a 10-yard touchdown. Alabama was back in front 14-7.
The national championship came down to the fourth quarter and Penn State had two shots left to score and send the game into overtime. After recovering a Rutledge fumble on a failed option play, Penn State was deep in Alabama territory with a chance to tie the game. They found success running the ball on Alabama’s defense and on second and goal; Fusina hit Fitzkee on a pass at the three yard line. For a moment it looked as if Fitzkee was going to score and tie the game, until cornerback Don McNeal came in out of nowhere to prevent the touchdown.
On fourth and goal from the 1-yard line, Penn State decided to power it in using running back Mike Gunman. Alabama was not fooled as Gunman was met in the hole immediately by Barry Krauss who stood him up and Murray Legg, who finished off the stop for no gain.
The second opportunity for the Nittany Lions stalled on a fourth and eight incompletion by Fusina and Alabama won the game 14-7.
From 1987-89, the rivalry welcomed a new head coach for Alabama, Bill Curry. Under Curry, the Crimson Tide won all three meetings against Penn State including a 17-16 victory in 1989. The ’89 game was special because it featured a blocked field goal by Thomas Rayam for Alabama. For 20 years, the rivalry became dormant until 2010-11. Alabama won both matchups handily in 2010 and 2011. Alabama leads the series 10-5.
In another rivalry, one stadium holds a capacity of 101,821 fans and its mascot is an elephant, the other holds a capacity of 92,542 fans and its mascot is a tiger. When it comes down to rivalries, the Alabama-LSU rivalry puts intensity on a larger scale. Though it started in 1985, it really began to heat up from the 90s to present.
At one point in time, coach Bryant called Tiger Stadium the worst place for opponents to play in. He said the chaos that the fans create is like being inside a drum. To his credit, Bryant never let the noise distract him from getting the job done. In his tenure at Alabama, he posted a 16-4 record against the Bayou Bengals.
From 1998-01, both teams traded wins. In 2003, LSU took over the rivalry under head coach Nick Saban. The Tigers won five straight meetings including handing the Crimson Tide a heart-breaking 16-13 overtime loss in 2005. The loss ruined Alabama’s dream season and the thought of a national title.
The rivalry opened a new chapter in 2007 and to LSU fans it was based on betrayal. After leaving LSU in 2004 and coaching the Miami Dolphins for two seasons, Saban became the head coach of the Crimson Tide. He lost his first meeting against his former team in Tuscaloosa 41-34, but in 2008 it was payback time. Alabama defeated LSU at Tiger Stadium 27-21 and in 2009 the Tide was victorious again, defeating the Tigers 24-15 and went on to capture its 13th national title.
In 2010-11, Les Miles got the upper hand on Saban as LSU won both meetings. Defense was the focus point in the 2010 “Game of the Century.” LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson was the difference maker and Alabama let opportunities slip away in the 9-6 loss. In the final two meetings, Alabama showed dominance on defense and comeback character on offense. In the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, Alabama allowed 92 yards of total offense to LSU and shut them out 21-0.
In the 2012 regular season meeting, Alabama trailed the Tigers 17-14 with 1:34 remaining in the game. Behind quarterback AJ McCarron, the Crimson Tide went on a 5-play, 80-yard drive that ended up with a 28-yard game-winning touchdown pass from McCarron to TJ Yeldon. Alabama won the game 21-17 and leads the series 47-25-5.
Paul Bryant disliked every opponent he coached against, but there was something about the Third Saturday in October when the team in orange and white rolled around that made his skin crawl. The Alabama-Tennessee rivalry started in 1901. The game ended in a 6-6 tie. From 1905 to 1913, Alabama won seven straight games and shutout the Volunteers in all seven meetings.
In the 1950s, Alabama trainer Jim Goostree brought a new tradition to the rivalry. After each victory against Tennessee, the players and coaching staff for Alabama would smoke victory cigars. This did not sit well with the surgeon general and the NCAA, but the Crimson Tide did it in secret. Whatever the case may be as to why cigars were brought into the rivalry, it didn’t affect Bryant’s success against the Vols. He posted a 16-6-2 record against Tennessee.
Then fortune turned for the Volunteers in 1995. Under head coach Phillip Fulmer and quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Tee Martin (BCS title in 1998) and Casey Clausen, Tennessee won seven straight meetings against Alabama.
The Crimson Tide took back control of the rivalry in 2007. Currently, they have won six straight meetings against the Vols including a 12-10 victory in 2009, which helped them get into the national title game. Alabama leads the series 49-38-7.
Many in-state rivalries exist in college football including Michigan vs. Michigan State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, Florida vs. Florida State and Miami vs. Florida State, but none of them have anything on the Iron Bowl.
The Iron Bowl is filled with exciting victories, heart-breaking defeats and fans who feed of the energy at every given moment. Three things occur in this game where fans are concerned: gambling wagers, a freeze on communication and married couples not sleeping together.
From 1893 to 1907, Auburn controlled the state of Alabama. They posted a record of 7-4-1 in the Iron Bowl. The rivalry was suspended for 41 years because of player per diems and officiating.
Alabama won the first game of the renewed rivalry 55-0. Under head coach James Ralph “Shug” Jordan, Auburn won five straight Iron Bowl from 1954-58. In 1957, Auburn captured its first national title.
Nothing was more important to coach Bryant than winning the Iron Bowl. He won 19 of 25 meetings against Auburn including the 1967 game which produced a legend, Ken Stabler. Stabler’s 47-yard run in the mud helped Alabama defeat Auburn 7-3.
The tables began to turn for the Tigers in 1982 when freshman Vincent “Bo” Jackson arrived on campus. In his final Iron Bowl, Bryant watched Auburn drive the ball down field on his defense to the 1-yard line. On a play known as “Bo Over the Top,” Jackson scored the game-winning touchdown and Auburn defeated Alabama 23-22. From 1982-85, both teams traded wins.
In 1985, another legend for Alabama was born. It was known as the kick heard all around the world. Alabama place-kicker, Van Tiffin connected on a 52-yard field goal as time expired and Alabama won 25-23. In three games (1987-89) coached by Bill Curry, Alabama lost all three Iron Bowls.
Under coach Gene Stallings, the Crimson Tide went 5-2 against the Tigers and captured its first national title since the Bear. In the proclaimed ESPN 30 for 30 Roll Tide/War Eagle, Stallings said referencing being a head coach for Alabama, “You don’t have to beat Auburn every time, but you need to beat them more than they beat you.”
The teams traded wins from 1997-2001, then under coach Tommy Tubberville, Auburn won 6 straight (2002-07) Iron Bowls. This is perhaps the major reason why Alabama coach, Mike Shula lost his job.
The tables turned in Alabama’s favor in 2008. In Saban’s second season as head coach, the Crimson Tide spanked the Tigers 36-0 and in 2009 Alabama ripped the hearts out of every fan in Jordan-Hare Stadium with a 26-21 victory, but in 2010, Auburn got its revenge and it came in form of Cameron Newton. After trailing at halftime 24-0, Newton led the Tigers to a remarkable 28-27 come from behind victory in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The win was meltdown disaster for Alabama, but a blessing for Auburn. The Tigers went on to claim an SEC and BCS title along with its third Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton. Alabama has won the last two Iron Bowl meetings against Auburn and leads the series 42-34-1.
So what does the future hold for Alabama and its rivals? The only thing you can be absolutely sure of is more excitement, more need for revenge on one side or the other and more legendary moments in the histories of both schools. Though the Crimson Tide will not play Penn State this season, they still will face LSU, Auburn and Tennessee in the 2013 college football season.