College Football: Alabama tries to break streak in Iron Bowl
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. ó It’s the topic Alabama players can’t escape.
The one they encounter when visiting home, strolling around campus or wandering into a restaurant. And it’s not national championship or Southeastern Conference title or even coach Nick Saban.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide’s fans want to know when Alabama will reclaim the state. Six consecutive losses to Auburn have meant six long years of enduring gleeful jibes around the office and on T-shirts and bumper stickers.
It’s enough to turn them crimson-faced by now.
“Everybody, all they say is, ‘You’ve got to beat Auburn this year,”‘ Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson said, as if he didn’t already know that. “If you’re an Alabama fan, you have to beat Auburn. If you’re an Auburn fan, they talk about the streak. To me, it’s fun. We’ve got a chance to go out and do something that not anybody has done here in a long time and finish out the season the way we started it.”
Neither Wilson nor any of his Tide teammates have ever beaten Auburn. Nobody on Auburn’s team has lost the game that can affect the moods of much of the state.
Tide fans have already had a season to gloat about with Saban moving his team into national title contention as Auburn and Tommy Tuberville were weathering their worst season since his 5-6 debut in 1999.
Alabama (11-0, 7-0) is more accustomed to being on the other side of this kind of streak. Bear Bryant’s teams won nine in a row from 1973-81 and went 19-6 over a quarter century of domination.
This is the Tigers’ longest winning streak in the series, topping the five-year run ending in 1958. Bryant was in his second year on the Capstone when that streak ended, just like Saban is now.
Another coincidence: The last time Alabama entered the game with a shot at the national title wound up being the last game as Auburn coach for Pat Dye, who had ended the Tide’s nine-year reign. The Tide won that 1992 game 17-0 and went on to win it all.
Now, the poor season has led some to question Tuberville’s job security.
He said there’s no reason to bring up the six-year streak to his players. Chances are, if they keep it going they’ll mention it a time or two in the future.
“Everybody wants to build streaks, but it’s so hard in this business,” said Tuberville, who is 7-2 in the rivalry. “They’ll go back when they’re 50-60 years old and tell their kids and grandkids they played in the Iron Bowl and what happened that week.”
It’s the rivalry that can help make or break coaches. Alabama’s Mike Shula was fired after losing all four Iron Bowls. Tuberville entered the 2003 game on shaky ground after a disappointing season. Two days earlier, Auburn brass had paid a visit to then-Louisville coach Bobby Petrino about taking Tuberville’s place.
The Tigers won, and Tuberville stayed put. Now, he has the best winning percentage in the rivalry of any coach at either school with more than three Iron Bowls on his resume.
“This is one game that you’ve got to win,” Tuberville said. “You’ve got to win these games. It’s for bragging rights. You want to give your fans the opportunity to have that ability to walk into a restaurant, go into a Wal-Mart, go into their business or place of work and be able to brag about the game.
“It is a game. It’s not life or death. If there’s anything close to that, it would probably be the emotions of this game in terms of fans.”