Arguments regarding the greatest grudge match have certainly been made over the years for other legendary games such as Michigan/Ohio State, Army/Navy, and Texas/Oklahoma, but they seem to pale in comparison to the annual clash in November between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers.
“I believe the Iron Bowl is at least in the Top 3 or Top 5 college rivalries that we have in the nation,” said current Crimson Tide sophomore linebacker Keith Holcombe, a native of Tuscaloosa.
For Holcombe, the former Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa star, the annual blood feud hits especially close to home, as he grew up watching the game and attending various Iron Bowls. His father, Danny Holcombe, played for the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant at UA from 1980-82.
“The passion is not only with the fans, but also with the players,” he added. “There are a lot of friends on both teams and you grew up with them, and played against them in high school, but that one day (when the Iron Bowl is played), you are bitter enemies. You will hug them after the game, but as that clock is still running, you’re out to destroy them and gain those bragging rights. All games are important week to week, but it always seemed like this game had an extra edge to it.”
Some Crimson Tide fans have commented that they consider other opponents such as Tennessee, or even LSU, to be Alabama’s main rival.
Former Alabama fullback Martin Houston, who played for UA from 1989-92 for coaches Bill Curry and Gene Stallings, said he doesn’t see any team ever topping the school from the Loveliest Village on the Plain in that regard.
“Auburn is a rival because mom and dad may be Alabama or Auburn fans, and brothers and sisters and their circle of friends are all Alabama or Auburn fans. Whoever wins it gets the bragging rights, where if we beat Tennessee, we get to talk about it, but we don’t talk about Alabama vs. Tennessee for 364 days.”
Former UA player Keith Pugh, who played for Bryant, said it was easy to observe as a player that the Iron Bowl was a game that had a special meaning and an extra degree of emphasis for the coaching icon.
“He certainly respected Auburn, but he had a real dislike for Auburn,” said Pugh. “There were some things that happened years before he got there to Alabama that he would bring up that always kind of prejudiced his opinion against them. That was just a game he desperately wanted to win. I remember we were practicing the week of the Auburn game, I think it was 1978. He blew the whistle and called us up, and we obviously weren’t giving the effort he wanted. He told us, ‘We beat these guys six years in a row, and if they beat you this year, you’ll never get a job in the state of Alabama as long as I’m alive.’”