It's Iron Bowl week. There's nothing like it. (which is not all good, mind you...) One solitary football game that affects the vast, vast majority of the residents of the state of Alabama for an entire year.
Some years back, a relative of mine who married into the family, moved to Alabama. I advised her, "you'll have to choose." She said, "I'll stay a GA Tech fan"...I said "that's fine, but you'll still have to choose between Auburn & Alabama." She laughed. She called about a week & a half later & said, "Mike, I thought you were kidding..." I wasn't.
As a lifelong (3rd-generation) Bama fan, the Iron Bowl has always been a biggie. (Aside: the "Iron Bowl" is the annual rivalry football game between the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide and Auburn University's Tigers.) The two schools are located in the same state just a few hours apart. Auburn, AL is in the central part of the state over near the GA border, whereas Tuscaloosa, AL is not too far from the MS border & also in the central part of the state.
This is one of those games that affects everybody in the state. All will be required to choose upon entering the state. Alma maters other than UA & AU and previous schools supported do not matter; one will be asked which of these two schools one supports. Both fan bases are quite...fervent, let's just say. In addition to affecting everybody in the state, the Iron Bowl affects everyone all year long. The one day is discussed & celebrated & lamented for the other 364. Until one lives in the state, the obsessive, even excessive, focus on this one game can only be imagined.
MS has three D1 football programs, and has for decades. All three have been successful at times. LA has only had one that was competitive until fairly recently. TX has UT, A&M, TCU, TxTech, UTEP, SMU, Rice,...
Both schools are pretty good in the classroom across a wide array of academic disciplines. Auburn is the larger of the two schools. Excellent engineering program that claims a number of astronauts & NASA engineers among its graduates. Also outstanding in the sciences. Very good school of Veterinary Medicine. Alabama has a very good business program. A very good school of education and Law school.
None of which is discussed this week in coffee shops & restaurants & bars in Alabama.
It's Iron Bowl week. Conversations turn to memories of Iron Bowls past with the intent of attaching hope in this week's game to outcomes of previous contests. Auburn fans remember the "Punt, Bama, Punt" game...and Bo over the top...and 6 in a row. Bama fans remember "Go left, Bo" and "The Kick" and 36-0. On both sides, we remember almost exactly where we sat in our favorite Iron Bowls. Players, coaches, plays, radio calls,...both sides remember them clearly and either fondly or with disgust.
Me? Yeah...I'm guilty, even though I've not lived in Alabama in 22 years. I attended the Iron Bowl back when it was played in Birmingham's Legion field every year. Watched 8 in a row from the Bama side. Back then, the stadium would be half Bama, half Auburn. "Rocking" begins to capture the feel. Both student sections were open seating; thus, if you weren't there by two & a half hours before the game, you might not have a seat. The cheers would start. Back & forth. "Waaaaaar Eagle! Hey!"..."Roooooooll! Tide! Roll!" The two teams would stroll the field in their suits, eliciting cheers from one side of the stadium & boos from the other. By kickoff, I could hardly stand it! And I saw some great games, including some of those listed above.
This year, the game is back in Auburn. The site alternates now between the two campuses. I fully understand & appreciate the reasons. But I will always remember how very cool it was to be in a stadium split down the middle between AU fans & UA fans. James & I went a few years back to an Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa. Still great fun & a great memory, even though the wrong team won. Somehow, it seems there was more sustained electricity back in the Legion Field days. Oh well...still an awesome experience to have.
One can live in FL without being a UF or FSU fan. One can reside in TX and be a fan of numerous football teams. In LA, there's really only the one major team. Even Alabama now has two more D1 programs, with more on the way. But still, this week--and throughout the year until this time next year--it's the Iron Bowl. Alabama - Auburn. Us-them. We-you. Good-evil/wrong-right/darkness-light/(etc.).
Fans of both schools severely over-do this game, and severely overstate its cosmic importance, and severely over-demonize those on the other side.
God help me, I'm right there. But I've made substantial progress over the last two decades. Make no mistake: I hope my Tide thrashes the Tigers this year. And every year. But if that doesn't happen, I'll be OK (which is the substantial progress...*smile*). As a kid, or as a student back when, I'd be undone by an Iron Bowl loss. Now, I've made it to the point where I recognize that the outcome of an Iron Bowl has precisely ZERO to do with anything that is of ultimate importance. My family's love of (& grace toward!) me...my relationship with Christ...friends who love me regardless of which team I happen to support...my health...the joy of giving thanks for so much that I have been given...the amazing coming, living, teaching, dying, raising, & returning of my Lord...(and so on)
Auburn's recent successes in the Iron Bowl have had absolutely no effect on any of these ultimate things in the life of this lifelong Bama fan. Neither did last year's Alabama win. Good perspective to be reminded of this week.
It's Iron Bowl week. Is it game day yet? I can't wait! Roll Tide!