It is universally described by Auburn people with a little mileage as the most important game in program history.
It’s more important than the five national championship victories recognized by the NCAA. It’s more important than the first game ever played by the school in 1892 and more important than the world-famous Kick Six.
It took place Dec. 2, 1989 most notably inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. I was two weeks from celebrating my 14th birthday and I was there.
I’m, of course, speaking of the Iron Bowl in 1989 that was played on Auburn’s campus for the first time in series history. It was a good game. It was an entertaining game, but the final score — 30-20 Auburn — is actually irrelevant.
Well, maybe it’s not totally irrelevant. I’ll admit the memory and game itself would be significantly flawed if the Tigers had lost, but the significance of it would still have major relevance.
To be perfectly honest, the game is kind of a blur to me. I distinctly remember the long pass to Alexander Wright on the first drive and James Joseph diving over the top into the end zone, behind which I was sitting, in the third quarter. I vividly remember the Shane Wasden catch and run that led to the Joseph touchdown with Wasden being tripped up from behind by a diving Keith McCants.
Mostly, I remember desperately wanting the clock to run out after the Tigers built a 27-10 lead.
I was also one of the estimated 20,000 at Tiger Walk and it was the most charged atmosphere I had ever experienced. That is, until we entered the stadium. It was so intense and so loud and the sky was literally a haze of blue from the paper shakers.
The great Bear Bryant was adamantly against moving the game from Legion Field. In fact, he vowed it wouldn’t happen if he had anything to do with it. Tide coach (83-86) Ray Perkins, who was there from 1983-86, defiantly and assuredly stated it would never happen.
Auburn head coach and, more importantly, athletic director Pat Dye felt otherwise.
I can understand how it would be difficult for someone under 30 to truly appreciate the gravity of the game. The absurdity of one SEC team patently refusing to play an away game on another SEC team’s home turf is bizarre and completely foreign to someone today. I look back on it now and it seems ridiculous to me, but that was fairly common across the country pre-1990.
It made sense to play the Iron Bowl at Legion Field for a time when it was the largest stadium in the state. The two schools renewed the rivalry in 1948 after a 40-year hiatus and agreed to a “neutral site” in ’48 and ’49. Alabama won in 1948 and Auburn won in 1949. All went well, so the contract was renewed again and again and again.
The only problem was Alabama played half their home schedule at Legion Field every year. Despite the ranting and raving of disingenuous alumni and fans, the game was never played at a “neutral site.”
Auburn football forever changed Dec. 2, 1989. The Iron Bowl forever changed Dec. 2, 1989. I’m honored to have been a witness to it.
The Tigers have a record of 10-5 in Iron Bowls played at Jordan-Hare Stadium since 1989. With that kind of dominance, it’s easy to understand why Alabama was so afraid of moving the game to Auburn’s home field.