Unquestionably the state’s most famous football rivalry is between Auburn University and the University of Alabama. This feud began in February 1893 when the first Alabama-Auburn game was played in Lakeview Park, Birmingham. The industrial city lent its name to the “Iron Bowl”—the eagerly awaited annual game between the rival teams. Auburn won the first Iron Bowl 32-22. Alabama and Auburn have only tied once in the 1907 game. In 1908, “unseemly haggling over money” and disputes over per diem pay rates for the players led to a hiatus of Iron Bowl games for 41 years. Alabama currently leads the rivalry with 47 wins compared to Auburn’s 37.
Xen Scott is often considered to be the first modern coach at the University of Alabama. It was under his leadership that Alabama joined the Southern Conference. Scott gave Alabama one of its most memorable seasons in 1919, leading the Crimson Tide to an 8-1 record. Scott also led Alabama to an unexpected victory against Penn State (9-7) in 1922.
Furthermore, John Heisman, whose name today is synonymous with the most prestigious award in football, has a connection to our state. He was the first modern coach at Auburn in 1895, and he altered the game forever—it was his idea to have the center toss the ball back, rather than rolling or kicking it. Auburn is the only school where John Heisman coached and produced a Heisman Trophy winner.
Other football teams in our state have distinguished themselves and are part of our state’s cultural history. Troy University’s football team was established in 1909 by Professor Virgil McKinley, and their team was originally called “The Teachers.” Today, the “Troy Trojans” are Division 1-A, the highest division in college football and are also world-renowned for their Sound of the South marching band.
Miles College of Fairfield, Alabama, is part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Division I, and is ranked as the fastest-growing private HBCU in the nation. Their football program began in 1910, and they won back-to-back SIAC championships in 2018 and 2019.
The athletics history of Stillman College, based in Tuscaloosa, dates to the 1920s. They competed as a junior college until joining the Southern Colleges Athletic Conference in the 1960s. Despite having a “reasonably successful” football program which included a share of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference West division championship in 2011, Stillman College decided to drop all sports except basketball in their 2016-17 academic year.
The late Dr. Jim Hilyer was the inaugural coach of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s football team, coaching from 1985 to 1994. UAB’s football program suddenly ended in 2015 but was reinstated in 2017 to the joy of many, and Dr. Hilyer returned as a special assistant to the head coach from 2016-2019. He was later inducted into the UAB Sports Hall of Fame in 2020.
For many Alabamians the Iron Bowl is the social highlight of the year, and the 2022 Iron Bowl standoff between Alabama’s Nick Saban and Auburn’s Bryan Harsin is highly anticipated. The game will be played on November 26th in Tuscaloosa, and if you attend this year and cheer for your team, you can know you are participating in one of the oldest and most deeply loved traditions in Alabama history.