What if, after this Saturday’s Iron Bowl, the University of Alabama and Auburn University announced a pause in the rivalry for 40 years, until the year 2062? The college football world, especially in the South, would spontaneously combust.
Yet that’s exactly what happened in the months following the 1907 tilt, an innocent 6-6 tie. When attempting to set the date for the 1908 game, disagreements over the number of players on the travel squad, expense money for the players, and how referees would be selected doomed the in-state rivalry. By the time the schools worked out the differences, schedules for the 1908 season had been finalized. Moving forward, these issues – and more – became even more contentious.
Attempts were made to renew the series in 1912, again in 1923, again in 1932, and again in 1944. Finally, in August 1947, the Alabama House of Representatives and State Senate basically said, “Enough is enough!” and approved a joint resolution strongly encouraging the schools to renew the rivalry.
The resolution read:
“WHEREAS, for many years there has been a lapse in athletic relations between the University of Alabama and Alabama Polytechnical Institute; and
“Whereas, in the opinion of the majority of the members of the Alabama State Legislature it is to the best interest of the two schools and of the people of Alabama that such athletic relations be resumed.
“Now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Representatives, the Senate concurring, the respective Boards of Trustees of the University of Alabama and Alabama Polytechnic Institute are hereby respectfully requested to make possible the inauguration of a full athletic program between the two schools, and
“Be it further resolved that such action be taken by the Boards of Trustees at the earliest practicable date and not later than May 1949.
“Approved August 15, 1947”
Several months later, in April 1948, the presidents of the two universities – Alabama’s John Gallalee and Auburn’s Ralph Draughon – along with athletic officials from both schools, met at the University of Alabama’s Ann Jordan Farm, located in Alexander City, to start the healing process. A subsequent meeting a couple weeks later in Montgomery finalized the agreement, and both schools agreed to play in Birmingham’s Legion Field only seven months later, on Dec. 4, 1948.
One of the South’s greatest rivalries – cut short 40 years earlier by nothing more than pettiness between the two schools – was back on. Shouts of celebration reigned all over Alabama.
Going into the 2022 edition of the game, now called the Iron Bowl, Alabama holds a 48-37-1 (56.3 %) advantage over its chief rival. For the Tide, it’s a lead, but by no means a rout. Auburn has certainly held its own through the years. (Since the Paul “Bear” Bryant era at the Capstone ended following the 1982 season, Alabama holds a razor-thin 20-19 edge.)
What if, though, there had not been a 40-year timeout? What if there hadn’t been squabbling over per diem, or squad size, or who the officials would be? What if the two schools had continued to play?
Here’s the important question: During those 40 years, which team would’ve held the advantage? And, consequently, what would the schools’ all-time rivalry record be today?
I have a theory.
But first, a disclaimer. Many historians refer to it as a “40-year timeout,” which represents the years 1908 through 1947. Some even call it a “41-year timeout,” depending on whether they consider 1907 or 1908 as the first year of the pause.
Regardless, this period represents 38 seasons due to Alabama not fielding a team in 1918 due to World War I and neither school having squads in 1943 due to World War II. We can all agree on that.
To prognosticate which might have been the winning team during these 38 seasons, I looked at each school’s record during each season, their final ranking (if they had a ranking), and – when applicable – their common opponents. I took all this information, put it in my feeble Ford brain, and came up with a speculative answer:
Alabama – 23 wins
Auburn – 11 wins
Ties – 4 (The games in 1909, 1915, 1916, and 1921 were too close to call.)
During these 38 seasons, Alabama finished with an overall record of 266-74-20 (76.6 %) while the Tigers were 194-131-23 (59 %). Included in Alabama’s sparkling record during this period were multiple national and conference championships under iconic coaches such as Xen Scott, Wallace Wade, and Frank Thomas. Similarly, Auburn won one national championship and four conference championships during this stretch.
So, adding these speculative victories, losses, and ties during the 38 seasons, the Crimson Tide’s current 48-37-1 (56.3 %) edge over Auburn would improve slightly to 71-48-5, a 59.2 % clip.
Oh, and back to the 40-year timeout. On the Friday before the renewal game in 1948, alumni, fans, students, and officials from both schools gathered in Birmingham’s Woodrow Wilson Park (now Linn Park) as Alabama’s Willie Johns and Auburn’s Gillis Cammack, presidents of the schools’ student bodies, symbolically ended the drought as they buried a shiny new hatchet deep in the soil.
In a literal “burying the hatchet” ceremony, the schools mended their ways and simply said, “Let’s play ball.”
I’m sure glad they did.
© 2022 Tommy Ford All Rights Reserved
in Birmingham’s Woodrow Wilson Park prior to the 1948 renewal game.