|Iron Bowl streak spawns misery, gloating across state|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 21 November 2007 13:47|
Rashad Johnson is tired of the abuse, the jokes, all that grief about Alabama's five years of Iron Bowl deficiency.|
He'll keep going home, though. It is his family, after all.
``I've been taking it for a while,'' the Crimson Tide safety said. ``My brother married into an Auburn family. It's getting pretty bad, so I'm trying to convert them all to Alabama fans.''
Another solution: Beat the No. 25 Tigers Saturday night in Auburn. End a streak that has outlasted three Tide head coaches - counting Mike Price, whose hello-goodbye tenure in Tuscaloosa didn't extend to the season - and could reach record proportions with Auburn favored to make it six in a row.
In a state where the Iron Bowl is a yearlong festival of emotion, such extended streaks don't just come with Braggin' Rights. They bring Gloatin' Rights. This one has spawned catchy slogans (``Fear The Thumb''), bumper stickers (``Honk if you sacked Brodie'') and 32 million examples of how badly the Tide wants to reclaim the state.
The Tigers have matched their longest winning streak in the series, first accomplished from 1954-58 and extending one year into Bear Bryant's reign in Tuscaloosa. Bryant later won nine in a row starting in 1973.
This time the coach hired in part to reverse that trend is Nick Saban, awarded college football's richest contract at $32 million over eight years. Mike Shula was fired after going 0-for-4 against the Tigers.
No current Alabama player has won an Iron Bowl. No current Auburn player has lost.
``It means absolutely everything, it really does,'' said Alabama guard Justin Britt, one of 22 seniors seeking their first win over Auburn. He has family pressure, too, considering brothers Wesley and Taylor also played for the Tide.
Auburn senior Quentin Groves is trying to finish with a perfect Iron Bowl mark.
``Any time you can go 100 percent against your rival, that's big,'' the defensive end said. ``You just want to keep up something that the guys before me started.''
If Auburn has dominated in wins and losses lately, none of the games have been nearly so lopsided. The largest margin the past five meetings was 10 points in 2002 and 2005.
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said the streak has been ``overblown'' by fans and the media.
However, he has drawn ire from Alabama fans for sticking four fingers into the air after win No. 4 in Tuscaloosa two years ago. Then he was photographed wearing a ``Fear the Thumb'' T-shirt referring to a bid for a fifth straight win during Auburn's trip to the Capital One Bowl later that year.
The rivalry didn't need any extra fuel, though.
``You grow up in Alabama, this is the game and you realize how much it means to everybody in the state, how big of a game it is,'' Britt said. ``I've never beaten them. It gets me, it really does. We've got to change that this year.''
The current streak has included several memorable moments for Auburn.
Fourth-team freshman tailback Tre Smith ran for 126 yards in the 2002 win to help start the streak when the Tigers' top three runners were sidelined with injuries.
Carnell ``Cadillac'' Williams' 80-yard touchdown run opened the next year's game, when an embattled Tuberville helped save his job with a win.
Auburn cornerback Jerraud Powers was a high school junior watching that game on TV with friends. He wasn't a big fan of either team, and treads into dangerous territory by admitting that he held to his practice of cheering for the underdog.
``When Cadillac ran for the 80-yard touchdown, I started cheering for 'Bama,'' Powers said. ``I was just one of those guys going for the underdog.''
The last time Alabama visited Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Tigers sacked Brodie Croyle 11 times. Thus the bumper sticker.
``That was pretty cool,'' Auburn center Jason Bosley said of the game. ``All the sacks and everything, that was pretty neat to be a part of that.''
Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell was 3-0 in the Iron Bowl as a starter. He enjoys having bragging rights over former Tide players around the NFL.
``It feels good,'' Campbell said. ``But at the same time, they're always (saying), 'I wasn't there. When I was there, it was a whole different story.'
``Everybody's got their stories to tell.''
The Mississippi native said it's hard to explain the game to anyone who hasn't played in it.
``It's an amazing feeling,'' Campbell said. ``I know Auburn and Alabama people are married and during that week they have to split. They don't talk to each other that week.''
His former teammate, Miami Dolphins' running back Ronnie Brown, was more interested in predicting than reminiscing.
``Auburn will probably win again,'' Brown said.
However, if the Tigers want a little perspective: After Bryant lost his first Iron Bowl, he won the next four by a combined 85-0.
Auburn senior offensive tackle King Dunlap doesn't want to be part of the class that lets the streak end.
``The guys that have gone on will call us and make sure we've got our heads on straight and are ready to play,'' Dunlap said.
Will the Tigers hear about it if they lose?
``Oh, I'm pretty sure we will,'' Dunlap said.
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