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Happy 25th Anniversary: When Pat Dye changed Iron Bowl
Nov. 27, 2014

Auburn stopped the Tide in the 1989 Iron Bowl

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala.  They went hunting together as good friends. There is an iconic photo of that. But Pat Dye, then Auburn's new head coach, had to stand up to Paul Bryant, his boss of nine years at Alabama, when it came to the Iron Bowl.

"The first time I saw Coach Bryant after I got to Auburn he said, 'I guess you're going to want to take the Alabama-Auburn game to Auburn.' I said, 'We're going to take it to Auburn.' He said, 'Not as long as I'm coaching.' I said, 'Well, you're not going to coach forever.'"

Pat Dye was right. He brought the Iron Bowl to Auburn in 1989 for the first time, Bear Bryant had retired, and a tradition was born. It's the 25th anniversary of Alabama visiting Auburn for the first time, officially on Dec. 2, 1989, and this on-campus tradition will continue when the Tigers visit Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium at 6:45 p.m. game Saturday.

The Iron Bowl has been played 12 times in Auburn, nine times in Tuscaloosa. Auburn has a winning record in both places. Bringing Alabama to Auburn was a big deal in '89, even before the Tigers won 30-20. "That was a big historical event," Dye said. "It was really more significant than the score of the ballgame, even though we had to beat Alabama to win the conference championship."

Sure, Auburn had been to Alabama in 1895 and 1901. They even played a few times in Montgomery. But those games were long forgotten, and every game beginning in 1904 had been played in Birmingham. Now, it was Auburn's turn.

"Mercy. There never has been and will never be with the build-up for the game, the atmosphere before the game, like that one," Dye said.

"People were camped out for a week before the game even started. People were walking the streets, walking the campus. By game day, it was in a frenzy. What would you expect?"

The players of that 1989 team, that won the SEC title, were honored this season with a 25th anniversary of its own. They remembered the 1989 Iron Bowl. "There were men and women crying," said offensive lineman Rob Selby in this story. "That could have been me standing there, pleading with somebody for payback. That was a real emotional time."

And that was before the game.

Dye had played hard ball before then. 

"It was our home game. Alabama really didn't have anything to do with it," Dye said. "I guess the politicians in Montgomery could have stopped it, but it was our home game, and we were going to play our home game where wanted to play."

Dye had beaten Alabama in Birmingham in 1982 to stop an Alabama streak against the Tigers. Then Dye beat Alabama in '83, '86, '87 and '88 in Legion Field, too. But who was kidding who?

"It was really not a home game for us in Birmingham, and it wasn't a neutral site," Dye said. "Alabama played all their big games in Birmingham.  When you get right down to it, you ought to play your games on campus if you can. That's where they are supposed to be played."

Alabama, which had fought to keep the Iron Bowl in Birmingham, changed its mind after playing at Auburn, Dye said.

"They came to Auburn and saw what was taking place on game day. They knew they needed to play this game in Tuscaloosa, so they did," Dye said. "Look what it has done for their program… the stadium and all of the things that go along with game day."

Dye remembers other games in Tuscaloosa when he was an Alabama assistant coach.
"We didn't always fill up the stadium in Tuscaloosa because we didn't always play good teams in Tuscaloosa. In Birmingham, we always played the big games and good teams, and we'd fill up Legion Field."

Dye said Alabama didn't need as many student tickets in Birmingham, either.

"Alabama could sell those tickets and make money. Coach Bryant knew that. He was a businessman," Dye said.

Alabama came to Auburn in 1989, all right, but, in 1991, when the game could have been played in Auburn, Dye chose to play the Auburn home game in Birmingham one last time.

"I never said anything about playing in Birmingham from a negative standpoint in front of our players or our fans or anybody else," Dye said. "But I knew the disadvantage we had in doing that. I never wanted to make an issue of it because I knew that was the way it was going to be through 1988. Really, I didn't have to play the '91 game in Birmingham, when it was our home game. I really did it for the City of Birmingham because I didn't want them to think we didn't like Birmingham. It was the fact we just liked playing in Auburn better."

Alabama continued to play the Iron Bowl in Birmingham through the 1998 season. Then, as some many have reluctantly predicted, Alabama welcomed Auburn to Tuscaloosa on a very cold day indeed. Auburn won 9-0.

The games had begun.

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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