Auburn was undeniable, unstoppable and unbeatable and, after Reggie Slack threw it all over the field, after Stacy Danley powered on the Auburn spirit, and after light shined all over Auburn’s great day in the sun in 1989, the Iron Bowl rivalry was never the same again.
Thirty years later, “First Time Ever” stands as a turning point in the Auburn-Alabama rivalry.
This Saturday’s showdown in Jordan-Hare is as much a testament to that as any other.
Auburn is 9-5 against Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium, a win away from doubling up the Tide in games played on the Plains. Auburn has slain would-be giants dressed in Crimson Tide uniforms on that field before, and has an opportunity to do it again this afternoon with a crowd of orange and blue standing behind the team.
In an evenly rotating series, both teams have their fair puncher’s chance.
And as unfathomable as it is now for there to have ever been anything less, it took a seismic kind of shift 30 years ago to make things so.
Auburn beat then-No. 2 Alabama 30-20 on Dec. 2, 1989, at “First Time Ever” — the only name used now by folks on the Plains for the first-ever Iron Bowl played at Jordan-Hare Stadium, after years of politicking and posturing in the 1980’s.
Alabama leads the all-time series with Auburn 46-36-1. But Alabama holds only a slim, 16-14 lead in games played over the last 30 years since that game.
After the series’ 41-year hiatus was ended shortly after World War II, Alabama went 24-10 against Auburn between 1948 and 1981, in games all played in Birmingham, the place where Alabama played multiple home games a year, and the place Auburn fans grew to despise calling a “neutral site.”
Two major moments changed the series after that. The first was “Bo Over The Top.” Bo Jackson’s famous freshman leap into the end zone helped beat Paul “Bear” Bryant’s last Alabama team 23-22 in 1982, and Auburn leads the series 19-18 in the 37 Iron Bowl games played ever since.
The other major milestone was “First Time Ever.”
Slack hit 14 of 26 passes for 274 yards. Danley rushed for 135 yards on 28 carries. Alabama entered undefeated at 10-0 and No. 2 in the country with eyes on a national championship, but as the story goes, there was just no way Auburn was going to lose to Alabama on its home field in the first-ever Iron Bowl on the Plains.
Auburn beat a No. 2-ranked Alabama team then with an undeniable magic in the air not unlike Auburn’s recent thrilling victories over the Crimson Tide. In 2013, Alabama entered as the No. 1 team in the country, but the Tigers roared to victory in the “Kick Six.” The last time the Iron Bowl came to Auburn, in 2017, Alabama was No. 1 again and beaten by the Tigers again, 26-14.
Another powerful Tide team steps on the Plains now with its own championship aspirations — but once again, Auburn has its fair chance to draw a line in the turf on Pat Dye Field and have its rivals right where it wants them.
That Alabama representatives insisted the 1991 “home game” for Auburn be played in Birmingham after ‘First Time Ever’ only goes to show what kind of neutral site Birmingham had grown to be at that point in series history. In 1993, the Iron Bowl returned to Jordan-Hare where that season’s famous undefeated Auburn team won in another Tiger triumph. In 1995, Patrick Nix and Auburn claimed another win over a ranked Alabama opponent, beating the then-No. 17 Tide 31-27, and coupled with an Auburn win in 1997, helped ensure that Alabama wouldn’t earn its first win in Auburn until 10 years after “First Time Ever” in 1999.
In the last 30 years, the rivalry has changed.
There’s no denying that — just like there’s no denying those Tigers in some magic moments in rivalry games at Jordan-Hare Stadium.