Alabama Football: The Iron Bowl neither program wanted to play


Alabama Football: Animosity between the Crimson Tide and Auburn has never been higher than it was in 1908. The result was 41 seasons of avoidance.

There are so many great Iron Bowl stories from an Alabama football perspective. Some fans today complain it is not an ‘Iron Bowl’ and has not been since it left the formerly, steel city of Birmingham. Legendary, Auburn coach, Shug Jordan often gets credit for coining the ‘Iron Bowl’ name in 1964. Others say credit belongs to one or two members of the Birmingham press. ‘Press’ was what sports reporters were called then. Calling them members of the media came later.

The game was played in Birmingham in 1948. The then 40,000-plus capacity Legion Field was chosen because neither campus site could match its capacity. Iron was produced in Birmingham going back to the 19th century, thanks to ample deposits of coal, limestone and iron ore.

Neither program wanted to play each other. Thet had not wanted to since a dispute over expenses in1908. The two sides could not agree on a difference of $34 dollars in per diem expenses. An even more serious debate was over the game officials. The Tigers did not want any official from the state of Alabama.

The conflict was irreconcilable. After 41 seasons of avoidance, the schools still did not want to play in 1948. The Alabama State Legislature made it clear both schools would face funding cuts unless the series was resumed. Ceremonially, a hatchet was buried in a Birmingham park. The rancor did not go away.

The city of Birmingham did not have television in 1948. Birmingham got its first TV station in 1949. There was a telecast of the 1948 game, available for viewing at Birmingham’s Municipal Auditorium.

Prior to the 1948 Iron Bowl, the Auburn Tigers had not achieved a winning season since 1942.  Auburn had early-season optimism and opened with a win over Southern Mississippi, followed by a tie with Louisiana Tech. Leading up to the Dec. 4 game against Red Drew’s Alabama football team, the Tigers lost seven straight games.

The Alabama Crimson Tide, coached by Frank Thomas, was 10-0 in 1945. The Tide dipped to 7-4 in Thomas’ last season. Drew upped the record to 8-3 in 1947, including a disappointing Sugar Bowl loss to Texas. The 1948 season was less successful for the Crimson Tide, with a 6-4-1 record. The season had two highlights. The first was an upset of No. 11 ranked Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The second one was the Auburn game.

Red Drew’s second Alabama football team destroyed the Auburn Tigers 55-0. Auburn’s distaste of playing in Birmingham began with the game. Alabama quarterback, Ed Salem passed for three touchdowns and scored another on the ground. Check out the short video below.

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This week, we’ll have more Iron Bowl memories for Alabama football fans. There will also be plenty of discussions about Saturday’s game.