High stakes rivalry
The Iron Bowl one of those games where you don't need to hit the gas and start spewing out a lot of hyperbolic terms. What's the point? If you live in the state of Alabama and can't figure out the monumental magnitude of the Iron
Bowl without looking for analogies, it might be time to start doing some early-bird shopping for that pine box.
Still, my favorite line on the relationship between these two mortal enemies comes from ESPN analyst Beano Cook, who once said: "Alabama and Auburn living together in the same state is like the Israelis and the Arabs attempting to co-exist in the Middle East." Cook once even took the Iron Bowl a step further and back by referring to it as "Gettysburg South."
OK, we get it.
That's why I was somewhat amused all week listening to fans ask which side and which coach has the most pressure in this game. Considering there is a combined number of nine losses between the two, the question had me rolling on the floor, nearly ending up in a fetal position, not really knowing where to begin.
Wasn't there a time this game meant something more than determining which side would have the most to lose by a loss?
In 1994, the two schools entered the game with a combined record of 19-0-1.
Auburn was ranked No. 6 in the nation while Alabama came in at No. 4. Today, Alabama is fighting for any bowl berth in Shreveport, Memphis, Nashville or not at all, while Auburn, hanging by a thread at No. 25 in the AP, is hoping to find a 10 a.m. spot in a New Year's Day bowl and avoid a five-loss season.
The last time that happened on the Plains, the trustees gassed up the Lear for Louisville.
Having said all this, there is still an unbelievable downside for the loser.
For Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, the stakes are simple. This is a money game for him and one of credibility. He is knee-deep in negotiations with his bosses for a new deal (greatly helped by rumors of Tubs to Texas A&M).
After all, with the Tide's Nick Saban making $4 million annually, Tubs has to get more in the never-ending keeping up with the Joneses. With a win today, he's likely to get a new deal and a group hug from the Auburn family, particularly for notching an incredible six wins in a row over Bama.
And a loss?
Can you say hot seat?
Suddenly, the remarkable job of turning this program around after two early losses (Kirk Herbstreit said in the middle of the season Tuberville should be highly considered for SEC coach of the year honors) wouldn't look so hot with the late-season collapse.
For Saban, calculating a loss tonight is even more difficult.
From a national perspective, it really doesn't matter what he does anymore.
Saban has become college football's most hated figure and beating Auburn will do little to massage those raw wounds. However, to Alabama's fan base a victory will right almost all of the wrongs – rightly or wrongly.
Fans will start searching for newer and better adjectives to describe his greatness, and many will stretch so far as to say his 9/11 and Pearl Harbor comparisons earlier in the week may have turned the tide.
Regardless, a win will allow everyone to hit the reset button and the Nick Saban Era at Alabama will begin anew.
But what if he loses tonight?
After the worst week of Saban's Alabama tenure with the loss to Louisiana-Monroe, falling to 6-6 will open the door for more criticism and ridicule, especially from ESPN and the national media boys. And as much as Tide fans will want to tune out and act like it's not happening, it will be impossible to avoid.
The question of what happened and why will be asked ad nauseum. Saban will skewered early and often. And his control of this program may be questioned.
What was at stake Saturday night for Alabama and Auburn?
How about everything.
Paul Finebaum is a guest columnist for The Franklin County Times. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.