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  • Kevin Scarbinsky

The Iron Bowl in Auburn: Ain't nothin' like it nowhere

Ray Perkins warned you. He warned all of you whose all-purpose exclamation is Roll Tide. Nothing good can come of it if Alabama goes to Auburn.

It's why, as successor to the Bear, he stuck his fingers in his ears and said "Lalalala, you can't make me" when Pat Dye suggested the very idea. Perkins left Tuscaloosa for Tampa Bay, of all places, rather than take a football team to Auburn.

After three decades of jaw-dropping, face-palming crimson chaos on the Plains, can you blame him?

The Iron Bowl anywhere is special. The Iron Bowl in Auburn is a Mount Olympus of big-time players making big-time plays, a Dante's Inferno of decisive and derisive moments, a Magic Kingdom of beautiful madness - the biennial bipolar opposite of joyless murderball.

Twice as often as not, the endgame of this game to end all games is Alabama's ass on Auburn's grass, and they're not going to keep 'em off the field that night.

So it was Saturday, 30 years removed from the cold day Perkins vowed would never come, when Alabama first traveled to Auburn but Auburn won the day in the fall of college football's Berlin Wall.

Auburn 48, Alabama 45 took that tradition unlike any other to a new level of intensity wrapped in audacity inside an enigmatic epic.

Alabama's heroic backup quarterback threw a rivalry record six touchdown passes - but alas and alack, Mac Jones, two of those scoring tosses went to Smoke Monday and Zakoby McClain, who play for Auburn. Pick Six Part Two saw the ball ricochet perfectly from the unwitting receiver's spine to McClain's opportunistic paws with nothing but 100 yards of green grass dead ahead.

Which reminds me. A pass play? On first-and-goal at the Auburn 2? With Najee Harris channeling his inner Derrick Henry? Steve Sarkisian has some 'splainin' to do.

Time tends to stand still when Alabama travels to Auburn, and it doesn't matter which head coach asks the referee for just a second. Saban did it in 2013, and that moment in time became the Kick Six. Gus Malzahn's request for an extension of the first half was granted Saturday, and Anders Carlson lasered through the 52-yard field goal quicker than Saban could say @#$!

Ever since Van Tiffin delivered "The Kick" to give Perkins his last Iron Bowl title in 1985 at Legion Field, the last thing Alabama's wanted to see is this rivalry become a game of inches - and feet. It's a kick in the gut every time.

Much respect for Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas for taking responsibility after his final field goal to tie with two minutes left was sent back by an upright masquerading as Mamadou N'diaye. No use for anyone who felt the need to cyber-assault the Alabama kicker.

Because even after that miss, this game wasn't over until Malzahn bamboozled Saban with the trickeration heard 'round the nation. Against most coaches in most places, Saban is the Big Bad Wolf. Against Malzahn in Auburn, he's Wile E. Coyote.

With a minute and change to play, it looked for all the world like Auburn would be forced to punt to Jaylen Waddle, a recipe for disaster for the home team and a sixth straight playoff trip for the visitors. Waddle already had scored four touchdowns and set multiple land-speed records. Karma appeared to be conspiring to put Alabama in position to win an Iron Bowl in a manner other than bludgeoning.

Except when Auburn subbed in its punter, it stationed him at wide receiver and didn't sub out its quarterback, this subterfuge designed to keep Waddle stationed safely on the sideline. In response, because Saban has yet to hire an anarchy analyst devoted solely to Malzahn's machinations, Alabama subbed out its return team to sub in its defense - but Waddle stayed put.

So Alabama had too many men on the field, allowing Auburn to keep the ball, empty the clock and overpopulate the playing surface with men, women and children, at least those who didn't get swallowed by the hedges. Precocious Bo Nix, who made some grown-man throws at critical moments, secured his third straight state championship, and this latest greatest game in the greatest rivalry known to man begat too many nicknames to count.

The 12th Man. The Unfair at Jordan-Hare. Punt Bama Punt ... Psyche.

By any other name, this crazy game took its place alongside Nix the Elder to Sanders 1993, the Screen 1997, Go Crazy, Cadillac 2003, Honk If You Sacked Brodie 2005, the 2009 Drive, the 2013 Kick Six and other extraordinary Iron Bowls on the Plains. It was Auburn's 10th win in 15 Jordan-Hare Iron Bowls, its second straight there and third in the last four.

Malzahn would be saved from the hot seat, his three wins in seven meetings with Saban perhaps even more impressive than Tommy Tuberville's six straight over Dennis Franchione, Mike Shula and Saban's first Alabama team. Saban would be excused from the playoff, but one postseason on the sideline doesn't diminish a decade and change of dominance. For most programs, that's a lifetime of unattainable accomplishment.

Imagine if Alabama didn't have to take the trip Perkins desperately wanted to avoid every odd-numbered year. It's been proven against other big-name coaches and big-time programs, but the home-field advantage in Jordan-Hare Stadium is real and second to none - especially against the one visitor who fought the longest and screamed the loudest to stay away.

Welcome to the Iron Bowl in Auburn, Alabama.

Welcome to Excruciating Lee County.


They didn't keep 'em off the field after Auburn 48, Alabama 45. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency.