This is Part Two of a five-part series counting down the greatest Iron Bowls of all-time. This year’s game will be played Saturday, November 29th, 2008. The titles for each game are taken from Bill Cromartie’s Braggin’ Rights, the authority on every Iron Bowl ever played.
Dec. 2nd, 1967 – Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
Alabama 7 Auburn 3
On a sloppy field, under messy skies, ‘Bama and the Auburn collided for the 32nd time in an Iron Bowl that created headaches for both sides. The Crimson Tide left Birmingham on that dank December day with migrainal glee. The Tigers left with a migraine.
The Tiger dressing room was about the saddest place a fellow could find. The muddy, bloody boys-men wept openly and unashamed. This was the one Auburn wanted most of all, and Auburn didn’t get it…Auburn came close, terribly close. – Jimmy Bryan, Birmingham News
Tennessee was the SEC’s best team in 1967. Doug Dickey, with his Tennessee T-formation, beat Shug Jordan’s Tigers, 27-13, early in the season and handed Bear Bryant’s Tide its first loss in 25 games on the Third Saturday in October, 24-13. The Vols would go on to claim an SEC title and a disputed national championship.
Auburn entered the game with three losses, but was confident it could defeat the country’s #8 ranked team, Alabama, that boasted a 7-1-1 record and had beaten the Tigers three years in a row and won seven of the
last eight meetings. Alabama’s season was scarred only by the loss to Tennessee and a 37-37 tie with Florida State. Regardless, many on the Plains and around the state thought this was the year to do it, as ‘Bama’s offense was nothing spectacular, and its defense had broken at times throughout the season. In the ’67 Iron Bowl, however, The Crimson Tide defense bended several times but never broke.
After winning the coin toss, Alabama chose to test its defense first, and kicked off to the confident Tigers. Had it not been for Tide defender Eddie Probst, Auburn would’ve proven the election to kick off was a
major mistake. AU returner Freddie Hyatt fielded the kick and bolted with the wind whistling into his face for what looked to be like a game-opening touchdown. He had one man to beat around the Auburn 40-yard line, but Probst brought him down.
After the initial excitement, the muddy game trudged on with six consecutive punts, three by each team. Auburn was making more ground than Alabama, though, and began its fourth drive on the Tide 41. The UA defense bended quickly, and it seemed the wind and rain was beginning to wear on the defenders wearing Crimson. The Tigers methodically drove all the way down to the Tide 5. That’s when Bear’s defense rose to the challenge. Three plays later, Auburn faced a 4th-and-goal from the 3. Shug swore off the field goal unit and called for a try for the endzone. Tiger halfback Richard Plagge took a handoff and plunged up the gut, only to be smacked two yards shy of the goal line. The Alabama defense had held, and through the stinging storm-drops, scoreboard still shined, 0-0.
The Alabama offense could do nothing, however, and Auburn got the ball back soon in Tide territory. Once again, AU quickly drove down the field, but the onslaught was stalled. This time Shug allowed his kicker, John Riley, to attempt a field goal. Riley knocked the water and mud off the football when he made contact, but his kick came nowhere near the goal posts. Still 0-0.
On the ensuing ‘Bama possession, quarterback Kenny “Snake” Stabler finally guided his dismal offense to a first down. It was the first chain-moving Snake and The Tide had caused all day. But they couldn’t get
much more, and the teams traded a few punts. Auburn once again started a drive from the ‘Bama 40. TheTigers easily moved to within scoring distance, but this is the type of pressure on which the Alabama defense thrived. Facing a 4th-and-2 from the ‘Bama 6-yard line, Shug wanted to score a touchdown instead of putting Riley back in there in the storm. Once again, UA killed AU on the attempt. Still 0-0.
When the half ended, neither team had scored, although Auburn came oh-so-close several times. Something had to give. The only other time the first half of an Iron Bowl ended in a scoreless tie was in 1907, the only year Alabama and Auburn ended a game tied (6-6, a tie that would last four decades). In this game, Auburn had shown it could get within scoring position, even with the constant wind and frequent gusts in its face, it just couldn’t actually score. Maybe with the wind at its back, AU could finally put some points on the board.
After a pathetic second half-opening drive, ‘Bama punted into the furious whirlwind. The kick covered only 16 yards, and yet again, the Tigers started a drive on the UA 40-yard line. Auburn used the natural advantage to get down to the 21, but found itself staring 4th down in the face again. This time Shug let Riley try another field goal. Riley’s kick sailed high and straight, dancing on the wind surge, and split the uprights. Finally a score. Auburn 3, Alabama 0 with over ten minutes to go in the third quarter.
Later in the quarter, UA gave up a fumble deep in its own territory, but AU couldn’t move forward. Riley’s leg was again called upon, but the holder dropped the field goal snap, and ‘Bama took over possession. On the next drive, Snake and his offense finally showed signs of life by reaching Auburn’s side of the field for the first time of the day. The drive also included Alabama’s second first down of the day, but it was thwarted soon, and a UA punt pinned the Tigers back inside their own 10. AU then punted, giving The Tide decent field position, but on the last play of the third quarter, an errant pass by Stabler was intercepted and returned all the way back to the ‘Bama 41.
Auburn drove to the 27-yard line. What happened following the next few snaps may have been the most important plays of the game if not for Snake’s magic that would come later in the day. Quarterback Loran quarterback hit receiver Tim Christian on third-down for a 12-yard gain to the ‘Bama 15. But someone on Auburn was offside. So instead of first-down at the 15, the Tigers faced 3rd-down at the 32. The Tide defense stopped AU again, bringing up fourth-down and a punting situation. It’s unclear if Riley’s leg was not strong enough to attempt a long field goal, even with the wind advantage, but regardless, Shug waved on the punt team. The snap was bad, and AU punter Tommy Lunceford had no time to get the kick away, as he was mauled by a sea of Crimson back at the 46.
Two running plays, and Alabama was back into Auburn territory at the Tigers’ 47-yard line with over eleven minutes left in the game. “Then it happened“* (Cromartie 200):
Third-and-three, at the Auburn 47-yard line…so Tommy Wade is the deep-back, man in motion right. Here’s Stabler…keeping himself…STABLER NOW CUTS IN…he’s at the 40-yard line…he’s at the 30…he’s at the 20…he’s at the 10…he’s at the 5…HE SCORES! KENNY STABLER TAKES IT IN!!! (inaudible whooing and screaming). How about that fantastic run by Alabama’s Snake!
…A fantastic run by Ken ‘Snake’ Stabler on an option play…he kept looking to the trailing back to make a pitchout…he changed his mind when he saw that he could go for yardage…dances down the left sideline…he got onto the area of the field where there’s some grass…got some footing…and outraced Buddy McClinton into the secondary to give The Crimson Tide a touchdown and to put Alabama ahead by a score of 6-3…
…And you just…would not expect to see a play like that…a long scoring play…on a field in the condition that Legion Field is in this afternoon…but then again Snake Stabler, in his four years at Alabama, often has done the unpredictable.
– John Forney, Alabama play-by-play announcer.
The Bear was most impressed with the blocking on the play:
Auburn, devastated by Stabler’s “Run in the Mud,” never recovered, and the ’67 Iron Bowl ended with Alabama claiming a 7-3 victory, its fourth straight and eighth out of nine over the Tigers. The AU seniors that year never scored a touchdown versus their arch-rival in four contests.
I don’t really know what to say. I’ve been around long enough to know the only thing that counts is what you read on the scoreboard lights…But I don’t think the best team won today.”
– Shug Jordan, after the ’67 Iron Bowl
The game featured 22 total punts, nine by Auburn’s Lunceford and 13 by Alabama’s Davis. “That’s almost a half-a-mile of booting a wet, heavy football in one afternoon” (Cromartie 201).
Sans Stabler’s 47-yard sloshy dash, ‘Bama’s mustered only 129 yards of total offense (37 yards of which came on a late drive in the game) to Auburn’s 216 total yards. The Tide moved the chains only four times to the Tigers’ thirteen first downs.
Bryant had been back in Tuscaloosa for a decade now, and in that span, his teams were 88-14-7 (.839), finishing the seasons ranked in the national top-10 eight times. With Bear as the coach, the Tide now claimed four SEC titles, three national titles, nine bowl games, and an astonishing eight Iron Bowl victories.
Yes, we were lucky to win the game. What else do you want me to say?
– Bear Bryant, after the ’67 Iron Bowl
* Cromartie, Bill. Braggin’ Rights: Alabama vs. Auburn. 3rd ed. Atlanta, GA: Gridiron Publishers, 1993.