As the big day approached, the hyperbole surrounding the rivalry stretched the boundaries of sense, not to mention taste. Many Tiger fanatics likened the arrival of the series in Auburn to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Others hoped that the Malta summit would produce no news that might interrupt the game telecast. Two Alabama players—running back Siran Stacy and tackle Charlie Dare, reportedly—received death threats, prompting Curry to call in the FBI.
Dye pooh-poohed Curry's concern. "One of my players got a death threat, too—from his daddy," was his callous reply before the game. However, Dye does know well the emotional power of the rivalry. After the Tigers lost 25-23 in 1985, he broke out in hives for a week and vowed never again to get so worked up about a game against 'Bama.
While most of the capacity crowd would be screaming for the Tigers, fate seemed to favor the Crimson Tide. Hollingsworth, who would break Scott Hunter's single-season school record for passing yardage (2,188) by throwing for 340 on Saturday, grew up an Auburn fan in Hamilton. But Dye did not show much interest in him, and the Tiger offense was not to Hollingsworth's liking. Hollingsworth's family remained so orange-and-blue that only his younger brother and his mother pulled for him to win. A first cousin had a compromise T-shirt printed up: WAR EAGLE MAN/HOLLINGSWORTH FAN. It would be just like Aladamnbama, the persecuted thinking went, to come kicking and screaming into Auburn and then whip the Tigers with a player who got away.
On Saturday morning Alabama boosters, dressed in crimson-and-white, lined interstate overpasses to cheer their team as it traveled the 60 miles on buses from its hotel in Montgomery to Auburn, much as Alabama faithful had lined the highways in 1983, when Bryant's body was taken from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham for burial. After making his way through a frenzied group of Tiger fans on his way into Jordan-Hare, Auburn running back James Joseph became so excited that he hyperventilated during warmups. He recovered in time to score on a one-yard dive in the game's first series.
Both Alabama and the officials failed to notice that the Tigers had 12 men on the field for Joseph's TD run. Had a flag been thrown, Auburn would have been penalized 15 yards. Instead of a 7-0 lead, the Tigers would have found themselves facing third-and-goal from the 16 and may well have had to settle for a field goal attempt.
Twice in the first quarter Alabama marched inside the Auburn 10, but on neither occasion did it score a touchdown. The first time, the Tide got a 24-yard field goal by Philip Doyle. On the second occasion, Curry tried a pass play off a fake field goal from the five-yard line, but the throw by holder Jeff Wall was broken up in the end zone. "There's a term coaches use—war daddies," says Curry. "They get after you and smash you. A good team has one or two. Auburn has 11."
Stacy, a junior-college transfer who came into the game with 1,025 yards on the season, gained only 54 yards on 14 carries. "He's a great all-purpose back," said Tiger linebacker Quentin Riggins of Stacy. "But he'd never played in an Alabama-Auburn game."
With 1:49 remaining in the first half, Hollingsworth threw an 18-yard touchdown strike to wideout Marco Battle to give the Tide a 10-7 lead at intermission. In the locker room Dye reminded his players of a four-page handwritten letter he had tearfully read to them after last Thursday's practice. It had come from a 73-year-old Auburn loyalist and World War II veteran. The writer described how he was taken prisoner after he and 300 others had held off 3,500 German soldiers for 72 hours. He said the captured Americans had been so valiant that they were later saluted by an SS officer. "It got to all of us," said Slack. "It said something to us about life and what we needed to do."
On its first drive of the second half, Alabama neutralized the crowd's roar with hand signals and a no-huddle offense. Hollingsworth drove the Tide to the Auburn 30, where, on third-and-one, he misfired on a short pass to fullback Kevin Turner. On fourth down Curry had Doyle try a 48-yard field goal into a a 10-mph wind. The kick fell short. "With everything riding on the game, the national championship implications, I thought they'd have gone for it on fourth down," said Riggins.
Curry's decision was the turning point of the game. Two plays later Slack completed a 58-yard pass to wide receiver Shayne Wasden, who was run down at the Auburn 11-yard line by Keith McCants, Alabama's spectacular 256-pound linebacker who would finish with a game-high 18 tackles. A two-yard plunge by Joseph put the Tigers ahead for good, 14-10.