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Going into last year's Iron Bowl, the rivalry was just about even. Alabama led 40-33-1, and Auburn had won seven of the previous 10. But while Auburn had won plenty of games, Alabama had won trophies. The Crimson Tide claimed 13 national titles, including several from the days when four or five polls might've picked different champions. Auburn owned one outright title, from 1957, and listed two more from the undefeated seasons in '93 and '04. That's how things stood, with an 11--0 and No. 2--ranked Auburn team led by star quarterback Cam Newton coming to Tuscaloosa.
While both programs have been in trouble with the NCAA over the years, the 2010 season was largely dominated by allegations that Newton's father, Cecil, tried to sell his son's services when Cam was coming out of junior college. The NCAA cleared Newton, but legions of Alabama fans believe that one day Auburn will have to give back the 2010 national title.
Harvey Updyke and Wayne Barnes had tickets to the Iron Bowl. Before the game they went by the Bear Bryant statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Someone had put a Newton jersey on it.
Alabama still had most of its best players from the '09 title team, and the game started like a 'Bama fan's wildest wish. It was 21--0 Tide after the first quarter, 24--0 halfway through the second. What's better: winning your own title, or denying your worst enemy theirs?
Then Tide running back Mark Ingram broke loose on a 41-yard reception down the right sideline, headed for another six—but Auburn defensive end Antoine Carter caught him from behind and punched the ball out. If it had gone out-of-bounds, Alabama ball. If it had kicked to the left, there'd have been a scramble. But it tightroped the sideline, rolled into the end zone, and Auburn fell on it for a touchback.
And right there, everything tilted—the game, the season, all those nesting worlds pressure-sealed into four quarters played once a year. Alabama led 24--7 at the half, but you could feel the Tigers coming, and it was almost no surprise early in the fourth when Auburn went up for good 28--27. Newton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. Updyke and Barnes had booked a room for the night but drove back instead. They didn't say 10 words all the way to Dadeville. Barnes let Updyke out at the lake house and went on home to Florida.
The Iron Bowl took place on the day after Thanksgiving. Two months later, on the afternoon of Jan. 27, Updyke called the Paul Finebaum sports-talk radio show out of Birmingham.
The Finebaum show gets monster ratings in Alabama, mainly because it keeps Auburn-Alabama boiling four hours a day, five days a week, all year long. Auburn fans had owned the show since the Iron Bowl. It had taken the Tigers just one year to unseat Alabama as the best in the nation—and, more important, the best in the state. Auburn fans called every day to crow. Updyke listened until he could no longer stand it. He called in and identified himself as Al from Dadeville. (His middle name is Almorn.) Finebaum put him on.
"Al" talked about seeing the Newton jersey on the Bryant statue. He added that a friend had sent him a newspaper clipping that said Auburn students rolled Toomer's Corner after Bryant died in 1983. Finebaum disputed this, and he was right. It didn't happen.
This is what followed: