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The Best of Foes: How the Iron Bowl Helps the State of Alabama

The Iron Bowl pits Alabama against Auburn, but also makes a difference in the state.
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There has always been the lingering question: What is the best rivalry in college sports?  Army vs. Navy? Ohio State vs. Michigan? Oklahoma vs. Texas? I believe that the rivalry that has the biggest effect on its region is Alabama vs. Auburn.   

Almost everyone in the state is devoted to one school or the other. The fans of the winning team get bragging rights for 365 days, until the two teams meet again on that crisp, cool November afternoon. The best of friends become the bitterest of enemies for those few hours. Stores and malls are almost empty.    

Last weekend I attended the 81st Iron Bowl, which was won by Alabama, 30–12. It was senior day for the Crimson Tide, and walk-on running back Lawrence Erekosima was surprised by his mother, who has performed multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait. Nick Saban got a little choked up during the postgame press conference when talking about the reunion.  

“He’s a fine young man. He’s been in the program for a long time. I have a special place in my heart for guys like him. All the star players, they get a big ovation and get to play,” said Saban, “A lot of those guys play their game Monday through Thursday helping the other players get ready for the game.” Saban also said, “For his mother to be able to come today, almost made me cry.”

There’s another competition that is more important to the state of Alabama than the football game. The two universities compete against each other during October and November to see who can collect the most canned food. At Alabama it is called Beat Auburn, Beat Hunger and at Auburn it is called Beat Bama, Beat Hunger.

Martha Henk, the executive director at the East Alabama Food Bank said, “There are no losers, only winners.” 

Henk explained, “It was started in 1994 by the West Alabama food bank. A man named Craig Young thought that they could use the competition for good.” Since then, the schools have raised 192 tractor-trailer loads — enough food for 3.6 million meals.  

Jean Rykaczewski of the West Alabama Food Bank explained that if you were to fill every seat in Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821 seats) with three children, that is about how many kids suffer from hunger in Alabama. Rykaczewski shared the sentiment expressed by Henk. “There are no losers,” Henk said. “This is a win-win situation.”      

Auburn ended up winning the food drive competition this year by collecting 245,722 pounds of food, with Alabama collecting 150,322 pounds. That amount of food lasts the food banks about 4-5 weeks, and they feed about 1,000 families a week. 

Although the rivalry can be crazy and over-the-top, fans have opportunities to use their passion for their beloved school for good. That’s how the Iron Bowl brings positive change to communities in Alabama.   

Photo credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images