No. 2 Auburn will try to bring a fifth consecutive championship to the state Monday night against No. 1 Florida State and Alabama native Jameis Winston, the third Heisman Trophy winner during that span with state ties.
Winston somehow remained neutral despite growing up in a family where his mother, the youngest of 13 children, was the lone Auburn fan and the rest pulled for ‘Bama.
As if he needed further demonstration of the passions involved, Winston watched from the stands as fellow Heisman winner Cam Newton led Auburn to a remarkable comeback over Alabama in the 2010 Iron Bowl.
“It’s funny seeing how Alabama and Auburn fans react after that game,” said Winston, who is from Hueytown, Ala. “It’s the funniest thing in the world.”
The rivalry is serious business for most of the state, though. Sometimes football rains glory on the state, others embarrassment.
The state of Alabama’s passion, and penchant, for football has been on full display nationally for the past five years. Alabama has won three national titles during that span and Auburn won it all in that 2010 season.
Three of the last five Heisman winners are either from the state of Alabama or played college ball there, including Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009.
That’s the good. There’s been some bad and ugly, too.
That divide has been especially evident in recent years in a state where Bear Bryant and Bo Jackson became football icons.
Auburn came up with one of college football’s most memorable plays on Nov. 30 when Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown on the final play for a 34-28 win over the two-time defending national champion and then-No. 1 Crimson Tide.
The outcome apparently led to tragic results.
Alabama fan Adrian Laroze Briskey, 28, was charged two days later with killing another Tide fan. Briskey was angry that 36-year-old Michelle Shepherd and others weren’t distraught enough over the loss, the victim’s sister, Neketa Shepherd, said.
“She said we weren’t real Alabama fans because it didn’t bother us that they lost. And then she started shooting,” Shepherd told The Associated Press in the aftermath.
The state’s football fervor also drew plenty of national attention after the 2010 Iron Bowl, when Tide fan Harvey Updyke Jr. poisoned Auburn’s two iconic oak trees at Toomer’s Corner, whose branches were draped with toilet paper during victory celebrations for decades.
Updyke, a former Texas state trooper, served about six months in jail and is barred from attending Alabama sporting events.
Updyke’s actions became symbolic of the sometimes excessive passions in a state where the two marquee athletic programs rake in nine figures.
Alabama’s athletic department brought in $143.4 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013, according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Education. Auburn athletics generated $102.8 million.
The numbers are jarring to some considering that 18.1 percent of residents were living in poverty in 2012 and the state’s median household income is $43,160, according to U.S. Census data.
Comedian Jay Leno took aim at the state’s reputation following Alabama’s 42-14 romp over Notre Dame in last year’s title game.
“Congratulations to the state of Alabama. They are No. 1 in college football, 49th in everything else,” he quipped on his late night show.
Fans’ passion for their favorite teams can be evident when they’re picking names for their children.
An Andalusia couple named their son Krimson Tyde when he was born Dec. 17. A Phenix City man, Shane Broadhurst, named his toddler son Crimson Tide and his daughter, born last year, Alliegh Bama.
“Football down here is unlike any other place,” Auburn center Reese Dismukes said. “People take a lot of pride in that, especially in this state.”
Occasionally, state pride even trumps the rivalry. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron is pulling for the Tigers.
“I know there’s some crazy fans in the South, Auburn and Alabama, that will go to their grave hating one another, which is absurd to me,” McCarron said. “The players don’t think like that, so I don’t understand why the fans think like that. But it’s what makes it a good rivalry. But I’ll be rooting for them (Auburn). I know that. I want them to win.
“I think it’s awesome. I think it shows how much talent we have in the state between two great schools and it would be awesome to keep it (the BCS trophy) in the state of Alabama, definitely.”