Monday, November 21, 2016

How to Go to the Iron Bowl

This past Saturday was the beginning of College Football Rivalry week. USC beat UCLA. Stanford beat California. And, ugh, Rutgers laid another egg, falling 39-0 to the team RU fans hate the most (or should), Penn State (whose fans consider RU just another team on the schedule).

Yesterday, there was the pro football version of such a rivalry, as the Pittsburgh Steelers visited the Cleveland Browns, still a bigger rivalry than Penn State vs. Ohio State. The Steelers won, 24-9, to keep the Browns winless at 0-11.

Thanksgiving Day won't have a big college football rivalry this time. The only major-conference game will be Louisiana State against Texas A&M, and neither considers the other to be much of a rival. Friday will see North Carolina vs. North Carolina State, Nebraska vs. Iowa (neighboring States that should have had a rivalry for years, but only recently has Nebraska joined the Big Ten), Arkansas vs. Missouri (ditto, but only recently has Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference), Texas vs. Texas Christian, Arizona vs. Arizona State and Washington vs. Washington State.

Saturday is the big day. Rutgers vs. Maryland, despite their proximity, were long in different leagues and weren't a rivalry, but going into the Big Ten together may make it one. Also, Pittsburgh vs. Syracuse. Virginia vs. Virginia Tech. Kentucky vs. Louisville (much bigger in basketball). South Carolina vs. Clemson. Georgia vs. Georgia Tech. Florida vs. Florida State. Central Florida vs. South Florida. Grambling vs. Southern. Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt. Mississippi vs. Mississippi State. Indiana vs. Purdue (also much bigger in basketball). Illinois vs. Northwestern. Minnesota vs. Wisconsin. Kansas vs. Kansas State. Utah State vs. Brigham Young. Nevada vs. UNLV. Oregon vs. Oregon State. Notre Dame vs. USC.

And the 2 biggest rivalries in college football: Michigan vs. Ohio State (which I can cover as Big Ten opponents of Rutgers), and Alabama vs. Auburn (which I have chosen to cover even though it has very little to do with New York or New Jersey).

The following Saturday, December 3, Oklahoma will play Oklahoma State. The next, December 10, Army will play Navy, in Baltimore instead of the usual Philadelphia.

*

Alabama vs. Auburn is called the Iron Bowl, because of Alabama's role in America's steel industry. Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds were all "steel cities" in England, and cities in Alabama were named for them, and produced steel as well. (Birmingham is sometimes known as "The Pittsburgh of the South.") And "Iron Bowl" sounds a lot better than "Steel Bowl."

I realize that most people in the New York Tri-State Area won't want to go -- and this is a rivalry so nasty that you'd almost have to be stereotypically New York tough in order to survive it. And I freely admit that I have never gone -- or even set foot in the State of Alabama. But, based on what I've read, and what I've heard from people who have, this is what it's like:

Before You Go. Being well south of New York, Alabama is usually warmer than we are. It also gets rather humid. Check Al.com, the website of The Birmingham News, before you go. Temperatures for next Saturday are projected as being in the mid-60s on Saturday afternoon, but the low 40s at night. Bring a jacket.

Although Alabama, a.k.a. The Heart of Dixie (not to be confused with Georgia, a.k.a. The Heart of the South), seceded from the Union in 1861, it was readmitted in 1868. You do not need a passport, and you don't need to change your U.S. dollars into Confederate money. The State is in the Central Time Zone, 1 hour behind us. Adjust your timepieces accordingly. And keep in mind: They think you talk as funny as you think they do.

Tickets. Good luck. Whether in Tuscaloosa (101,821 seats), Auburn (87,421) or Birmingham (71,594), this is always the 1st game on either team's schedule to sell out.

At the moment, StubHub has upper end zone seats going for $140, upper sideline seats for $240, lower end zone seats for $300, and lower sideline seats for $350. Think you can get them cheaper than that? I hope you speak the Southern dialect of Scalperese.

Getting There. From Times Square, the 'Bama campus is 1,020 miles; the Auburn campus, 991 miles. The shortest distance to each begins with taking Interstate 78 West across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, then switching to Interstate 81 South, and taking that across the panhandles of Maryland and West Virginia, into Virginia. This will allow you to bypass the potential traffic messes of the cities of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond and Raleigh.

At Exit 81 in Virginia, the routes to the schools diverge. If you're going to 'Bama, continue on I-81 across the Virginia panhandle, into Tennessee, until flowing into Interstate 40 West. Pass Knoxville, home of the University of Tennessee, and take Interstate 75 South to Chattanooga. There, you will take Interstate 24 West over the State Line into Georgia, and switch to Interstate 59 South. You'll take that into Birmingham, and switch to Interstate 20 West, which will take you into Tuscaloosa. Then you get off at Exit 71B, and take Interstate 359 North to Exit 2. You'll make a right on Paul W. Bryant Drive, formerly 10th Street but named for the Bear, and the stadium will be a mile ahead on your left, with the rest of the campus to follow. Bryant-Denny Stadium is at 920 Paul W. Bryant Drive. It should take about 15 hours, or 19 hours counting rest stops.

If, however, you are going to Auburn, you take Interstate 77 South to Charlotte, switch there to Interstate 85 West, cross South Carolina, cross Georgia including going through Atlanta, cross into Alabama and take Exit 57 onto Bent Creek Road, make a left on E. Glenn Avenue, and follow that west for 4 miles to the campus. Jordan-Hare Stadium is at 251 S. Donahue Drive. It should take about 14 1/2 hours, or 18 hours counting rest stops.

Now, you're thinking you should fly. But neither Tuscaloosa nor Auburn has an airport with a lot of flights going in and out. Even Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport isn't exactly a major hub. You're unlikely to get a nonstop flight there. And even then, you're talking about having to rent a car for an hour and 15 minutes to get to 'Bama, nearly 2 hours to get to Auburn, which is really in the middle of nowhere, even by Southern standards.

What about other ways? Neither Amtrak nor Greyhound even goes to Auburn. (Well, Amtrak goes to Auburn, California, but not the one in Alabama.) So, really, you're better off flying to Atlanta or Birmingham and driving the rest of the way.

They do both go to Tuscaloosa. On Greyhound, you'd have to change buses twice, in Richmond and Atlanta, and it would cost $430, but it can drop to $348 with advanced-purchase. Now for the really hard part: The station is at 7022 Route 6, over 6 miles from the heart of the 'Bama campus.

Amtrak's Crescent takes almost exactly 24 hours. The problem is, it leaves Penn Station at 2:15 PM Eastern and arrives at 1:07 PM Central the next day. So if you leave on Friday, you'll miss the kickoff; and if you leave on Thursday, you'll have to kill almost an entire day before kickoff. And, because it's Thanksgiving weekend, it's kind of expensive: $661 round-trip. The station is considerably closer to campus, but not that close: At 2105 Greensboro Avenue, a mile and a half from the stadium and 2 miles from the Denny Chines at the heart of the campus.

Once In the City. The source of the name "Alabama" is disputed. It definitely comes from a Native American word, but it might mean "gathering of herbs" or "clearing of weeds." This is reflected in the way the State treats its people: Sometimes as nutrition or spice, sometimes as something to attack and get rid of. The State's sales tax is 4 percent.
Birmingham was named for the city in England, whose name comes from "settlement of Beormingas." The Beormingas were "Beorma's people," Beorma having been a tribal leader in England's early Middle Ages. Auburn may also have been named for a place in England, near Barmston in East Yorkshire. Tuscaloosa was the name of a Native American chief defeated by Hernando de Soto's Spanish soldiers in 1540.
Tuscaloosa is 56 miles southeast of Birmingham, and 103 miles northwest of the State House in Montgomery. Auburn is 109 miles southeast of Birmingham, and 55 miles northeast of Montgomery. The 'Bama and Auburn campuses are 157 miles apart, separated by U.S. 82 from Tuscaloosa southeast to Montgomery, and then I-85 northeast to Auburn.

In addition, Tuscaloosa is 200 miles west of Atlanta, 244 miles south of Nashville, 233 miles southeast of Memphis, and 298 miles northeast of New Orleans. Auburn is 108 miles southwest of Atlanta, 301 miles southeast of Nashville, 348 miles southeast of Memphis, 364 miles northeast of New Orleans, and 326 miles northwest of Jacksonville.

Tuscaloosa, situated on the Black Warrior River (probably named for dark-skinned Native Americans rather than men of African descent) is home to about 95,000 people -- not counting students, who are not official residents. It was founded in 1819, and the University of Alabama was founded the following year.

The centerpiece of the 'Bama campus is the Denny Chimes, a 115-foot-high bell tower, like the stadium named for George H. Denny, President of the University from 1912 to 1936. Surrounding it is the Walk of Fame, where captains of the football team have placed their handprints and footprints at its base since 1948. Among these are names most football fans would recognize: Lee Roy Jordan, Ozzie Newsome, Cornelius Bennett, Derrick Thomas, Shaun Alexander, and New York Jet stars Joe Namath, Richard Todd and Marty Lyons.
Auburn is home to 62,000 people, again, not counting students. The "Greater Columbus-Auburn-Opelika Region," straddling the Georgia-Alabama line, is home to about 500,000. However, from Columbus to Auburn is about 36 miles, and in between, as the saying goes, there's miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles, at least until you get to Opelika, about 9 miles northeast of Auburn.

East Alabama Male College was founded in 1856. It became Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical College (Alabama A&M) in 1872, became the 1st school in the State to admit women in 1892, became Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Alabama Tech) in 1899, and Auburn University in 1960.
Samford Hall, Auburn's 1888 administration building

Toomer's Corner is the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and College Street, and it marks the transition from downtown Auburn to the University campus to the southwest. Toomer's Drugs, on the northeast corner at 100 N. College Street, is an Auburn institution.
At the southwest corner is a park, which contained Toomer's Oaks. From the 1950s onward, whenever something good happens involving the school, people would go to the trees and throw rolls of toilet paper into them, a tradition known as "rolling the corner."
On the day after Thanksgiving 2010, Auburn came from 24-0 down to beat Alabama 28-27, and the corner was rolled.
On January 27, 2011, a man later identified as Harvey Updyke Jr. of Dadeville, Alabama, enraged by this and by his alleged memory of Auburn fans rolling the corner upon hearing the news of Bear Bryant's death in 1983 (there is no record of this having happened), called in to the radio show of Birmingham sports-talk host Paul Finebaum, and announced that he'd poisoned Toomer's Oaks with an herbicide.

The soil around the trees was tested, and, at least about his vandalism, Updyke had told the truth. He ended up serving 104 days in jail and getting fined nearly $800,000. The trees were found to be dying and beyond saving, and were removed on April 23, 2013. Replacement trees were planted, but they died, too. As of 2016 Iron Bowl Week, the site is vacant.

ZIP Codes in Alabama begin with the digits 35 and 36. For Birmingham, 350 through 359, except for 353 and 354. For Tuscaloosa, 354. For Auburn, 368. The Area Code for Birmingham and Tuscaloosa is 205. For Auburn, 334.

Going In. Denny Stadium opened in 1929, with 12,000 seats. Only what's now the lower deck of the east stand is original. President Denny envisioned a 66,000-seat stadium, which would have made it roughly the size of Yankee Stadium at the time. It had 31,000 seats by the time Paul W. "Bear" Bryant, who had played end on their 1934 National Championship team, arrived as head coach in 1958, after being head coach at Maryland, Kentucky and Texas A&M.
Denny Stadium in the Bear's pomp.
The "100" logos in the end zone mean
that this photo was taken in 1969,
the Centennial season of college football.

He boosted it to 60,000 in 1966, a west upper deck was added to make it 70,000 in 1988, an east upper deck to make it 84,000 in 1998, and upper decks were added to the end zones, the north in 2006 and the south in 2010, raising it to its current capacity of 101,821 in 2010.
So while the site has a lot of history, most of the stadium is not particularly old. Then again, given the success of Gene Stallings and Nick Saban, those newer parts have already seen more football glory than the site of Rutgers Stadium has seen in almost 80 years. At any rate, Bryant-Denny Stadium does not have "old-stadium problems."

In 1975, the Bear's name was added to the stadium, and he spent 8 seasons coaching in a stadium named for him, before retiring with 323 wins, at the time the most in Division I history, 232 of them at 'Bama. (A native of Moro Bottom in south-central Arkansas, he got his nickhame from having agreed to wrestle a captive bear during a carnival promotion when he was 13.)
Auburn Stadium opened in 1939, with 15,000 seats. In 1949, it was expanded to 21,000 and named Cliff Hare Stadium. Hare had played in what is frequently (but incorrectly) called the 1st football game in the South, between Auburn and the University of Georgia, on February 20, 1892, a 10-0 Auburn win in Atlanta. (Georgia did play the South's 1st college football game, but it was against Mercer University of Macon, Georgia, at UGa's campus in Athens, 3 weeks earlier, on January 30, and won 50-0.)

Hare later served Auburn as a professor of chemistry, and was president of the Southern Conference, the predecessor league to both the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

Ralph Jordan (no relation to Lee Roy, and, like Jimmy Carter's Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan did, he pronounced it "JUR-den," not "JOAR-den"), known as "Shug" for his boyhood love of sugary snacks, was a 3-sport star at Auburn in the late 1920s and early '30s -- a better all-around athlete than Bear Bryant, if not better in football. He coached basketball at Georgia, and both football and basketball at Auburn, running their football team from 1951 to 1975, and in 1973, the University renamed the stadium Jordan-Hare Stadium, so Jordan beat Bryant to the honor by 2 years. Jordan died in 1980.
On his watch, capacity went from 21,000 to 61,000, and under Pat Dye it went to 85,000 -- as if he and the school had a mission to outdo 'Bama wherever they could. As a result, it's now "Pat Dye Field at Jordan-Hare Stadium." Since 2004, capacity has been 87,451, but now Bryant-Denny well surpasses it in that regard. With that in mind, Auburn is planning upper decks for the end zones, which would raise capacity over 100,000, and possibly surpassing Bryant-Denny.
Due to Auburn's relative inaccessibility, the school played a lot of its rivalry games at neutral sites. For many years, they played Georgia at Memorial Stadium in Columbus, Georgia. (It's now named A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium, for a Mayor and civil rights leader, and seats just 15,000.) They played all their "home" games against Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia Tech at Legion Field in Birmingham.

Eventually, due to the nastiness of the rivalry, only the Iron Bowl was still played at Legion Field, with tickets divided evenly and the fans split down the middle, like Texas vs. Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl and some other such rivalries.

'Bama, too, used Legion Field, then larger and more accessible, for many of its bigger games (thus making Bryant-Denny its home for "lesser" opponents, and the Bear had a whopping 72-2 record there), to the point that Auburn officials, and Dye in particular, believed that no matter how many tickets Auburn fans got, it was a "home game" for 'Bama. Dye wanted the game at Auburn every other year, and in 1989 he finally got his wish. (Dye had to leave Auburn under an ethical cloud in 1992, his last game an Iron Bowl loss at Legion Field. He is still alive, age 77.)

As Bryant-Denny got bigger, and Legion Field deteriorated (it opened in 1927), 'Bama scheduled fewer games there. They played at least 3 games there every year until 1998, but now, they haven't played a "home game" there since 2003.

Both stadiums are aligned north-to-south. Jordan-Hare has always had real grass. Bryant-Denny had the plastic stuff from 1968 to 1991, but then went back to God's own. Neither stadium hosts anything but football. However, beginning in 2009 -- 'Bama in odd-numbered years, Auburn in even-numbered years -- the Super Six, the Alabama High School Athletic Association's games for the State Championship, are held at the universities, after previously being held at Legion Field.

Food. Son, Ah say son, this bein' the South, y'all can expect good eatin' and good hospitality. You want the usual ballpark fare, including hot dogs and beer? They got 'em and they got 'em good. You want Southern specialties such as fried chicken and barbecue? They got that, too.

This being the South, Coke dominates the beverage selection, but since it gets so hot down there, they have more concession stands at Bryant-Denny than at any other college football stadium. They're cheap, too: Their most expensive item is a chicken tenders and fries meal, at $9.00.

Jordan-Hare's concessions are dominated by Domino's Pizza and Chick-fil-A. They also have Bodacious Burgers, Fat Boy's BBQ, Habanero's (Cuban sandwiches), Nuts About Auburn and Tiger Treats.

Best of all, both stadiums have stands serving items from Dreamland BBQ, run by the restaurant of the same name in Birmingham that might just be the best barbecue restaurant in the whole dang universe.

There are no alcoholic beverages served in either stadium, because they're on college campuses. Considering it's Southern football, that's for the best.

Team History Displays. From University Blvd. to the north stand of Bryant-Denny Stadium is the Walk of Champions, a brick plaza with granite monuments, commemorating 'Bama's SEC and National Championships. On the west side are statues of the 5 coaches who have led the Crimson Tide to National Championships: Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings and the current head coach, Nick Saban.
At the entrance to the north stand is a statue of 2 players. The one on the left is white, holds a Crimson Tide flag, and wears the Number 18. The one on the right is black, points into the distance, and wears Number 92. The numbering represents 1892, the year 'Bama started playing football. (Auburn also started that year.)
Alabama has won 29 Conference Championships. The 1st 4 were in the old Southern Conference: 1924, '25, '26 and '30. The rest have been in the Southeastern Conference: 1933 (the 1st season), '34, '37, '45, '53, '61, '64, '65, '66, '71, '72, '73, '74, '75, '77, '78, '79, '81, '89, '92, '99, 2009, '12, '14 and '15. The last 6 of these have come since the addition of the SEC Championship Game. 'Bama is the only SEC school to win a Conference Championship in every decade since the league was founded.

Since the expansion and divisional split, they've won the SEC Western Division in 1992, '93 '94, '96, '99, 2008, '09, '12, '13, '14, '15 and '16 -- and will play Florida for the SEC title the weekend after the Iron Bowl.

Alabama claims 16 National Championships: 4 wins in the officially-recognized National Championship Game from January 2010 (2009 season) onward, 8 in the sportswriters' polls conducted by the Associated Press (AP) from 1936 to 2008, and 4 others before that, retroactively awarded by one source or another: 1925, '26, '30, '34, '41, '61, '64, '65, '73, '78, '79, '92, 2009, '11, '12 and '15. Some sources recognize Alabama as National Champions in 1945, '66, '75 and '77, although only the '66 title -- going 11-0 while Notre Dame and Michigan State played to their famous 10-10 tie to both finish at 9-0-1 -- is accepted as being even close to legitimate.

For all that they've achieved, the Crimson Tide do not retire uniform numbers. This may be for the best, as they'd run out in a hurry. But they've had 20 players inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, plus coaches Wade, Thomas, Bryant and Stallings: 

* From the 1925 and '26 National Champions: Halfback and later star actor Johnny Mack Brown, and quarterback Pooley Hubert.

* From the 1930 National Champions: Fullback Johnny Cain, tackle Fred Sington and guard Frank Howard.

* From the 1934 National Champions: End Don Hutson, halfback Millard "Dixie" Howell, and quarterback Riley Smith. Because of Millard, several other people named Howell got nicknamed "Dixie," including 2 baseball players who reached the major leagues; this one played in the minors, but didn't reach the majors.

* From the 1941 National Champions: Tackle Don Whitmire.

* From the 1945 SEC Champions: Quarterback Harry Gilmer, center Vaughn Mancha.

* From the 1953 SEC Champions: No one -- quarterback Bart Starr is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but not the College Football version.

* From the 1961 National Champions: Linebacker Lee Roy Jordan and offensive tackle Billy Neighbors.

* From the 1964 and '65 National Champions: No one -- quarterback Joe Namath is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but not the College Football version.

* From the 1966 SEC Champions that got robbed of the National Championship: No one -- quarterback Ken Stabler is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but not the College Football version.

* From the 1971 and '72 SEC Champions: Halfback Johnny Musso and guard John Hannah.

* From the 1973 National Champions: Linebacker Woodrow Lowe.

* From the 1975 and '77 SEC Champions: Tight end Ozzie Newsome. Richard Todd, Namath's successor as Jet starting quarterback, started for the '75 title team.

* From the 1978 and '79 National Champions: Defensive tackle Marty Lyons. Todd and Lyons never got to the Super Bowl with the Jets, partly due to a couple of college teammates that beat the Jets in the 1982 AFC Championship Game, center Dwight Stephenson and cornerback Don McNeal of the Miami Dolphins.

* From the 1980s, but not winning even an SEC title: Linebackers Cornelius Bennett and Derrick Thomas.

Hutson, Starr, Namath, Stabler, Hannah, Newsome and Thomas are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Jordan and Bennett probably should be.

Despite all this, it took until 2009 for 'Bama to have its 1st Heisman Trophy winner, running back Mark Ingram. Running back Derrick Henry won it last year. Indeed, until 1993, they'd had only 1 player even get as high as 4th in the Heisman voting. 
The Bear. The man, the hat, the rolled-up program.
Larger than life, as always.

As for Auburn: In 1998, artist Michael Taylor was commissioned to paint 10 large murals on the east-side exterior of the stadium. The paintings depicted the greatest players, teams, and moments from Auburn's football history to that date. Auburn updated these murals in 2006 and 2011. The stadium also has 4 statues, all connected to the Heisman Trophy. One is of the namesake, John Heisman, who coached them from 1895 to 1899. The others are their 3 winners of the award: Pat Sullivan in 1971, Vincent "Bo" Jackson in 1985, and Cameron "Cam" Newton in 2010.
Bo knows Heisman. Cam knows Heisman. Pat knows Heisman.

Unlike 'Bama, Auburn does retire numbers: Sullivan's 7, Jackson's 34, and the 88 of Sullivan's favorite receiver, Terry Beasley.

Auburn has won 12 Conference Championships: 1913, '14 and '19 in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Association (SIAA); 1932 in the Southern Conference; and 1957, '83, '87, '88, '89, 2004, '10 and '13 in the SEC.

Auburn claims the National Championship for 1957 (recognized by the AP, though the coaches' poll of United Press International, UPI, recognized Ohio State) and 2010 (won the BCS title game). Some sources give it to them for 1913, 1983 (they were Number 3 and won their bowl game, while Numbers 2 Texas lost theirs and Number 4 Miami got the title for beating Number 1 Nebraska) and 1993 (when they went undefeated under Terry Bowden, but were ineligible for a bowl game due to the violations up until the year before by Pat Dye).

Auburn has 4 coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame: The aforementioned John Heisman, Shug Jordan and Pat Dye, and early 20th Century head coach Iron Mike Donahue. And 8 players have been inducted: 1930s quarterback Jimmy Hitchcock, 1930s center Walter Gilbert, 1950s running back Ed Dyas, 1960s running back Tucker Frederickson (played 7 years with the Giants), 1970s quarterback Pat Sullivan and receiver Terry Beasley, and 1980s running back Bo Jackson and defensive tackle Tracy Rocker. (Like the Tide's Ingram and Henry, Newton is not yet eligible.)

Unlike most schools, neither Alabama nor Auburn has a big championship display in the fan-viewable areas of their stadiums. Nor does Auburn show their retired numbers in the field area.

Alabama has won the SEC title 25 times, Auburn 8 times, and all other schools combined just 51 other times. (Some titles have been shared.) Tennessee has won 13: 1938, '39, '40, '46, '51, '56, '67, '69, '85, '89, '90, '97 and '98. Georgia has won 12: 1942, '46, '48, 59, '66, '68, '76, '80, '81, '82, 2002 and 2005. Louisiana State, a.k.a. LSU, has won 12: 1935, '36, '58, '61, '70, '84, '86, '88, 2001, '03, '07 and '11. Florida has won 8: 1991, '93, '94, '95, '96, 2000, '06 and '08, and also won in 1984, but that title was vacated due to rule violations. The University of Mississippi, a.k.a. Ole Miss, has won 6: 1947, '54, '55, '60, '62 and '63, plus a Division title in 2003. Kentucky won in 1950 (with Bear Bryant as head coach) and 1976. Mississippi State has won it only in 1941, but did win a Division title in 1998.

Georgia Tech won the SEC title in 1943, '44 and '52. Tulane won it in 1949. Neither school is in the SEC any longer. Arkansas won 13 Southwest Conference (SWC) titles, but only 3 Division titles since entering the SEC. Texas A&M won 17 titles in the SWC and 1 in the Big 12. Missouri won 12 titles in the Big Eight and 3 others in their league before that. South Carolina won the Southern Conference in 1933 and the ACC in 1969. Vanderbilt won 14 Conference Championships, the last in the Southern Conference in 1923. None of those schools, however, has won a title since coming into the SEC.

The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, in Birmingham, has a statue of a generic player, flanked by Bryant and Jordan.
Stuff. Neither stadium has a large team store like a pro stadium would. Your best bet for school merchandise would be at the university bookstores. The University of Alabama Supply Store is at 751 Campus Drive West, at 7th Avenue, a 15-minute walk north of the stadium and a 10-minute walk north of Denny Chimes. At Auburn, the Bookstore is in the Haley Center, across Heisman Drive from the stadium.

I was surprised to find that copies of Bryant's famous houndstooth hat are sold, and not just by the Supply Store. I suppose it's 'Bama's answer to Pittsburgh's Terrible Towel. I thought it would be revered too much to be sold -- blasphemy, even. As they say, "In Alabama, an atheist is a man who doesn't believe in Bear Bryant."
Not God. Perhaps a god.

A lot of trees would have to be cut down to match the paper used to print books about Alabama football. (Too soon, Auburn fans?) Eli Gold just published Crimson Nation: The Shaping of the South's Most Dominant Football Team. Allen Barra, who's written biographies of Wyatt Earp, Yogi Berra, and a dual bio of Mickey Mantle and Birmingham-area native Willie Mays, wrote The Last Coach: A Life of Paul "Bear" Bryant. Although born and raised in New Jersey, Barra's first post-college job was in Birmingham, and he was immersed in Alabama sports lore, to the point where he also wrote Rickwood Field: A Century In America's Oldest Ballpark. And last year, Monte Burke wrote Saban: The Making of a Coach, about the current Tide coach.

Rod Bramblett just published Touchdown Auburn: Carrying on the Tradition of the Auburn Tigers. There are also lots of videos about Crimson Tide football, including the new Defining Moments: Alabama Football. Videos of the 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015 National Championship Games are available. There's Defining Moments: Auburn Football, and a video of the 2010 National Championship Game.

During the Game. The best advice I can give you for attending a football game at either Alabama or Auburn -- especially if it's the Iron Bowl -- is, Whichever is the home team, be nice to them, and don't praise the other guys. Also: If you tailgate, be willing to share. If you are, they will be, too.
Like I said: Don't praise the other guys.
And don't wear orange in Tuscaloosa.

Crimson had been Alabama's school color because they wanted to be "The Harvard of the South." I don't know if there is a true "Harvard of the South," but 'Bama ain't it. (Duke? Vanderbilt? Tulane? Rice?) Nevertheless, as Harvardians might, they look down on other schools, especially Auburn, formerly Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical, and call them "the Cow College." Auburn's pride was so wounded, and their resentment at Alabama's long-term success so deep, that the rivalry between the schools is perhaps more intense than any other in college sports.

The fact that Auburn chose orange and blue, the colors of one of Harvard's rivals, Princeton -- hence, their mascot became the Tigers -- deepens this. (The University of Georgia doesn't wear blue like Harvard's real rival, Yale, but they did make Bulldogs their mascot because they were founded by missionaries from Yale.)

In 1907, Auburn, then Alabama Tech, was favored to beat Alabama. But it rained, and the game was played in a sea of red mud. This served as an equalizer -- literally, as 'Bama, until then simply "The Crimson," held the favored Tigers to a 6-6 tie. Hugh Roberts of the Birmingham Age-Herald used the phrase "crimson tide" to describe Alabama then, and the name stuck. Eventually, the cheer became "Roll Tide," "Roll Tide Roll," or sometimes "Roll Damn Tide!"

At 'Bama, they don't throw rolls of toilet paper into oak trees. They put them on sticks atop boxes of Tide detergent. Get it? "Roll, Tide."
So if 'Bama's teams are called the Crimson Tide, why is the mascot an elephant? In 1930, Everett Strupper (himself a former college football player, for Georgia Tech) wrote in the Atlanta Journal about a recent game between Alabama and Mississippi:

At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, "Hold your horses, the elephants are coming!" and out stamped this Alabama varsity. 

The metaphor caught on. In the 1940s, the University kept a live elephant mascot named Alamite, and it carried the Homecoming Queen onto the field before kickoff of Homecoming games. This proved to be too expensive, so they started renting elephants for such events.

In the late 1970s, as costumed mascots became popular in major league sports (a trend recently begun by the San Diego Chicken and the Phillie Phanatic), and colleges were adding them to use along with live mascots (such as Georgia's Uga the Bulldog and LSU's Mike the Tiger), a student committee asked Bear Bryant (the athletic director as well as the football coach) for permission, and he gave it, and Big Al the Elephant debuted at the 1980 Sugar Bowl. (As it turns out, "Al" is not only short for "Alabama," but a tribute to Al Brown, then a popular deejay in Tuscaloosa.)
So if Crimson is the color, what's "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer"? The Rammer-Jammer was a student magazine in the 1920s, and the yellowhammer is Alabama's State Bird.

On October 14, 1922, Alabama went to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech, and lost 33-7. Tech's head coach, Bill Alexander (for whom their basketball arena is named), told the Alabama fans, "Your football team isn't worth a nickel, but you have a million-dollar band." The 'Bama band has been "The Million Dollar Band" ever since.

Three weeks later, on November 4, 'Bama went to Philadelphia and beat the University of Pennsylvania 9-7 at Franklin Field. (They finished the season 6-3-1, so Alexander was wrong about the quality of the team.) This upset of an Ivy League school is considered a landmark day in the history of Southern football, and it helped launch 'Bama on a run of success that continued throughout the 1920s and '30s and established the school's legend, before the Bear was even a player (and while he was one).

In the 1960s, Doug Barfield, then Auburn's coach, invited fans to come out and support the team as it walked from the Auburn Athletic Complex to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Every home game, thousands do, shaking their hands or patting them on the back. This has become known as Tiger Walk, and is called "the most-copied tradition in all of college football."

While Auburn have been the Tigers for over 100 years, it wasn't until 1959 that a cartoonist drew a Tiger to represent the team, naming it "Aubie" for Auburn. In 1979, beating 'Bama to the punch by a few weeks (the Auburn fans must've loved that), an Aubie the Tiger costume was created and debuted. Aubie wears an Auburn jersey, Number 01.
So if Auburn are the Tigers, why do they shout, "War Eagle"? There are varying stories. Like a lot of stories in the South, the most common version of the legend dates to the Civil War. And like a lot of stories about the Civil War, it's pure baloney.

A soldier from Alabama was the sole Confederate survivor of the Battle of the Wilderness. (This was on May 7, 1864, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, and was inconclusive, so there were many survivors, but also great losses, on both sides.) Supposedly, the soldier found a wounded eagle. He nursed it back to health, and brought the bird with him to Auburn when he became a professor there, and it became known as the War Eagle. When Auburn played its 1st football game in 1892, the eagle took off and flew around the field, until the game ended with Auburn victorious, at which point the proud old bird fell to the ground and died. (The eagle would have been at least 28 years old, which is well beyond an eagle's usual lifespan.)

This story was first published in 1959 by Jim Phillips of the Auburn Plainsman, and Phillips, still alive, has asked the school to find the true origin of the phrase, "before my fictitious story gets carved in stone." It hasn't yet been carved in stone, and, unlike "The Auburn Creed," it hasn't actually been put on a metal plaque on a stone. But it is ingrained in the Auburn consciousness.

On November 25, 1914 -- the day Joe DiMaggio was born -- Auburn played the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (which had recently graduated Jim Thorpe) at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. Behind quarterback Legare "Lucy" Hairston, Auburn won, 7-0. That much is true. Supposedly, Carlisle had a lineman named Bald Eagle, and Hairston decided he was an easy mark, and called every play to be run at him. Before every snap, he yelled, "Bald Eagle!" But the fans misheard him, and started shouting, "War Eagle!"

This story sounds believable because, unlike the Civil War story, it's not dripping with melodrama -- or with easily disprovable facts. The problem with it is that Carlisle didn't allow its players to keep their Native American names, so if a player had been born with the name Bald Eagle, the Auburn players wouldn't have known that fact. Also telling is that Hairston, who lived until 1980, never claimed credit for coining the exrpression "War Eagle."

Finally, in 1998, the Plainsman decided to follow Jim Phillips' advice and find the truth. They decided the most likely origin was from a pep rally in 1913, before the game against Georgia. (After an incident in 1908, Auburn and Alabama didn't play each other again until 1948, so Georgia became Auburn's biggest rival in that period.) Gus Graydon, Auburn's head cheerleader, said, "If we are going to win this game, we'll have to get out there and fight! Because this means war!"

This statement -- later debunked by Baseball Hall-of-Famer and World War II Navy gunner Bob Feller: "Anybody who says sports is war has never been in a war" -- caused the students to jump up and down, and an ROTC cadet named E.T. Enslen noticed that something had fallen off his uniform hat. He picked it up, and it was a metal eagle. He was asked what it was, and he shouted, "It's a war eagle!" He was overheard, and the "War Eagle!" yell debuted the next day at Ponce de Leon Park, the minor-league ballpark in Atlanta, where Auburn beat Georgia 21-7. (Had Georgia won, the chant may well have been cast aside as a jinx, and forgotten.)

In 1930, an eagle swooped down on a flock of turkeys on a farm in Bee Hive, a town near Auburn, looking for his Thanksgiving meal. But he got entangled in pea vines. Some Auburn students bought the bird from the farmer, freed it from the vines, put it in a cage, and took it to the game against South Carolina in Columbus, Georgia on Thanksgiving. Auburn hadn't won a Southern Conference game in 4 years (they were 2-7 overall going in), but won, 25-7, and, because the game in question was won, the bird was considered lucky and the legend stuck.

There is dispute as to the bird's fate: Some say he lived out a natural life, others say he was stolen by a rival school. (It can't have been Alabama, or else that would be a much-publicized part of the nastiness between the schools.)

In 1960, a farmer in Curry Station, Alabama found an eagle trapped in his cotton field. He also kept turkeys, and sent the eagle with a delivery of turkeys to Auburn, where it devoured a live chicken. Jon Bowden, an Auburn student who had previously worked with hawks, trained it.

The bird was named War Eagle III -- the 1930 bird was retroactively named War Eagle II, and the bird-that-never-was from 1864 to 1892 was named War Eagle I -- and this bird served Auburn into the 1964 season, when it escaped on the morning of a game against Tennessee in Birmingham. He was later found shot to death, presumably by a hunter who had no idea what he had killed. (Or maybe he was a 'Bama fan, and did know -- but then, that, too, would have been part of the litany of Tide vs. Tigers nastiness.)

So a new eagle, a female, was bought from the zoo in Jackson, Mississippi. War Eagle IV served Auburn for 16 years, until the morning of the 1980 Iron Bowl, when her caretakers found her in her cage, apparently dead from natural causes. (This was not unusual: Eagles generally live between 14 and 20 years. Challenger the Eagle, who has flown over various sporting events, including Iron Bowls and some Yankee World Series games, is an exception, now 27 years old.) Alabama won the game, 34-18. Whether the eagle's death had anything to do with it, I leave to fans of the schools to decide.

Starting with War Eagle IV, Auburn has used female birds -- since, like most animals (most notably the University of Colorado's Buffalo mascot Ralphie), the female of the species is less aggressive and less resistant to training for such events. They are currently using War Eagle VII, but she is 15 years old, so they may need a successor soon.
War Eagle VII, in front of Samford Hall

Following the re-establishment of the rivalry in 1948, the Omicron Delta Kappa fraternity, which has chapters at both schools, donated the ODK Sportsmanship Trophy to the winner. In 1978, following the retirement from academia of James E. Foy V (the 5th), who had served in the administration of both schools, it was renamed the James E. Foy, V-ODK Sportsmanship Trophy, or the Foy-ODK for short. When Alabama wins, it is placed in Bear Bryant's museum; when Auburn wins, it is placed in the Auburn Arena.
Coach Nick Saban and his players present
the Foy-ODK Trophy at a Tide basketball game

Alabama's fight song is "Yea, Alabama!" Auburn's is, understandably, titled "War Eagle."

After the Game. This may be the most intense rivalry in North American sports, one of the few that can compete with European and Latin American soccer rivalries for roughness. Again, be nice to the home fans, and you'll have the safety of numbers.

To the north of Bryant-Denny Stadium is University Blvd., Tuscaloosa's main drag. It has Mooyah Burgers, Moe's Southwest Grill, Chipotle, Jimmy John's, Smoothie King and Firehouse Subs. Famous 'Bama bars along University include the Bear Trap, the Houndstooth (both named in memory of Bryant), Egan's and Rounders. If you can't wait until you get home to get your fix of New York-style food, there's Little Italy Pizzeria. 

The Auburn Student Center, across Heisman Drive to the east of Jordan-Hare Stadium and just to the south of the Haley Center, has a Starbucks, a Chick-fil-A and an Au Bon Pain. Magnolia Avenue, to the north, has a McDonald's, a Chick-fil-A, a Chipotle, and, if you can't wait until you get home to get your fix of New York-style food, Momma Goldberg's Deli.

At Toomer's Corner itself, Magnolia Avenue & College Street, Toomer's Drugs is, as we would say in the North, a soda fountain, specializing in sandwiches and shakes, and famous for their lemonade. They also sell lots and lots of Auburn-themed merchandise.

At 124 Tichenor Avenue, a block north of Toomer's Corner, is The Hound, which describes itself as a "rustic-chic bar with a simple New American menu, an extensive bourbon selection & many craft beers." Sounds like a place for the Southern version of hipsters.

If your visit to Alabama is during the European soccer season, well, you might get some funny looks, especially if you call the sport "football." Even though the State has a Birmingham, a Leeds and a Sheffield -- all steel-producing cities, like the English cities for which they're named. Rojo, at 2921 Highland Avenue, about 3 miles south of downtown Birmingham, is the State's best soccer bar. Bus 12.

Sidelights. Since I'm doing this for 2 schools, and for an entire State, I'll have to break this up.

* At Alabama. Before there was Bryant-Denny Stadium, there was University Field, which became Denny Field. Playing here, between 1915 and 1928, that the Crimson Tide first became a national power. Their record at Denny Field was 43-2. It was located at 10th Avenue (now Bryant Drive) and 7th Street, and is now occupied by a parking lot surrounded by fraternity houses.

The Paul W. Bryant Museum is at 300 Paul W. Bryant Drive, about a mile east of the stadium. Essentially, it's a monument to the Bear and the team he built. His famous houndstooth hat is on display there.

Sewell-Thomas Stadium, the baseball complex, and Coleman Coliseum, the basketball arena, are across Bryant Drive. Sewell-Thomas is named for Joe Sewell, the Cleveland Indians and Yankees Hall-of-Famer who went to 'Bama, and Frank Thomas, the coach who built 'Bama into a power in both baseball and football.

Elvis Presley sang at Coleman Coliseum on November 14, 1971; June 3, 1975; and August 30, 1976. From 1981 to 1992, Alabama's basketball coach was Winfrey "Wimp" Sanderson, known for his loud plaid jackets, and in tribute to him, the boundary of the court at Coleman Coliseum was painted plaid, and the arena was known as the Plaid Palace.

About halfway between these buildings and the stadium is Foster Auditorium, on Magnolia Drive between 6th Avenue and Hackberry Lane. This is the most important place in the post-Civil War history of the State. While it was the University's main gym from 1939 until 1968 (when Coleman Coliseum opened), and again hosts the school's women's basketball and volleyball programs, it was also long the school's registration center.

It was there, on June 11, 1963, that James Hood and Vivian Malone attempted to register as students. Governor George C. Wallace personally stopped them, making, as he promised he would, a "stand in the schoolhouse door."

President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy sent Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach (a Trenton, New Jersey native) and federal marshals there, and they told Wallace that if he didn't get out of the door, he would be arrested for violating the federal law that allowed people of all races to attend any government sponsored school in the country. Not wanting to be put in handcuffs on national television, Wallace decided that looking weak was better than looking like a criminal, and he backed down. But he was still a hero to America's bigots.

Nevertheless, accompanied by Katzenbach and the marshals, Malone walked in, and became the 1st black person to register as a student at the University of Alabama. Hood followed. Auburn's desegregation was considerably less dramatic, as Harold A. Franklin was the 1st black student admitted, in 1964.

The Alabama Museum of Natural History is at 427 6th Avenue in Tuscaloosa. The Tuscaloosa Museum of Art is 2 miles northeast of the campus, at 1400 Jack Warner Parkway NE.

* At Auburn. Auburn Arena is across Beard-Eaves Court from the stadium. It replaced Beard-Eaves Coliseum, across Heisman Drive, Auburn basketball's home court from 1969 to 2010. Elvis sang at Beard-Eaves on March 5, 1974. The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art is Auburn's cultural center, at 901 S. College Street. Shug Jordan is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery, at Samford Avenue and Oak Street, about 2 miles east of campus.

*  In Birmingham. Birmingham is 964 miles southwest of Midtown Manhattan, 59 miles northeast of Tuscaloosa, and 110 miles northwest of Auburn. It is the largest city in the State, with 212,000 people, and a metropolitan area of 1.1 million -- about 1/4 of the entire State's population. But let's not kid ourselves: It would rank dead last in population among each of the "Big Four" North American sports.

The Amtrak station is at 1 19th Street North. The Greyhound Station, the scene of a firebombing of a "Freedom Ride" bus on May 7, 1961 -- Mother's Day -- is at 618 19th Street North.

Lakeview Park was the 1st home of Birmingham professional baseball (1885-1910), and the 1st home of Universityof Alabama football (1892-94). The Birmingham Barons won the 1906 Southern Association Pennant there. It was located at the streets now named Highland and Clairmont Avenues. The Highland Park Golf and Tennis Centers were built on the site, 2 1/2 miles southeast of downtown. Bus 12.

Rickwood Field is America's oldest ballpark, opening on August 18, 1910 -- making it a year and 8 months older than Fenway Park in Boston. The Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association played there from 1910 to 1961, and the Birmingham Black Barons of various Negro Leagues did so from 1920 to 1960. Hall-of-Famers who played for the Barons include Rube Marquard, Burleigh Grimes and Pie Traynor. The Black Barons had Satchel Paige, Mule Suttles and, at age 17, in his 1st pro baseball job in 1948, Willie Mays, whose father had played semipro ball in the Birmingham area.
The Barons won Southern Association regular-season titles while playing at Rickwood in 1912, 1914, 1928, 1929, 1931, 1958 and 1959. They won Playoffs for the Pennant in 1928, 1936, 1948, 1951 and 1958. The Black Barons won Pennants in 1943, 1944, and, with the teenaged Mays, 1948.

The old Southern Association also included Alabama's Montgomery Rebels and Mobile Bears; Georgia's Atlanta Crackers and Macon Peaches; Tennessee's Memphis Chicks, Nashville Vols, Knoxville Smokies and Chattanooga Lookouts; Arkansas' Little Rock Travelers; and Louisiana's New Orleans Pelicans and Shreveport Sports.
By the late 1950s, the SA was boycotted by civil rights leaders, to the point where some member clubs joined already-integrated leagues. Finally, in 1961, a court ruled that the league had to field black players. In response, the league went out of business. In 1964, the original South Atlantic League (SAL or "Sally League") changed its name to the Southern League, and moved into many of the SA's cities, while a new league took the South Atlantic League name.

A new Barons team began play. In 1967, Birmingham native Charlie Finley, owner of the Kansas City Athletics (whom he moved to Oakland the next season), bought the team, and renamed them the Birmingham A's. Most of the Oakland dynasty of the 1970s played for this team at Rickwood, including Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando and Rollie Fingers, and won the 1967 Pennant.

This team lasted until 1975, and a new Barons was established in 1981, and played at Rickwood until 1987, winning SL Pennants in 1983 and 1987, making 10 Pennants won at Rickwood (counting years when they won both the regular season and the Playoffs as a single Pennant).

Since 1988, they have played the occasional game there, as Rickwood is now treated as a "living museum." Because of its age and its preservation, it has been used as a filming site for baseball-themed films such as Cobb and 42 (with computer-generated imagery allowing it to "play" Ebbets Field and the other 7 National League ballparks of 1947). 1137 2nd Avenue West, 3 miles west of downtown. Bus 5.

* Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. Home of the Barons from 1988 to 2012, it seats 10,800. Since 1986, the Barons have been a farm team of the Chicago White Sox, and "The Met" was the home field for future Pale Hose stars Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Paul Konerko -- as well as for a couple of guys who are better known for other sports, Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan. The Barons won Pennants there in 1989, 1993 and 2002.
Like many stadiums and arenas built in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, it was derided for not having the atmosphere of its predecessor. Also like many stadiums and arenas built in the JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan years, it was ripped for being too far from the center of town. So the Barons moved back to the city.

The Met still stands, mostly hosting high school football. It also hosted the NCAA Soccer Championships in 2011 and 2012. 100 Ben Chapman Drive -- named for the Alabama-born All-Star left fielder for the 1930s Yankees who became the notoriously racist manager of the 1947 Phillies, something he lived long enough to regret in an interview -- in Hoover, 15 miles south of downtown. No public transit access.

* Regions Field. Opening in 2013, this 8,500-seat stadium is considerably nicer and more accessible than the Met, and considerably more comfortable than Rickwood. It is an ideal park for a Class AA baseball team, as the Barons have always been. The Barons won the SL Pennant in their 1st season in the park, making a total of 15 Pennants in their various leagues.
1401 1st Avenue South, a mile southwest of downtown. Several buses go to the area, including the 8 and the 18.
* Legion Field. "The Gray Lady on Graymont" opened in 1927, and has been the center of sports in Alabama ever since. It seated 83,091 people at its peak.
In the 1940s

As stated earlier, it hosted some home games of both 'Bama and Auburn. Since 1991, it's hosted games of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. (UAB's main campus is a mile and a half south of downtown, at University Blvd. and 15th Street. Bus 8.) It's hosted bowl games: The Dixie Bowl (1948 and '49), the Hall of Fame Bowl (1977-85), the All-American Bowl (1986-90), and the Birmingham Bowl (2006-present).

It's been home to several pro teams: The Birmingham Americans, the only Champions of the World Football League (1974, changing their names to the Birmingham Vulcans for the never-completed 1975 season); the Birmingham Stallions, one of the better teams in the United States Football League (1983-85); the Birmingham Fire of the World League of American Football (1991-92); the Birmingham Barracudas, part of the Canadian Football League's ill-fated 1995 venture into the U.S.; and the Birmingham Thunderbolts of the ridiculous XFL in 2001.
With the 1961-2005 upper deck. This is how
it would have looked in the Bear's best years, and also
for the 1972 "Punt, 'Bama, Punt!" game that Auburn won.

From 1970 to 1995, it had artificial turf. It switched back to real grass so it could host some of the soccer games for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, 150 miles to the east. The U.S. team lost 3-1 to Argentina there on July 20, but beat Tunisia 2-0 2 days later.

But since switching back to artificial turf in 2006, the U.S. Soccer Federation hasn't used it as a site for either the men's or women's national team. The last national team game in the entire State of Alabama was the March 20, 2005 2-0 win over Guatemala at Legion Field.

The upper deck on the east side (there never was one on the west side) that was built in 1961 was removed in 2005, after an inspection deemed it unsafe. It was renovated in 2015, and now meets all safety requirements. It can now hold 71,594. 400 Graymont Avenue West, 2 miles west of downtown. Bus 38.
* Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center. Formerly the Jefferson County Civic Center, this complex opened in 1976, and includes a 19,000-seat arena that became home to the Birmingham Bulls (formerly the Toronto Toros) of the World Hockey Association.

They reached the WHA Playoffs in 1978, and featured such players as Rod Langway (the eventual Washington Capitals Hall-of-Famer was named to the WHA All-Time Team), Michel Goulet (a Hall-of-Famer for the Quebec Nordiques), Rick Vaive (who became the 1st Toronto Maple Leaf to score 50 goals in a season), Buzz Schneider (who went on to play for the U.S. team that won the 1980 Olympic Gold Medal -- eligible because he wasn't an NHL player), and, in his final season, Frank Mahovlich (the Maple Leafs' greatest player ever).

They were not among the WHA teams admitted to the NHL in 1979, and continued for 2 years in the Central Hockey League. Another team with the name played in the East Coast Hockey League from 1992 to 2001. It's hosted UAB basketball, pro wrestling and concerts. Elvis sang here on December 29, 1976.
The arena is now known as the Legacy Arena. The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, with its joint statue of the Bear and Shug, is part of the complex. 2100 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North (named for Birmingham's 1st black Mayor (1979-99, and still alive at age 82), at the intersection of 19th Street and 9th Avenue, across from City Hall, downtown.

The Birmingham Museum of Art is at 2000 Reverend Abraham Woods Jr Boulevard, formerly 8th Avenue. The 16th Street Baptist Church, site of a bombing that killed 4 teenage girls and injured 22 other people on September 15, 1963, is at 1530 6th Avenue North. The Bear is buried at Elmwood Cemetery, 600 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, 4 miles west of downtown. Bus 8. 

And while you're in Birmingham, don't forget to try the barbecue at Dreamland. 1427 14th Avenue South, 2 miles south of downtown, near the UAB campus. Bus 14.
Don Hutson, the Alabama and Green Bay Packer star who practically invented the position of wide receiver, still the greatest football player the State has ever produced (maybe Auburn's Bo Jackson would have been had he not gotten hurt), is buried at Fayette City Cemetery in Fayette, Alabama, 42 miles northeast of Tuscaloosa and 79 miles west of Birmingham.

* Montgomery. The State capital is 91 miles south of downtown Birmingham, 103 miles southeast of Tuscaloosa, and 54 miles southeast of Auburn.

The State House is at 600 Dexter Avenue. It was the 1st capitol building of the Confederate States of America. On its front portico is a star, marking the spot where Jefferson Davis stood as he was sworn in as the Confederate President. Alabama's Governors have been sworn in on that spot ever since, including George Wallace, who, the 1st time he was sworn in, on January 14, 1963, declared in his Inaugural Address, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!" He turned out to be right on the 1st 2, but wrong on the last a whole lot sooner than he expected.
The State House was also the end of the Voting Rights March that began in Selma, Alabama in March 1965. And it is just 1 block east of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King was pastor during the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott. 454 Dexter Avenue at Decatur Street. The Southern Poverty Law Center is next-door, at 400 Washington Avenue. The Civil Rights Memorial is across the street from the SPLC.

It was in front of the Empire Theater that Rosa Parks was arrested on the Cleveland Avenue bus on December 1, 1955. The theater was torn down, and the Rosa Parks Museum was erected on the site. 252 Montgomery Street, 8 blocks west of the State House. (The actual bus was preserved, and is now at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit.) About 5 blocks north, at 200 Coosa Street at Tallapoosa Street, is Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Montgomery Biscuits, a Class AA farm team of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Elvis sang at the Garrett Coliseum on December 3, 1955 (the arena was then known as the State Coliseum); March 6, 1974; and February 16, 1977. 1555 Federal Drive, 3 miles northeast of downtown. Like so many of Birmingham's notable sites, it is reached by a bus labeled Bus 8.

* Selma. The aforementioned Voting Rights March began at the Edmund Pettus Bridge -- built in 1940 and named for a Senator and Klansman -- 89 miles south of Birmingham, 77 miles southeast of Tuscaloosa, and 102 miles west of Auburn.

* Tuskegee. This small city is home to Tuskegee University, formerly the Tuskegee Institute, and its legendary scientist Booker T. Washington -- who, contrary to the Eddie Murphy bit from Saturday Night Live, died as perhaps the wealthiest black person in America due to his patents, not "penniless and insane, still trying to figure out how to play a record with a peanut."

The Institute was also home to the World War II pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, and the city was the birthplace of the aforementioned Rosa Parks. It is just 19 miles southwest of Auburn, just a half-hour away by car. It's 140 miles southeast of Tuscaloosa, and 130 miles southeast of Birmingham.

In addition to the preceding locations, Elvis gave concerts in Alabama at:

* Sheffield: The Sheffield Community Center on January 19, 1955; August 2, 1955 (2 shows); November 15, 1955 (2 shows);

* Mobile: Ladd Stadium on May 4 and 5, 1955; Curtis Gordon's Radio Ranch on June 29 and 30, 1955, and again on October 28, 1955; and at the Municipal Auditorium on September 14, 1970; June 20, 1973; June 2, 1975 (2 shows); and August 29, 1976 (2 shows). He was supposed to give another concert there on April 1, 1977, but, his lifestyle catching up with him, the show was canceled.

* Prichard: A morning show at Vigor High School, and afternoon and evening shows at the Greater Gulf States Fair, all on October 26, 1955.

* Jackson: National Guard Armory on October 27, 1955.

* Huntsville: The Von Braun Civic Center on May 30, 31, and June 1, 1975 (2 shows each on the 31st and the 1st); and September 6, 1976 (2 shows).

According to an article in the September 2014 issue of The Atlantic, the most popular NFL team in most of Alabama, including Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, is the New Orleans Saints, but Auburn is in the easternmost sliver of the State, where the Atlanta Falcons are preferred. While Alabama borders Tennessee, the Nashville-based Tennessee Titans don't seem to be a factor. The Alabama-Tennessee college rivalry may have something to do with that.

An article in the April 23, 2014 New York Times says that Atlanta has a much stronger hold over Alabama in baseball, with the Braves having a 34 percent share in Birmingham, 36 in Tuscaloosa, and a majority, 51, in Auburn. In each case, the Yankees and Red Sox are the 2nd- and 3rd-most popular. It may help that neither New Orleans, nor Memphis, nor Nashville has an MLB team.

And an article in the May 12, 2014 New York Times says the most popular NBA teams are the teams that had won recently: The Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. If they were to update that article, most likely, allegiances would have shifted to the LeBron-returned Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. If so, the closest NBA teams -- the Atlanta Hawks, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Memphis Grizzlies -- would remain out of luck. As for hockey fandom, forget it: They don't care.

No President of the United States has ever been born in Alabama, or had a home there. George Wallace, Governor 1963-67, 1971-75, and 1979-87, ran for President 3 times, and in 1968 won 5 States for 46 Electoral Votes as a 3rd-party candidate, making him the last person not either the Democratic nor the Republican nominee to get more than 1 Electoral Vote. And he ended up finishing 3rd in Democratic delegates in 1972. But he never really got close to the Presidency.

(UPDATE: Now that the 2016 Electoral Votes have been counted, Colin Powell is the last to get more than 1. Wallace remains the last to get more than 3.)

Only 1 Alabama native has even served as Vice President, and he was the briefest Vice President: William Rufus King, a longtime U.S. Senator. He was elected with Franklin Pierce in 1852, but was already sick, and died on April 18, 1853, just 45 days after being sworn in. He had long shared a room in a Washington boardinghouse with Senator James Buchanan, and it was rumored then, and believed by some now, that they were a gay couple. The friendship with King influenced the Pennsylvanian Buchanan's views on the South, making him too friendly with politicians from slave States and essentially allowing the Civil War to happen.

The tallest building in Alabama is the RSA Battle House Tower, 745 feet, at 11 N. Water Street in Mobile. It's considerably taller than the next-tallest, the Wells Fargo Tower, 454 feet, 420 20th Street North in Birmingham.

As far as I know, there's never been a TV show set in Alabama, but lots of movies have, especially those set around the Civil Rights Movement, and a few around Alabama football. Most of the latter have featured Bear Bryant as a character. These include The Bear (1984, played by Gary Busey), Forrest Gump (1994, played by Sonny Shroyer, a.k.a. Deputy Enos Strait on The Dukes of Hazzard), and Woodlawn (2015, played by Jon Voight).

Forrest's hometown of Greenbow, Alabama is fictional, and its scenes were filmed in Varnville, South Carolina. Most of the movie was filmed in that area, and the football scenes were filmed not in Alabama, but at Weingart Stadium, at East Los Angeles College. The scene of Forrest's graduation from 'Bama was filmed at the Bovard Administration Building at the University of Southern California.

Dewey Cox's hometown of Springberry, Alabama, as seen in Walk Hard, is also fictional. I suspect it was chosen because a section of rural Alabama would have been roughly halfway between the hometowns of the performers the film most clearly parodies: Johnny Cash of Dyess, Arkansas and Ray Charles of Greenville, Florida.

*

I don't expect too many of you to ever go to a football game at Alabama or Auburn. And the Iron Bowl simply may be unavailable to you due to ticket demand. But if you ever do visit, this guide should be very helpful.

Remember: Be kind to the home fans, and they will be kind back.

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