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The Biggest Iron Bowl of All

I've always thought Heaven is a lot like Iron Bowl week. When you think about it, life doesn't get much better than the next five days. In the course of 120 hours most of us will get an extended weekend, spend time with the people we love most (hopefully), eat enormous amounts of food and come together as a state to watch the greatest rivalry in college football.

How do you top that?

One thing is certain; every Iron Bowl week has its own feel. For Auburn players, coaches and fans, this year's edition is the biggest in 53 years. Never in Auburn's history has a national title and a Heisman Trophy hung in the balance over Thanksgiving weekend.

A year ago the same exact stakes were on the line for Alabama. That's enough to explain why this game is the greatest of all. Thinking about all that's up for grabs, well, it's enough to make you throw up your Thanksgiving leftovers.

So here we go. Who knows what stories will emerge in the coming days. Will the NCAA weigh in on Cam Newton? Will another unnamed source rear its ugly head? Rumors have always been part of the Iron Bowl. Expect the same this time around.

As predicted, many are jumping off the Auburn bandwagon ahead of Friday. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, who's been with Auburn since August, jumped ship Saturday and there will likely be more as the week progresses.

Lou Holtz made a fool of himself yesterday, throwing an Auburn helmet to the ground during a show taping, while he continued his character assassination on Newton. Like we've talked before, people love to build up their heroes and then tear them down.

Never underestimate the Alabama public relations machine. Few do it better. By early Friday morning, many of the state's media will have you wondering how Auburn can stay on the field with the twice beaten Crimson Tide.

In the end, all of this is nothing more than chatter to the players. Both teams will eat Thanksgiving together. Both will lockdown Thursday evening and turn their attention toward each other more than anything else. It's been a long grueling season for both programs. Unlike the fans, both coaches and players have an enormous amount of respect for the other.

Many like to paint the Iron Bowl as good ole fashion hate between two state programs. Noted college football writer Tony Barnhart said yesterday that the game is a "cultural war" where football is used to, "fight it out."

I couldn't disagree more. Neither side likes to admit it, but Auburn and Alabama fans are more alike than different. We work together, live next to each other and even marry into one another's families.

The whole state school vs. land grant institution talk may have meant something 40 years ago. Today, the two universities are much more alike than different.

Many will say this year's contest means more to Auburn. Don't believe it. Alabama is the defending national champions. The last thing they want is for Auburn to steal their thunder and take their pride.

Tuscaloosa will be crazy Friday afternoon. Don't forget the feeling you had when Auburn knocked off undefeated and second-ranked Alabama in 1989. Alabama fans won't have the emotions of "The First Time Ever;" but make no mistake, they want this one every bit as much as Auburn.

As an Auburn person, I hope you look forward to Friday. It's a day to celebrate, not dread.  Auburn has the better team. It has Cam Newton. It has the world against them.

And Gene Chizik's team would have it no other way.