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Countdown to Kickoff: 39 Days

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Terry Bowden’s final Iron Bowl victory.

The Associated Press

It wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

Auburn entered the 1997 Iron Bowl 8-2 facing a struggling Tide team at 4-6. A Tigers win would not only secure them bragging right in the state for the next 365 days but it would also punch their ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. All the #13 ranked Auburn Tigers had to do was beat a bad Alabama team in Jordan-Hare.

But this is Auburn football and nothing can be easy.

It started ok for the Tigers as they jumped out to a 6-0 lead thanks to today’s hero Jaret Holmes. But things went sideways quickly. It started with an ill advised late throw deep down the middle by Dameyune Craig trying to hit Hicks Poor. It ended up being knocked up in the air and landing in an Alabama player’s hands. Shortly after, Freddie Kitchens hit Calvin Hall for the go ahead score.

An Auburn fumble late in the 2nd quarter setup an easy field goal for the Tide and it was 10-6 heading into halftime. Midway through the 3rd quarter, things got worse. The Tide marched down the field on 11 plays and the drive ended with a spectacular run by Shaun Alexander for the 12 yard score. All of a sudden, Auburn’s SEC Championship dreams were crashing in around them and everyone’s worst nightmares seemed to be coming true.

But Auburn wasn’t done yet. Craig responded to the Tide score by putting together a drive of his own. Fred Beasley leaped over the pile to end Auburn’s scoring drought and cut the score to 17-12. Auburn could have cut the lead to 3 but Karsten Bailey dropped the wide open 2 pt conversion.

Early in the 4th quarter, after an Alabama missed field goal (obviously) Auburn creeped closer when Jaret Holmes connected on his 3rd field goal of the day. All the Tigers needed were 3 points to save the season and escape this hell of a game. But it sure didn’t seem like those 3 points were coming....

Auburn’s offense struggled to do much of anything the rest of the 4th quarter and the Tide took over possession with just under 3 minutes to go in the game. Shaun Alexander picked up one first down for the Tide but the Auburn defense bowed up. After stopping Alexander on two straight rushes, Alabama faced a 3rd & 8 situation. Do you run it one more time to eat up clock but risk putting the ball back in Craig’s hands with time left? Or do you go for the jugular? Alabama went for the jugular, calling a screen pass to fullback Ed Scissum who had not touched the ball all day....

That Jordan-Hare voodoo is sumtin ain’t it?

Scissum’s fumble with under a minute left gave Auburn one final shot at victory. The Tigers picked up a first down but couldn’t move it any further. That meant Holmes needed to connect on a 39 yard field goal to send Auburn fans home happy and to cement himself a hero in Auburn football lore.

This was probably the last happy time for Terry Bowden as Auburn’s head football coach. The Tigers went on to Atlanta where they were properly thumped by the Florida Gators for a 2nd time that season. Brain fart on my part... This was of course the year AU lost the heartbreaker to Peyton Manning and the Vols. Then came the implosion that was the 1998 season and the birth of the Tommy Tuberville era.

But we will always have this moment together won’t we Terry?

If you feel nostalgic and are interested in sleeping through your alarm clock tomorrow morning, you can watch the complete 1997 Iron Bowl in the video below.

39 days till kickoff! War Eagle!