The Iron Bowl, it's more than just football.
| The Iron Bowl. The Auburn Tigers versus The Alabama Crimson Tide. Few things are more loved in the state of Alabama than football, and the men who can bring your team to victory. The Iron Bowl, so called as it was played for many years in the south's center for the iron and steel industry, Birmingham.
Days, sometimes hours after birth parents are dressing their infants in Alabama Crimson Red or the Auburn Orange & Blue. Soon after the little ones utter that first "mama" and "dada", they learn the exuberant chant "Roll Tide!" or the cry of "War Eagle!". Other states and universities have great traditional rivalries---Texas vs. Texas A&M, Florida and Florida State---but none can match the intensity of The Iron Bowl. Tide and Tiger loyalties run deeper than bloodlines, can bring an end to friendships and ruin business deals.
Jed's parents are both lifelong Auburn fans. His mom, June actually went to Auburn for two semesters before she came back and took cosmetology at the ju-co. His daddy never made it to college, but Paw-Paw Trammell actually played for Ralph "Shug" Jordan, the legendary Tiger coach in the '50's. Jed never had the grades to get into Auburn University, so he went to the same junior college his mom went to and got a business management degree.
He put that two year degree to use in the art of furniture assembly as a line supervisor at the local plant. All in all it wasn't a bad job, but with the recent downturn in the economy things had been really slow. Upper management was feeling the pressure, and as everyone knows shit rolls down hill, so they were passing that pressure along to those out on the floor.
This hasn't exactly been a banner year for Jed. The downturn at work, an impending layoff, and of course Lily's leaving; all led to his seeking that liquid stress reliever more and more often. The one shining light is his beloved Auburn Tigers. A perfect 11 and 0 record headed into The Iron Bowl and a chance at the national championship. It may seem like a silly thing, but despite losing his wife and possibly losing his job, if the Tigers could get the win against Alabama he would consider it a hell of a year. Jobs and woman come and go, but a chance to rub it in the noses of those pompous Crimson Tide fans for the next 365 days would be priceless; would make it all worth it.
The day of the Iron Bowl is much like Super Bowl Sunday. A full house with friends and family pulling for their favorite team, plenty of food and drink; and always the real possibility of fists flying late in the evening---all in good fun of course. But this would be the second year it would just be him and his buddy Mike watching the game. When you get past thirty and your wives have left you, your circle of friends tends to contract somewhat. They'd been friends since grade school and Mike was a pretty good guy. His two biggest faults being that he tended to exaggerate his stories and being one of those pompous Alabama fans.
They had always given each other good natured ribbing over the years; a time or two after several beers, things got a little serious. But Jed and Mike had remained best buddies despite their differing allegiances to football teams.
The week leading up to the Iron Bowl is all ways filled with hype and trash talk by players, coaches, and obviously the fans. Jed had felt himself wound up extra tight this week. It's such a huge game for the Tigers; not just the earth stopping momentousness of the usual Iron Bowl, this year Auburn has it's first shot at a legitimate national title since 1957. Over the years bad luck and flat out media bias have kept Auburn out of the national picture---don't even get him started on the sham that was the 2004 season. The Tigers absolutely devastated every team on their schedule that year, only to be denied a shot at the national championship by a flawed BCS system.
This year is going to be different---it had to be different. The only thing standing in the way of Auburn playing for an undisputed national championship is the South Carolina Gamecocks next week in the SEC championship game and of course today, Alabama, the defending national champs with no chance to repeat, trying to play spoiler to their cross-state rival.
Mike came over to Jed's house early to catch the three hours of pre-game from the local affiliate, before the official pre-game from CBS Sports began. Kick-off wasn't until 1:30 pm and they started drinking Bud Lights at about 10 am---but what the hell, it's Iron Bowl game day. They had been giving each other the prerequisite needling, but Mike had continued to harp on the one possible black cloud hanging over Auburn's hopes for national glory, the possible NCAA violations of their tremendously talented quarterback Cam Newton. Or as Mike had put it---several irritating times---"Scam" Newton. Newton's father had been accused of looking for financial compensation for his son. Hey, who says there's no pro football in Alabama?
Jed, with the anticipation, the hype and build up all week to the game had him walking on a razor wire. Sometimes he felt as if his emotions were a spring being slowly, constantly wrenched tighter, and tighter. Ten minutes before kick-off when Mike made one of his numerous, predictable "Scam" Newton comments, Jed had to consciously stop himself from reaching over and slapping Mike's Alabama hat off his thick skull and slamming his face in the bowl of chips on the coffee table.
Finally, almost mercifully kick-off arrived. Then disaster struck. On Alabama's first drive, just minutes into the game, the Crimson Tide scored. Auburn got the ball and were incomprehensibly shut down---three and out---and had to punt it back to 'Bama. Even more shockingly, a few short plays later Alabama scored again and now up 14 to nothing.
OK, Tigers get the ball back, time for Cam to turn it on; show why he's the leading Heisman Trophy candidate this year.
No way, no frikin' way! They are stopped; three and out again! This is the number two team in the country, Jed's beloved Tigers, falling apart right before his eyes.
"Yesss!!! Roll Tide! Heeyaw, roll Tide roll!" Mike is shouting, taunting and Jed is involuntarily trying to remember which closet his softball bat is in---he swears if he had it in his hands this minute, he'd make cube steak out of Mike's brains.
"Take your roll Tide roll and blow it out your ass," Jed says and slams his hands on the coffee table. He gets up and heads down the hall to the bathroom. This is unbelievable, unthinkable. After all the build up, Auburn is in danger of being out of the game before the first quarter is over. Jed relieves himself, runs some cold water and splashes it in his face. He can still hear Mike in the living room whooping it up---asshole.
His hands drop to his jean pockets. In the left he can feel his folding knife. He takes it out and opens it. A Buck spear point pocket knife with it's rosewood sides and two and half inch stainless steel blade. Yeah, two and half inches shoved right through Mike's eye, piercing his dull witted brain.
"I swear to God, if he doesn't shut that trap of his, I'll do it. And do it right now," Jed says to his reflection in the bathroom mirror.
For a split second he could see himself going down the hall and walking up to Mike and shutting him up for good. Then Jed is startled by the wild, disheveled look in his eyes. He took a deep breath and pushed the rage back into that box---the box that once open is so hard to close. He looked at himself again in the mirror. Was it that wild look in his eyes that finally convinced Lily to pack her things and get out?
Stunned. There is really no other word for it. Jed was literally stunned. Alabama kept the Tigers off balanced and scored on it's first three possessions. 'Bama's quarterback Greg McElroy and his go to receiver Julio Jones put up career high numbers in the first half. There were a couple of bright moments when a Tiger defender stripped the ball from a Crimson Tide back causing a fumble and a clutch sack by big man Nick Fairley caused another fumble; both most likely keeping points off the board for the Tide.
Still at halftime the score was an unthinkable 24 - 7 in favor of Alabama. Jed was beside himself and that yapping turd Mike wasn't helping things. Something was bubbling just under the surface. Rage. Jed knew, no doubt, it was white hot rage. Just a thin layer of insulation he could peel back and give into it. Like bile from his stomach, that rage seemed to be quicker to surface lately.
He really hadn't thought much of his increasing uncontrollable anger until six weeks ago when he beat the snot out of an unfortunate driver of a Hyundai that happened to cut him off. Jed chased the weasel until he finally pulled over. He then let that box open---that rage deep in his bowels...
When it was over, the poor guy was laying bleeding on the side of the road, Jed finally coming back to himself was stunned---yeah, much like right now---stunned that he was capable of such brutality. He had the thought then, that somehow Lily wouldn't have been all that surprised of the force of his rage.
Unlike the bar brawls he bragged about, he didn't tell anyone of the roadside encounter. Actually he was ashamed at how he let that primordial emotion get the best of him. He just patiently waited for the sheriff to show up one day at work and arrest him. But it never happened. He supposed the guy was as ashamed as he was.
Now at half time and his beloved Tigers down 24 to 7, that fucker Mike “yeehawing” and “roll Tiding“, he could feel that deep down box wanting to open again. That box that contains our animal, caveman, thoughtless anger.
Jed jumped off the couch and kicked over a wooden chair that sat against the wall near the kitchen. Walking into the kitchen he threw his Bud Light bottle in the trash so hard it shattered in the bottom of the garbage can, all the while he could hear Mike whooping it up in the living room.
Jed crossed the kitchen to the knife block on the counter next to the microwave. He pulled out the long carving knife, the one he used just yesterday to carve the Thanksgiving turkey. He looked with kind of an awe at the simplicity of the blade and he thought of the satisfaction of shoving it in Mike's throat. The joy of seeing the surprise in his eyes and the blood spurting from his jugular. Roll fucking Tide!
On the TV in the other room he could hear the halftime interview with Auburn coach Gene Chizik as the team was headed back onto the field. He was telling the pretty sideline reporter that it was still anyone's game.
Yes, maybe it was. Deep breath. Jed put the knife back in it's slot on the counter.
Jubilation. There is really no other word for it. Jed literally felt unadulterated jubilation. The 2010 Iron Bowl was a tale of two halves. In the second half the Alabama offense fell apart and their defense was no match for the Cam Newton show.
It was close. Alabama no doubt came to play. Give them credit, but Jed's beloved Auburn Tigers pulled it out. Unbelievable, 28 to 27 victory. Auburn kept their hopes for a national championship alive by staging the biggest comeback in program history against their biggest foe.
Jed to say the least was overjoyed. The disappointments of the last year all but forgotten.
"We beat 'Bama!!" Jed screamed with sheer elation. Of course it's always "We". You may not go there, have any family members there, maybe no ties at all except the devotion decided as a toddler that you are going to give your allegiance to this team. It's always "We".
"We beat 'Bama!! Iron Bowl champs, the Auburn Tigers!" Jed was jumping up and down, dancing in the small living room of his small house; and despite what some might see as a small life, Jed was feeling nothing short of sheer, exuberant, orgasmic---joy.
He had to laugh at himself now. How crazy, just an hour or so ago he had those murderous thoughts---about his best friend no less! How silly. It was easy to convince himself now that those were just fleeting thoughts; all though at the time seemed to take an iron will to keep himself from acting on those thoughts. Nothing serious---c'mon, it's just a football game right? But damn it. The Tigers won!
"Waaarrrr Eeaagle!!!" Jed let out with his arms extended to the ceiling in the international victory sign.
In Jed's peripheral vision he saw Mike grab his Bud Light bottle by the neck and slam the fat end on the table. The bottom end broke off leaving Mike holding the long neck with a jagged edge.
"Oh c'mon Mike, there's always next ye---"
Before Jed could finish, Mike shoved the serrated edge into Jed's throat and jerked it to the left. The deep gash went from the center to nearly the back of his neck. At first Jed couldn't register what was happening.
"Did Mike really just plunge his jagged beer bottle in my throat?" he thought. And then the pain; but really the pain was nothing compared to the sickening sight of your own blood shooting half way across the room.
The realization of what was happening slowly crept into Jed's body. As he was losing the strength in his legs and buckling to the floor, he caught the murderous gaze of Mike. A look he saw in himself earlier in the bathroom mirror. Was this the look that Lily had seen in his own eyes?
As he fell on his back he looked down amazed at the thick, syrupy, crimson tide of blood beginning to cover his chest.
Jed looked up just in time to see Mike raising his big, black work boot getting ready to stomp down on his face.
He saw that and thought, "Roll Tide Roll"---and then he saw and thought nothing forever more.
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