January 5th, 2012 by Andrew Joseph
In the state of Alabama, all it takes are two words to distinguish friend from foe: “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle.”
There are many great rivalries in sports: Yankees-Red Sox, Michigan-Ohio State, North Carolina-Duke. But they don’t compare to the venomous and consuming in-state college football rivalry in the Heart of Dixie. The century-old rivalry between the Universities of Alabama and Auburn, simply known as the Iron Bowl, dates all the way back to 1893. In a state where there are no professional sports teams, college football takes center stage. The 118-year-old rivalry is considered by many as not just college football’s fiercest rivalry, but rather the most heated rivalry in all of American sports.
WATCH on ESPN America: Mon 9th Jan 9:00pm UK / 21:30 CET – 60 mins.
Check local listings for repeat showings
Martin Khodabakhshian’s ESPN Film “Roll Tide/War Eagle” examines the rivalry that defines the two storied schools. The documentary mainly focuses on the past two years, in which the Iron Bowl rose to an unprecedented level of intensity and humility on both sides.
The 2009-10 season was a year that the Crimson Tide faithful had long-awaited. When Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, he was believed to be the right man to wake up the sleeping giant. From 1958 to 1982, legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant helped make Alabama football the powerhouse that it is today. He captured six national championships in his tenure, but the Tide failed to be a consistent winner after Bryant’s retirement. Gene Stalling led Alabama to its first championship since the “Bear” in 1992, but it would take years of mediocrity to rejuvenate ‘Bama.
Saban was a proven winner and outstanding recruiter. He led LSU to a national title in 2003 before leaving to coach the Miami Dolphins. In 2009, Alabama finally became the force that many deemed inevitable under Saban. The Crimson Tide capped a perfect regular season with a 26-21 win over rival Auburn and went on to defeat Florida and Texas en route to a national championship. Running back Mark Ingram also won the first-ever Heisman Trophy for Alabama. With virtually the entire team returning in 2010, Alabama looked like an easy pick to be a back-to-back champion.
However, Auburn would have something to say about that, led by the most polarizing figure in college football history: Cam Newton.
2010 was the year that changed the Iron Bowl rivalry forever. Alabama began the season ranked #1 in nearly every poll, while Auburn was modestly rated at #23 in the Coaches’ Poll. As Alabama dropped two tough road games to South Carolina and LSU, the Auburn Tigers kept on winning. It often seemed as if Newton magically appeared in blue and orange to lead Auburn to the Promised Land, but Auburn’s dream season was not devoid of controversy.
When word broke of Newton’s father, Cecil, auctioning off Cam’s services to teams, Auburn naturally went under immense scrutiny. Week-after-week there was a new development to the saga as “Scam Newton” became a commonly used pseudonym amongst opposing fans. Despite all the distractions, Newton did not stop winning. In the most anticipated Iron Bowl showdown, Newton led Auburn back from a 24-point deficit, shocking Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium with a 28-27 Tiger win. A Heisman Trophy and national title would come shortly after for Newton and Auburn.
The Auburn win was so demoralizing to the Tide faithful that one fan by the name of Harvey Updyke would take the rivalry way too far.
Football may be treated similarly to a religion in the South, but at the end of the day, the lives and safety of others trump sports rivalries. Even amidst the rivalry’s most hostile times, the Alabama and Auburn fanbases can put aside its differences and be there for one another when help is needed the most.
Perhaps the greatest thing about sports, and being a producer, is that just when you think you’ve seen it all, something surprises you. Being in sports television and production for 16 years, I thought I had seen and understood what makes a great rivalry in sports: The storylines, the twists and turns, the characters involved, triumph and tragedy. When I was presented with the opportunity to produce my second film, “Roll Tide/War Eagle,” it struck me immediately as a director’s dream in regards to the story arc and storylines. I mean, you really couldn’t make this stuff up.
Joe Tessitore, the voice of “Friday Night Fights” and ESPN college football, had a vision: What has happened in the past two years within the already storied in-state football rivalry between the University of Alabama and Auburn University has all the makings of a Hollywood script. The only difference was: This story is real. The super power and the underdog, NCAA scandals and on-going investigations, unfathomable comebacks, crazed fans, poisoned trees, shocking reveals, historic and deadly tornadoes that lead to a redemptive twist. Tessitore reached out to former ESPN The Magazine senior writer Bruce Feldman and together they pitched a film that, to me, was a special opportunity to unleash a new way of documentary storytelling: blending artful storytelling with unforgettable moments in time, and pushing the envelope in production while keeping the integrity of tradition and history.
I did not fully grasp the rivalry until I spent three weeks in the state of Alabama and several other states, interviewing people who played, coached and rooted for this rivalry. Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, Shaun Alexander, Cam Newton, Mark Ingram, Nick Saban, Gen Chizik, Gay Talese and Paul Finebaum, just to name a few. And just when I thought I had an idea of how venomous, consuming and passionate it is, I was surprised. Again.
Martin Khodabakhshian – director
For details of other recent ESPN FIlms, click on the links below:
|CATCHING HELL||Finding Steve Bartman|
|RENEE||The Renee Richards Story|
|THE DOTTED LINE||Morgan Spurlock’s look at Sports Agents|
|CHARISMATIC||Horse & Jockey Rags to Riches|
|UNGUARDED||The Chris Herren story|
|ROLL TIDE / WAR EAGLE||The Alabama Auburn Rivalry|
|THE REAL ROCKY||Chuck Wepner – The Bayonne Bleeder who inspired the “Rocky” films|
|20 May - 06:00||30 For 30 - Tim Richmond: To the Limit|
|20 May - 07:00||30 For 30 - Little Big Men|
|31 May - 21:30||30 For 30 - The Best that Never Was|
|1 Jun - 04:30||30 For 30 - You Don't Know Bo|
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