The battleground of the Iron Bowl is in Tuscaloosa or Auburn for one day each year. The other 364 days, the frontline falls elsewhere in the state. It’s in places like Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and hundreds of other cities and towns around Alabama.
But some places can be more hostile than others, depending on where it is and what the outcome of last season’s game.
“Everybody back home is an Auburn or an Alabama fan,” said inside linebacker Mack Wilson, who is from Montgomery. “So if we lose like last year, they’re going to make a big deal about it. They’re going to talk about it all year. The same for some of our friends that play at Auburn. It’s definitely a big challenge and we’re looking forward to competing against each other on Saturday.”
Wilson, now a junior, has gone back home to Montgomery after a win in the Iron Bowl his freshman year and after a loss in 2017. His hometown is about 50 miles from Auburn, but about 90 to Tuscaloosa. It’s one of the disputed territories in the rivalry.
“Most families are divided,” sophomore wide receiver Henry Ruggs III said. “I know my house was divided at one point in time, but of course they’re Alabama fans now.”
Ruggs is also a Montgomery native. For Alabama players, things can heat up when they go back home after a loss.
He went to high school with Auburn defensive back Daniel Thomas, who is second on the team with 66 tackles this season. When the Tigers upset Alabama 26-14 in Auburn last year, Thomas made sure to remind him when they met in the offseason.
“Of course he brought up the game and it was a laughing matter,” Ruggs said. “Of course, I’m a competitor and I didn’t like that he was talking about it, and they won.”
Both Ruggs and Wilson said they grew up Alabama fans, though both were recruited by both programs. Wilson was a sophomore visiting Auburn for the Iron Bowl in 2013 when the Kick Six decided the game. Senior tight end Hale Hentges, from Missouri, said he watched that game on TV as Alabama recruited him. Ruggs and Wilson have lived through moments like that as they grew up around the rivalry.
Football is part of their daily lives. The rivalry is still there even when the season ends when they go home.
“We don’t rub it in each other’s face,” Wilson said. “Last year, even though they beat us, every time they’d say something, one of us would say that we won the national championship, so it didn’t matter. It’s something we enjoy. We don’t ever get too sensitive about the situation. They beat us fair and square.”
Ruggs and Thomas will see each other again after the season. There’s a good chance they’ll be matched up at some point during the game on Saturday. They’ll also make time to talk on the field when the game goes final.
“I’ll end up finding them eventually after the game anyway, and of course the outcome of the game will be in the conversation,” Ruggs said.
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.