TUSCALOOSA — A star quarterback at Phenix City’s Central High, Jonathan Wallace led his football team to the Class 6A state semifinals last year.
But as Wallace prepares to quarterback Auburn today in the Iron Bowl, he isn’t expecting his old high school coach to cheer for him. Even though Wallace is only a college freshman, he more than understands how thickly drawn the battle lines are for Alabama vs. Auburn.
“He told me he’ll have to go with his alma mater,” Wallace said, with a half-smile.
Wallace’s high school coach is Woodrow Lowe, a former Crimson Tide All-America linebacker in the 1970s who was 3-1 against arch-rival Auburn. Who else would he cheer for, even with a prized former student playing for the other side?
Nothing divides the state more than the Iron Bowl as folks choose either Alabama crimson and white or Auburn blue and orange. Nothing brings the state together more than the Iron Bowl as so many people join in their love of college football.
“The Iron Bowl is a big deal,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who will coach in his sixth one today. “It’s a legendary game that people remember for a long, long time and still talk about games that happened in the past.”
Today’s game in Tuscaloosa offers a stark contrast among the teams. Alabama enters ranked No. 2 nationally and with a 10-1 record, while Auburn sits at 3-8, with no bowl game to attend.
Alabama is a 31.5-point favorite, the biggest point spread since at least 1977. The Crimson Tide was favored by 21.5 in 1977 and 2011 — both Alabama wins.
The weather is expected to be sunny but cold. Temperatures are expected to be 52 degrees at kickoff but will drop into the 40s by the end.
In between, something memorable will happen. Even Wallace knows that.
“No matter what year you played or what your part was, you’re always going to be remembered 10, 20, 30 years from now,” he said. “People still are going to be talking about it. It’s that important.”
While Wallace grew up about 30 minutes from Auburn’s campus as a fan of the Tigers, Alabama’s Christion Jones grew up outside of Birmingham, about an hour from the site of today’s game, Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Jones’ family bled crimson. Not red — crimson. So imagine what it was like when Christion signed to play football for the Crimson Tide.
“My family were Alabama fans, and you know that once you grow up in that family, that’s what you are,” he said. “You’re not able to choose. So I was already prone to who I wanted to be and where I wanted to go to school.
“So now my family gets to see me — it’s the Iron Bowl and they get to see their child, their nephew, their cousin, play in this game that we all enjoy watching.”
Auburn (3-8) at Alabama (10-1)