Cowart says fans, not players, create biggest part of UA-AU rivalry

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 19, 2003

For many years it was all about Alabama and coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, who beat Auburn 19 times from 1959-1981 in the greatest rival game in college football.

But the Auburn faithful will remember the early years of Auburn coach Pat Dye and the great shift of power in the state of Alabama in the early 1980s. It was a time when Tiger running back Bo Jackson began to make a name for himself and the great Alabama-Auburn rivalry was as strong as ever.

Though Bama ruled through the 1970s, winning nine straight from 1973-1981, Dye would change everything in 1982 beating Bama 23-22 and again in 1983, 23-20.

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That year was also the year that a young Marengo County native headed to Auburn to become an architect.

Yann Cowart graduated from Marengo Academy in 1982 after being a part of two back-to-back AISA Longhorns state championship teams, and although he wasn’t very big as far as offensive linemen go, Cowart walked on at Auburn in 1983 and found a starting position at offensive guard for the Tigers.

While at Auburn, Cowart battled between the trenches for four years from 1982-1986 and knows all about the highs and lows of the Iron Bowl.

After being red-shirted as a freshmen, Cowart’s first two Iron Bowl years were plagued with disappointment. The Tigers lost two close battles in ’84 and ’85 by a mere two points, and Cowart is still haunted by the sounds.

"The ’85 game is one I will never forget. I had blown my knee out making a block up field late in the game. We had the lead and I headed to the locker room with just minutes left in the game. I didn’t see Van Tiffin’s kick, but I heard it on the radio from the locker room. That was an all-around disappointing game," Cowart said.

The next year, the Tigers repaid the favor beating Bama 21-17 with a last minute touchdown run by Lawyer Tillman, and Cowart was able to see the other side of the story for once.

Not many years after Cowart graduated from Auburn the rivalry was altered when it was moved from Birmingham’s Legion Field to Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium in 1989 and many wondered how it would affect the greatest rivalry game in college football.

While the rivalry did seem to reach its peak during those years at Legion Field all things do change with time. But there have been other changes as well in this game of games that many like Cowart have noticed over the years.

"I think things have changed over the years especially when it came to offense. We used to get embarrassed if we didn’t gain at least 350 rushing yards in a game. But today the game has become more confusing offensively," Cowart said.

While the game plan may involve a few more technical aspects and coaches no longer draw plays in the dirt, the game still means the same to the fans. After all, it is the fans who make this game what it is.

This year’s game marks the 68th meeting between the two schools with Alabama leading the series at 38-28-1, and for the first time since 1980, both teams are unranked going into the Iron Bowl.

And According to Cowart, the key to an Auburn victory lies in their ability to stick to what has worked in the past.

While two decades have passed since Cowart last played, he said much shouldn’t change this year.

And if Auburn stays consistent and focuses on the run, Cowart thinks the Tigers can pull out another close Iron Bowl.