Tuscaloosa to Auburn: Football Championship Tour
by Lee Sentell
The University of Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers are cross-state rivals in football, but together they have won multiple SEC and national football championship titles. Players from the schools have won four Heisman Trophies since 2009, including the first back-to-back trophies awarded to different universities from the same state.
Sports fans can visit the campuses at Tuscaloosa and Auburn to see the handsome Waterford crystal trophies that are surrounded by other awards, photos, and athletic memorabilia dating back more than 120 years. In between is the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in downtown Birmingham where stories of inducted athletes are showcased. Since football is the top sport in the state, the Football Championship Tour is naturally named Road Trip #1.
See Why the Tide’s Magic Number is 18
Since the team from Tuscaloosa has dominated the national championships during the past decade, it is the logical starting point for your tour. Travel I-20/59 to exit 71 and follow the signs to the campus and Bryant Drive and park at the rear of the Paul Bryant Museum (300 Paul W. Bryant Dr.; 205-348-4668). The museum is open seven days a week except for major holidays.
The Paul W. Bryant Museum is dark and quiet, like a religious shrine. This is appropriate since Tide fans believed that the coach could walk on water.
The first thing you notice is the museum is dark and quiet, like a chapel or a religious shrine. This is appropriate, since Tide fans believed that “Bear” Bryant, the most successful football coach of his era, could walk on water. His teams won six of the school’s 18 national championships. Spotlights direct your attention to numerous displays of team and game photos and lots of trophies. During his 25-year tenure as Alabama’s head coach, he amassed six national championships and 13 conference championships. When he retired in 1982, he held the record for most wins as head coach in collegiate football history with 323, a record that lasted until 1996.
Learn About Nick Saban’s Own Dynasty
A few steps away is the eight-pound Waterford trophy in the shape of a football that you came to see. The symbol of the 2009 national championship gleams under a light in front of a photo of Coach Nick Saban holding the trophy Alabama won for beating Texas in the title game. It represents not only the Tide’s 13th national title, but announces that a dynasty under a new coach is under way.
The Crimson Tide was ranked in The AP’s top 25 for 64 consecutive weeks while winning national titles over Texas 37-21 and LSU 21-0 within three years.
After winning a title at LSU, Saban has won six national championships at Tuscaloosa during his first 13 years at the university. The Crimson Tide was ranked in The AP’s top 25 for 64 consecutive weeks while winning national titles over Texas 37-21 and LSU 21-0 within three years. The actual trophy Bama received at the Rose Bowl resides in the offices of the athletic department. The $30,000 replica you see was bought by the museum. In 2009, running back Mark Ingram won the 75th Heisman Trophy, the first ever for a Bama player. (Coach Bryant promoted his teams, not individual players.) Running back Derrick Henry won it six years later, and receiver DeVonta Smith won it six years after Henry.
To see where many of the legendary football victories have taken place, walk four blocks over to Bryant-Denny Stadium (920 Paul W. Bryant Dr.; 205-348-3600). Planning for its expansion began shortly after Saban arrived. It had a capacity of 101,821 by the 2017 season, and is the eighth largest in the nation.
Walk around to the north side to see large bronze statues of coaches Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Gene Stallings and Nick Saban, who have each won football championships.
Where To Stay and Eat in Tuscaloosa
Stay overnight at the Hotel Capstone (320 Bryant Drive.; 800-477-2262) on the opposite side of the Bryant Conference Center from the museum.
Don’t leave Tuscaloosa without eating Dreamland Barbecue (5535 15th Ave. E., off Jug Factory Rd.; 205-758-8135). It has been a staple in the area since 1958.
Stop in Birmingham
En route to see the state’s other crystal trophy in Auburn, head east on I-59/20 for 56 miles toward Birmingham, where the Tide and Tigers played the “Iron Bowl” from 1948 through 1988 at the neutral site of Legion Field (400 Graymont Ave. W.; 205-254-2391). The ticket distribution was split 50/50.
Auburn had long contended that Birmingham, less than an hour from Tuscaloosa, was not a “neutral” field, and after years of lobbying, succeeded in having their home games against Alabama played in Auburn. The Tigers played their first game against Alabama in Jordan-Hare stadium in 1989, when they upset the second-ranked Tide.
The big game played here now is the annual Magic City Classic. The rivalry game between the Alabama State University Hornets from Montgomery and the Alabama A&M Bulldogs from Huntsville, two historically black universities, often attracts 65,000 fans. Almost that many, without tickets, tailgate outside during the game.
Head to downtown Birmingham to learn about many sports legends at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame (2150 Richard Arrington Blvd. N.; 205-323-6665). The museum is housed adjacent to the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.
Since 1967, the Hall of Fame has been the benchmark for other sports museums across the nation. More than 5,000 sports artifacts are elegantly displayed in the 30,000-square foot museum. When ESPN ranked the top 100 athletes of the past century, five out of the top 15 greatest ever were from Alabama and honored here. They are Jesse Owens, Hank Aaron, Joe Louis, Willie Mays and Carl Lewis. Allow a couple of hours to do your visit justice. When you leave, notice the headquarters of the Southeastern Conference across the street. Former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer is considered to be the "father" of the BCS.
While in Birmingham, drive to the Southside neighborhood to see the historic marker identifying where Bama and Auburn first played on Feb. 22, 1893. It is on Clairmont Avenue (an extension of University Boulevard) east of St. Vincent’s Hospital in front of the BBVA bank administrative center.
Discover How Auburn’s Wait for a Crown Paid Off
Auburn coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan guided his 1957 team through an undefeated season, beating Bama 40-0 in the season finale to win The Associated Press football championship title. Bama responded by hiring Paul Bryant away from Texas A&M and initiated the modern era of Southern football domination. Shug Jordan and Bear Bryant coached the rival teams for years, with Bama winning most of the time.
Tiger quarterback Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy in 1971. Coach Pat Dye amassed a 99-39-4 record from 1981 until 1992, along the way ending a nine-year drought against Bama, and Bo Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in 1985. Terry Bowden coached Auburn to an undefeated season in 1993 and Tommy Tuberville’s 2004 team went undefeated, but neither won a championship.
Quarterback Cam Newton led Auburn to a perfect 14-0 season in 2010, defeating Oregon in the championship game and winning the third Heisman for a Tiger player.
Auburn had a museum tucked inside its athletics department headquarters for a number of years, complete with trophies and a replica of the famous Toomer’s Drugs Corner where toilet paper hung in faux trees. (For decades, Auburn students have “rolled Toomer’s Corner” to celebrate important victories.) The museum was hard to find and the exhibits were removed.
A 9,121-seat basketball arena opened across the street from Jordan-Hare Stadium (251 South Donahue Dr.; 334-844-4750) in 2010 with space to house its trophies. The Auburn Arena (250 Beard-Eaves Ct.; 334-844-9839) is between Donahue Drive and Heisman Drive. It is set back from the street with the entrance facing a cluster of dorms, not the stadium or the street.
Admission to the Auburn Arena is free except when there’s a basketball game; then you have to buy a game ticket.
Get To Know Auburn's Three Heisman Trophy Winners
The Lovelace Hall of Honor is not a freestanding museum, but a section between the lobby and the basketball arena’s concession stand. Walk left up a ramp to see a trio of the school’s legendary “Aubie” mascot suits behind glass. Pat Sullivan’s Heisman is encased in a partition near a football from the 1957 season that is painted with the score of the Bama game. Look for an engraved silver cup that was presented to the API (Auburn) team for beating Bama 32-22 during their first game in 1893. A warrior statue was Auburn’s prize for winning the second game, 40-16, later in 1893.
Coming back from a 24-point deficit, Auburn’s 28-27 win over Bama in Tuscaloosa in 2010 set a school record and was pivotal in the run for the BCS crown.
Under coach Gene Chizik, quarterback Cam Newton led the 2010 Tigers to an unexpected perfect 14-0 season, defeating Oregon in the championship game in Arizona and accepting the third Heisman for a Tiger. Coming back from a 24-point deficit, Auburn’s 28-27 win over Bama in Tuscaloosa in 2010 set a school record and was pivotal in the run for the BCS crown. Auburn’s BCS trophy is housed in a circular glass case with the scores printed on the glass. Lots of parents stand their kids in front of the trophy for photos. Streamers overhead list titles or achievements in football and other sports, suggesting that those victories are also worth a celebratory rolling of Toomer’s Corner.
Although there is a shop adjacent to the awards, the largest selection of Auburn merchandise is at J&M Bookstore (115 S. College St.; 334-887-7007).
Where To Stay
Want to stay in the official campus hotel? The Hotel at Auburn University (Corner of Thatch and South College, 241 S. College St.; 334-821-8200) is managed by a founder of the Ritz-Carlton chain and staffed by university hospitality students.
Toomer’s Drugs (100 N. College St.; 334-887-3488) has been at the intersection of College and Magnolia streets for more than 130 years. It is the ideal place for a break to enjoy freshly squeezed lemonade. The oaks across the intersection at the main gate to the school have been “rolled” with toilet paper to celebrate athletic victories.