The first official Iron Bowl was played in Spokane, Washington, behind the house of a real estate broker named Teddy Hall.
That first stadium, Jordan-Hall, when lined and converted from serene suburban dog shelter to Auburn vs. Alabama clan clash arena, was 20 yards long and 10 yards wide and lined with interlocking AU flags and homemade War Eagle banners.
“If you go to the website, you can see it’s half-makeshifty,” says Mike Hall, brother of Teddy and current resident of San Marcos, Texas. “But then we were like, ‘You know what, let’s do this every year.’”
Confused? OK, step back with me three steps. When I said the Iron Bowl, I really meant the Hall Family Iron Bowl. It’s not The Iron Bowl. But it’s not far off, in spirit at least. One is an eternal struggle between two teams of differing locations and color schemes and – sure, why not – ideologies for the admiration and bragging rights of an entire state and the other. . . well, the other is certainly a struggle, an eternal struggle even, between two teams of differing locations and color schemes, and it’s no doubt for bragging rights, but not for an entire state. No, the scale is smaller, but the passion is similar.
Do you really think any other rivalry could spawn such an event?
From what I’ve gathered, the seven siblings of the Hall family lived in Jasper, Alabama, for a time before moving to Texas. David, one of the four brothers and Alabama’s quarterback (“When I was young, Teddy told me Auburn was like Texas A&M and Alabama was like Texas. I hated Texas A&M so I chose Alabama.”), works for Target and now lives in Birmingham. Two brothers, Mike and Teddy, are Auburn fans, and two brothers, David and Marc, are Alabama fans. The sisters are two to one Alabama. (Naturally.)
“We just love hanging out with each other. We love teasing each other and ragging each other,” says Mike, who walked-on and spent two years with a semi-pro football team in Texas. “That’s just the way we grew up in our family.”
The Hall siblings have been playing their own unofficial Iron Bowl for years they say, but about seven years ago they got serious… like fly-across-country-and-paint-your-backyard serious. Website serious. Stats serious. (Check out the 2010 game preview, the recaps and the recruiting. This ain’t no joke.)
The game serves as a type of family reunion. The site of the Iron Bowl determines the location. If the game is in Auburn, one of the Auburn family members hosts and Auburn gets to wear the home jerseys. And vice versa. This year’s game was in Birmingham at David’s house because the actual game is in Tuscaloosa.
Bad news Auburn faithful: Alabama won this year’s contest. And the year before and the year before and the year before. The Auburn Halls have never won actually. They did tie once in 2004, but that was because two games were played and each side won one. The site lists Auburn’s record as 0-5-1.
“Every year we seem to have them in the fourth quarter and we wear down and the Bama side always seems to pull it out in the end,” Teddy says. Teddy is Auburn’s quarterback. He has completed 35 percent of his passes and has a TD-INT ratio of 12-5. “I think that’s from the youth.”
“We’re so much more talented, and they make more mistakes in the fourth quarter,” David says.
“They get us in the fourth quarter,” Mike says. “My legs are like jello from playing both ways. Alabama has a bunch of players they can switch in and out.”
The problem, as the brothers said, is the age difference—Mike is 41 and Teddy is “pushing 50” (crack TWER reporting puts him at 47) while the Alabama brothers are in their 30s—and Auburn’s lack of depth. This year, Alabama had eight players and Auburn only four. Almost metaphoric or something . . .
The family members wake early and eat breakfast together on gameday. They put on their jerseys and the team captains meet to discuss rules. The rules are there are no rules, not really. There is a referee, but his sole job is to spot the ball. There is no pass interference. The men tackle the men and pull flags for the women.
“Teddy’s blown a knee; he’s broken ribs,” David says. “My sister Cindie broke her finger. Another guy, Richard, he damaged some ribs. Yeah [laugh] there’s been some injuries due to the physicality of the game.”
They play four quarters with each side getting three possessions per quarter. There is no clock. Sometimes the game can last three hours, maybe more.
These two teams know each other. In part because they’re family, but also because the two sides actually watch film of previous games and discuss their gameplan. I told you, they’re serious.
But not so serious that they lose sight of the goal of the game—fun and coming together as a family. “We’re a unique group,” Mike says. “We’re very competitive. But we’ve yet to get into an argument or anything like that on the field.”
The brothers aren’t sure how long they’ll keep playing, but Mike at least would like to keep keeping on as long as his body will let him. As he and Teddy age, they realize the key to every healthy and competitive college program—recruiting.
“We just have to get family members to start having kids.”
Next year’s game will be in San Marcos at Mike’s house. He’ll be lining a paintball course he owns and there will be plenty of room for spectators. In years past, might’ve been this year actually, they’ve had 25 or 30 people present to cheer.
So if you’re near the Hall Iron Bowl this year or in future years, stop by and watch a game purer than any you’re likely to see on television. Wear orange and navy to let them know you’re family.
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Ben is a student at Auburn University. Most of his time is spent doing as little as possible, eating, and controlling manageable vices. He will one day graduate with a degree in journalism and maybe find a job. Fingers crossed. Write to him at [email protected]. (Did you read his story ‘The Mysterious Auburn Man”? It was reprinted in the winter issue of Auburn Magazine. Did you read about his crisis of faith in Tuscaloosa? It elicited quite a response.)