Former Alabama Player: Iron Bowl is Not 'Just Another Game'

Posted by | November 24, 2010 | News & Events | No Comments
Dr. Gaylon McCollough (left) and Daniel Moore

Dr. Gaylon McCollough (left) and Daniel Moore

Whether you are a player, fan, coach, sideline worker or artist, this week’s Alabama-Auburn football classic, known as “The Iron Bowl,” is no ordinary game, according to Dr. Gaylon McCollough.

The internationally-acclaimed plastic surgeon, based in Gulf Shores, Ala., commented on the game from all five perspectives. He personally experienced three: as a player, a fan and a sideline worker (medical staff).

“Given my choice, if my body could hold up, I would much rather be playing the game then watching the game,” the former All-American center said. “When the outcome of an event is important to you, and you have no contribution to the outcome of the event, it creates some unusual feelings. If you are a part of it and know you can impact the outcome, it’s a completely different thing.”

As a Thanksgiving tradition rivaling turkey dinners and Christmas shopping in Alabama, opinions run wild about this week’s battle for state gridiron bragging rights. Those who have room for Black Friday madness and the Iron Bowl in their lives this week can ease their shopping decisions by purchasing a piece of Alabama-Auburn history in the form of a Daniel Moore painting being sold by the American Sport Art Museum and Archives (ASAMA). Moore donated a series of paintings, one from each of the 41 games played in the era 1948 – 1988, to ASAMA, and those are available for sale at $100 each. Online purchases can be made by logging onto www.ussa.edu.

“Danny Moore has been able to go back into many of those Alabama-Auburn games and capture the defining moment of the game with his incredible paintings, so that those moments can be frozen in history, at least on canvas,” McCollough said about the work of ASAMA’s 2005 Sport Artist of the Year.

Among those commenting on the rivalry this week was former Crimson Tide defensive back Willie Gaston, who told WNSP Sports Radio that the rivalry meant more to the fans than players, and that to the players it “was just another game.” McCollough laughed when he heard that comment and said he could not disagree more.

“It was the ultimate family feud,” McCollough said of the Iron Bowl. “We personally knew a lot of players on the Auburn side. Sometimes we played against them and played with them in other arenas. I played in the state high school All-Star game with many Auburn players. We wanted to beat each other in front of a stadium full of screaming fans more than anything. After the game, the feud was over. Believe it or not, I often went to dinner with members of the Auburn team after the game. We had tremendous respect for each other. It was not just another game. We had to live with the outcome of that game for 12 months.”

One aspect that might have contributed to Gaston and McCollough’s differing views is the fact that from 1948 to 1988, the game was played at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. McCollough played in the early 1960s. Gaston played in the early 1990s. When the game was played in Birmingham, the ticket allotments were divided evenly between both participating teams.

“That was the saddest day in history of Iron Bowl,” McCollough said, referring to the day the decision was made to make the Alabama-Auburn game a home-and-home series. “It was the Iron Bowl when it was played in Birmingham. Birmingham is one of the steel capitals of the world. Legion Field was the Iron Bowl. When it’s home and home, it’s no longer the Iron Bowl; it’s the Alabama-Auburn game. That’s not to take away the importance, but it’s a misnomer to call it the Iron Bowl now. I know it will probably never change, but a lot of people do not realize why it was called the Iron Bowl to start with. Former Auburn coach Pat Dye moved the game and it was a financial move, to ensure that Auburn fans would buy season tickets to all games to help pay for expanded stadium.

“It was a spectacle; it no longer is that spectacle. That took away from the spectacle itself, from the majesty, the pageantry of the game. Seeing a crowd of screaming fans evenly divided between red and orange is not the same as when 90 percent are for one team or another.”

One tradition does continue in the Alabama-Auburn game, and is seen throughout the country in football games everywhere. That is the tradition of players holding up four fingers at the beginning of the fourth quarter. McCollough wrote about that tradition in his book, “The Long Shadow of Coach Bear Bryant.”

“That was originated by Coach Bryant while I was at Alabama,” McCollough said. “He said it was a challenge to the players. He said ‘At the beginning of fourth quarter, if you mean it, I want you to raise your four fingers and turn to your parents in the stands and make a pledge to them that you are going to do everything in your power to see that we win the fourth quarter. If you don’t believe that, and don’t intend to do it, don’t raise your hand. If you do, make that pledge to your parents, turn to your teammates, make that pledge to them, then look across the field and make that pledge to your opponent.’

“If you go back and look historically, the outcome of most Iron Bowl games has been determined by which team wins the fourth quarter. On Friday, whenever the fourth quarter comes around, you watch players on both sides of the field raise their hands. I would venture to say not a single one knows where the pledge originated and what its true meaning is. And forever, more than likely, in Iron Bowls, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, you will see the shadow of Coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant there.”

When he played for the Crimson Tide, McCollough snapped the ball to quarterback Joe Namath, who would later star for the New York Jets. Namath’s defining moment was his public prediction of victory over the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts before Super Bowl III, which the Jets did win 16-7. According to McCollough, Namath had his moments in the Iron Bowl as well as the Super Bowl.

“He was the consummate teammate,” McCollough said of the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback. “In Iron Bowl, he sacrificed personal glory for overall success and glory of the team. That’s what made his teammates respect him.

“In 1964 we were playing Auburn on Thanksgiving on national TV. We had come from behind in fourth quarter to go ahead 21-14. Quarterbacks called their own plays back then. We had the ball with three minutes left in the game. Someone came from the sidelines and said ‘Joe, one of coaches said you lack a few yards in passing to break the all-time Alabama record. He said it’s OK to throw ball if you want to. He looked up at guy and said ‘Are you out of your mind? We could put the ball in the air, get intercepted and get beat! No way!’ Individual records were not important for the Joe Namath I knew at Alabama.”

Dr. McCollough founded the McCollough Plastic Surgery Clinic in 1975. Since entering practice, he has obtained international recognition as a surgeon and teacher through his affiliation with the largest association of specialty plastic surgeons in the world. He is included in Woodward and White’s “Best Doctors in America” and “America’s Top Plastic Surgeons.” In 1989 he was elected president of the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. In 1980 he served as president of the American Association of Cosmetic Surgeons. In 1986 Dr. McCollough was elected president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Inc.

He said his experience as a college football player was an important foundation for his success in life.

“What Coach Bryant taught us was first of all to have a plan,’ McCollough said. “Have a game plan and know what you are going to do going into the game. Then have a backup plan as the game goes along. Know what you are going to do if, in the first five minutes, you are 21 points behind. Go ahead and put yourself in that situation. He also said have a plan if you look up and you are 21 points ahead in the first quarter. What are you going to do then? Have a plan. His secret to success is he out-planned and outworked his opponents. That’s what he taught his players and his coaches and those of us who played for him were able to take those lessons into our adult lives after we completed our eligibility.”

Founded in 1984, ASAMA, a division of the United States Sports Academy, is dedicated to the preservation of sports art, history, and literature. The ASAMA collection is composed of more than 1,500 works of sport art across a variety of media, including paintings, sculptures, assemblages, prints, and photographs.

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