Andrew Zow was a freshman from Florida in 1998 when he played in his first Iron Bowl. He didn’t fully understand the rivalry or the historic stadium that hosted it until he’d experienced it himself.
Zow led Alabama to a 31-17 come-from-behind win over Auburn in the series’ final game at Legion Field 20 years ago today. At the time, he wished the game was in Tuscaloosa so the Crimson Tide could play with a home field advantage. Now, he’s glad he had the opportunity to play in place known as the “Old Gray Lady.”
“There’s a lot of great players that played on this field,” he said. “There’s a lot of memories that are left on this field. You go back before I was born… someone had a lot of experiences on that field.”
Zow, who played for the Tide from 1998 to 2001, is one of a small group of players who competed in the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa, Auburn and at Legion Field. Each game was special for its own reasons. But the game at Legion Field is a unique memory – one he appreciates more now than he did then. That game his freshman year introduced him to the rivalry and helped him understand what made Legion Field special.
“!t was an unbelievable experience in that first one,” he said. “And it being at Legion Field and the history that you hear from it is unreal. And people really respect the game, respect where it was held for years.”
These days, the rivalry is played exclusively at the teams’ home sites. And to some, it’s just not the same. Walter Garrett spent 38 years as the stadium manager at Legion Field. He says a neutral-site rivalry game is a unique spectacle in college football.
“It’s not anything that you can sum up,” Garrett said. “It is completely different from most types of football games when you have half the stadium for one team and half the stadium for the other.”
Garrett says it lost “that ambience” when they moved the games to the respective campuses. But he understands why they did.
Zow said playing in Birmingham made it feel like a road game for the Crimson Tide, but he’s glad he got to be a part of the history at Legion Field. Wherever it’s played, it’s a must-win for both sides. He began to understand that during his first game in the rivalry.
“That game in itself was probably one of the most exciting times as you get to know more and more about it,” he said. “And every year you tell yourself, ‘Hey, we have to win this game.'”