The 85th Iron Bowl

I am watching the Iron Bowl. It’s drizzling outside. I’m sitting in my living room, eating cheese dip, the game is on low volume.

All my fellow Bama fans in this house are fast asleep from eating way too much saturated fat and refined white flour. My dogs are snoring. My wife is drooling on my shoulder.

This is the calmest football game of my entire life. Nobody is shouting “ROLL TIDE!” There are no high fives, no pom poms, no body-painted torsos. No nothing.

Welcome to 2020.

This is very different for me. I’m used to watching the Iron Bowl in lively joints that smell like stale yeast and armpits. Places where, whenever it’s a third-down situation, 12 guys leap to their feet and spill five-dollar pitchers all over your lap while screaming, “WAR [BLEEPING] EAGLE!”

I’m accustomed to fights breaking out in the parking lot between Auburn and Alabama fans. In fact—this is true—the worst fight I ever saw happened in 2013, after the “Kick Bama Kick” Iron Bowl game, when Auburn’s Chris Davis sprinted 109 yards and won the game with only one second remaining on the clock. The beer joint came unhinged.

A fistfight between an Auburn guy and a Bama guy exploded into a multi-man brawl, which soon included everybody within nine counties. The fracas had to be broken up by the police. I’ve never seen an altercation on such a grand scale. My cousin and I both sustained injuries when trying to exit the establishment. It was awesome.

I’m not saying I miss those rowdy days, but I do miss being with other people in public places.

Before 2020, I used to get jolts of excitement simply by being in minor crowds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I want to be in any biblical-style multitudes, but on special occasions it’s nice to pile up together.

For almost a year we’ve been avoiding fun get-togethers and large groups, and even though this is normal now, I think it’s changed me.

This morning I read a scientific article written by a psychologist who had half the alphabet listed after his name. He said that 2020 has changed America’s collective psychology. The article stated that many post-pandemic Americans won’t feel comfortable in crowds anymore, and they might not be at ease for a long time, either. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, I hope it’s not.

I pray we don’t lose movie theaters, barbecues, Little League, barn dances, bowling tournaments, county fairs, potlucks, crab boils, community 5-Ks, bingo nights, and ice cream socials. Because as of right now we HAVE lost those things.

Currently, all my memories of socializing seem like they occurred 200 years ago. Back before complimentary hand sanitizer at McDonald’s; long before door greeters took your temperature at Winn-Dixie. Back before 2020, when Iron Bowl parties were a region-wide thing enjoyed by everyone—including little grannies, hermits, and Jesuit priests.

The best football party I ever went to happened when I was much younger. My band was playing in a little crud-covered tavern in Pensacola. Auburn was playing Georgia.

Before the gig, I spent the entire game seated at the bar between two elderly women who were clad in Auburn garb, watching the TV. I told them I was a Bama fan and we became fast friends.

All night long they teased the University of Georgia fans around them. They were so much fun. They constantly harassed anyone who wore Bulldog Red—which was nearly half the people in the tiny place. And they were a riot.

Throughout the game we exchanged stories, talked about family, patted each other’s shoulders, laughed, shouted, booed, hissed, and cheered until we were dizzy. Have you ever noticed how the whole world feels brighter when you have a new friend?

When Georgia won, the two ladies were such good losers that they bought drinks for the whole saloon. It must have cost them several hundred dollars. But that’s the kind of class act they were.

Later that evening, after our band played and everyone had done lots of dancing, the ladies were about to call a cab to take them home. They had consumed many game-day beverages and weren’t exactly in any condition to teach Sunday school, if you catch my drift.

So our bass player, John, and I drove the elderly women across town and dropped them at their doorstep. They tried to pay us for our trouble, but we refused. We helped them to their porch, then wished them good evening, whereupon they both hugged us sincerely, and one of them might have even tried to get to first base with John.

But when the ladies were inside, and the night was finished, John and I stood on that empty patio and completely lost it. We laughed so hard we nearly broke our own ribs.

And THAT was the kind of fun stuff that used to happen during football games, before global pandemics. These events were wonderful but rare occasions that made you realize you were part of a community so big that it’s a U.S. region.

For some of us, these games weren’t purely about touchdowns. In fact, they weren’t even entirely about winning—at least not for me. Because no matter which side you rooted for, you belonged here, to the Southeast, and that made us kin.

Even when we disagreed, even when we hated each other’s guts, even when we got whipped by the enemy, we did it all on the same patch of grass. And somehow, on a deeper level, although we took different sides, this meant that we were friends.

I really miss that warm feeling. And I hope against hope that we can get it back someday.

If we can just make it through 2020.


  1. Sandra - November 29, 2020 6:27 am

    Yes to all of this. Thank you for your daily essays! They bring joy.

  2. Christina - November 29, 2020 6:48 am

    Yes we are all one kin. Thanks for always making room for kindness and respect no matter our differences.

  3. Trey - November 29, 2020 6:56 am

    Amen! Roll Tide! And War Damn Eagle!! Thank God for the Iron Bowl 2020, and for your write-up. 😀

  4. Jerry - November 29, 2020 8:32 am

    Amen! Go Dawgs! Woof Woof!

  5. Cindy - November 29, 2020 9:47 am

    You nailed it. Thanks.

  6. Debbie Hughett - November 29, 2020 10:14 am

    So so so good! Thankful for you and Jamie and your dogs.

  7. Nancy Wright - November 29, 2020 11:16 am

    War Eagle, Sean! There is no event in the world as exciting as an Iron Bowl!! We’ve been to them in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Auburn. You can’t beat that crowd!! So exciting!!

  8. Tim the Tarheel - November 29, 2020 11:26 am

    War Eagle!

  9. Marilyn Ward Vance - November 29, 2020 11:29 am

    Being a Bama fan in Georgia, my husband and I were at friends’ house during the Alabama/Georgia championship game a few years back. They were season ticket holders for Georgia so when Alabama started winning, we sat quietly on the loveseat with only a muttered ‘roll tide’ once in awhile while the roar of the Georgia fans in the house was deafening. When Alabama won, we got up to leave and as we started out the door, I said, ‘I just need to say it one time, Roll Tide!’ My hostess said, ‘Bite me!’ We are still friends..LOL!

  10. Cyn - November 29, 2020 12:24 pm

    With hope and faith we will get back. Friends can feed our belief.

  11. Annie Sommers - November 29, 2020 12:32 pm

    I just have to say it “War Eagle”. Sean for everyone’s well-being, I pray 2021 will be “normal”. I am so sick of not being able to hug anyone. My Dr. cannot hug me anymore and that is so sad. I am so grateful for what I have but I sure need those hugs.

  12. Sandi. - November 29, 2020 12:46 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with you, Sean. Surely 2021 will be a much better year than 2020 has been thus far. And I agree with Annie about missing hugs. Don’t we all wish life was back to some semblance of normal like it was in 2019?

  13. Joyce Crook - November 29, 2020 12:47 pm

    I agree. I remember when everyone thought the world would come to an end because of Y2K and nothing happened! Maybe they were just 20 years ahead of the prediction. I am ready for normal living again!

  14. Jan - November 29, 2020 1:32 pm

    Amen and WARRRRRR EAGLE!

  15. Ginny Judson - November 29, 2020 2:18 pm

    Oh Sean! Please never say this is our “normal”. I refuse to contemplate world in which we don’t return to that sense of community.

  16. Georgia Sasser - November 29, 2020 2:28 pm

    I am with you on getting back to normal. I am a huggers and this just isn’t right that I have to be 6 ft away from my friends. It is hard to hug from that distance.

  17. Tom - November 29, 2020 2:45 pm

    War Eagle, although we did not do well yesterday, i still woke up this morning and the sun was shining. You are correct, ain’t no place like the Southeast and SEC football. And as Merle Haggard sings, “if we make it through December “.

  18. billllly - November 29, 2020 3:21 pm

    Go to Hell, Ole Miss! But give me a hug, first.

  19. Johnny Bracey - November 29, 2020 3:34 pm

    Amen Sean!!!!!

  20. Patricia Gibson - November 29, 2020 3:49 pm


  21. Dianne DeVore - November 29, 2020 4:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing those fun and happy memories of a previous SEC big game. Being a War Eagle and watching most of the Auburn/Bama game yesterday, it just wasn’t the same. It was boring, and disappointing to watch a totally unprepared Auburn team face a totally prepared Bama team. This is one of the best and liveliest rivalries in college football, past and present, but yesterday was awful thanks to this COVID stuff!

  22. Pat McGilberry - November 29, 2020 5:25 pm


  23. Jennifer Campbell - November 29, 2020 5:39 pm

    Please don’t say this is ‘normal now’! We Southerners are huggers and it is painful to not be able to hug! Great, on spot essay! And Roll Tide!

  24. Pam - November 29, 2020 5:56 pm

    I loved this! War Eagle!!

  25. Linda Moon - November 29, 2020 5:58 pm

    Long ago we thought man might not still be alive in the year 2525. I won’t be around to know. But, sadly something of us has died in 2020 with all the “nothings” right now. After surviving multiple cancers, I choose LIFE. Football or pandemics might change us for a while, but not forever. We can’t let it do that. If my guy and I are alive in 2021, we’ll see you live and in person somewhere South or Southeast. South is a good place to belong to, “Cuz”!

  26. southernmezzo89 - November 29, 2020 6:01 pm

    Amen, brother. Well said.

  27. Susie, as well - November 29, 2020 6:14 pm

    Loved today’s story. Surely 2021 has to be better! Also, loved yesterday’s Bama- Auburn game. Just wasn’t right without Nick Saban on the sidelines pacing and fussing. Still a good game. Roll Tide!

  28. Barbara J Schweck - November 29, 2020 7:07 pm

    Amen to every word you said!!! Gosh I sure miss Auburn tailgating and games!!! Closest we get is all the neighbors stand outside and wave pom poms and yell War Eagle as the team buses ride by. Even that is more precious now

  29. Mark Stewart - November 29, 2020 8:31 pm

    Because of the toilet paper shortage, we had to let Bama win. Sure be glad to see this year come to pass. War Eagle anyway! Your “elderly” Auburn grad, Mark

  30. Sandra - November 29, 2020 8:39 pm

    Sure did miss Nick yesterday, But way to go BAMA!!! ROLL TIDE ROLL 🐘🏈🐘

  31. Barbara Pope - November 29, 2020 9:35 pm

    Just wondering what your father would think about you being the star of the commercial for the Iron Bowl. Just seems very fitting–Roll Tide!

  32. Nancy M - November 30, 2020 12:42 am

    I’m an Auburn fan but still missed seeing Coach Savannah yesterday. Praying he he has no or few symptoms. Even without him there, his team still beat the socks off our team. 😢

  33. Nancy M - November 30, 2020 12:44 am

    Coach Saban! Darned predictive text!

  34. Eva D Lantrip - November 30, 2020 1:52 am

    Loved every word and enjoyed every minute of yesterday’s Iron Bowl. Hotty Toddy!

  35. elizabethroosje - November 30, 2020 4:14 am

    I love your descriptions of memories and of people! I would have found that (small bar, loud, ETC) super overwhelming but I can see, at the same time, how you loved it; the people, the crush, just loving it all. Hang on there Sean. It WILL get better. Yes, some people may take a bit of time to get back to normal. But it WILL get better again, hold on. Remember, it’s nearly winter now but after winter comes Spring and Summer. Today, in our side of this world, are some of the darkest days, before winter solstice. Light IS coming. Did you ever hear (I don’t know where I did, just that I did, years ago) the sermon ‘today is Friday but SUNDAY is coming?’ I am pretty sure that was, in part, about Easter. I am friends with a child who, when he was young, I taught him about what Jesus was doing on the Cross – and how on Easter we sing that Christ trampled down death by death. So if I asked him what Jesus is doing, he would answer, He is killing death. I think it takes a life time to try to really know that and what it means. I am still learning myself. As for the young boy, later that year his father unexpectedly died and the boy, I hope he knows that that prayer reaches everywhere and is beyond time/space as we know it. I do know, thanks to other boys his age who love Easter at our church (it’s on the middle of the night, there’s candles and a huge awesome food-digging feast afterwards till 3 or 4 AM so what child would not love it!) … this little boy who had such a loss knows, a little, of the joy of that dark night that leads to the greatest light and feast ever. God bless you Sean. You sure know how to bless us with your words!

  36. Joy T Lane - December 1, 2020 4:40 am

    The SEC is the best…Go Gators!
    This also reminds me of a song, y’all may know it too. 🎶If we make it through December, everything’s gonna be alright I know…🎶

  37. Winifred Brown - December 1, 2020 2:30 pm

    Amen and amen. Thanks for another lovely read.

  38. Julie - December 28, 2020 2:01 pm

    Yes, it’s Hope against Hope that our New Year is better! And we must keep our Faith that it will. But don’t forget Charity…”and the greatest of these is Love”, which conquers all, Amen🙏


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