The date: November 30, 1957
The matchup: No. 1 Auburn (9-0) vs. Alabama (2-6-1) in Birmingham
The stakes: If Auburn wins, the Tigers stake a claim to the national title despite NCAA probation and despite kicking its QB off the team right before the season started. Plus, uh, it’s the Iron Bowl. Stakes galore.
The back story: Beano Cook once described this game as one in which Auburn beat Alabama so badly that the Crimson Tide went out and hired Bear Bryant. That certainly sounds great and is technically true, but Bama had already announced it wasn’t bringing back Jennings Whitworth after his three-year contract expired (he would finish 4-24-2), and “Bryant to Bama?” rumors had already completely wrecked what had been a dream season for Texas A&M — the Aggies were No. 1 in the country in mid-November, but a fresh round of rumors popped up the day before a game at No. 20 Rice. A&M lost that one, then finished with two more defeats just for good measure.
This was still a wild season for any number of reasons. Shug Jordan had indeed dismissed star Jimmy Cooke before the season because of a rumored panty raid (!) and had survived some tight early contests with nothing but defense — 7-0 over No. 8 Tennessee, 6-0 over Kentucky, 3-0 over Georgia Tech. But the offense had perked up in recent weeks, and despite NCAA probation and a bowl ban, Auburn suddenly had national title credentials when A&M fell apart and Oklahoma’s 47-game win streak came to an end. A romp over Alabama would solidify those credentials.
The game: From the Montgomery Advertiser:
LEGION FIELD, BIRMINGHAM -- War Eagle! Auburn's mighty Tigers, unleashing one of its most powerful offenses of the campaign, walloped cross-state Alabama here this afternoon, 40 to 0 to win the Southeastern Conference championship.
A sellout crowd of 45,000 fans saw the Painsmen start early in racking up one of its biggest scores of the season. The victory was Auburn's 14th consecutive which gave the Tigers their largest win streak since 1914. [...]
Auburn stands a good chance of nailing down the berth as the Nation's No. 1 team by their sensational performance here today. The Tigers also practically clinched the Nation's No. 1 defensive record as they finished the campaign with a record of 133 yards average per game for the year.
Alabama blew some chances early and collapsed. It was 34-0 at halftime, and it could have been worse if Jordan hadn’t shown some tact.
The box score:
Considering what Auburn did to everybody else, Bama gaining 197 yards was a feat. Of course, the seven turnovers — two fumbles, plus five interceptions during a 10-for-32 passing performance — killed any chances at points.
When the Iron Bowl ended, the politicking began. From 50 Best*:
Fun fact about the AP poll in 1957 and before: Any eligible Associated Press subscriber was eligible to vote. As insane as that sounds, it worked pretty well until Auburn more or less gamed the system, and the AP went with the selected panel of voters it still uses now.
Auburn sports information director Bill Beckwith hit the phones, making sure that every small radio station and newspaper in the area knew it had a vote while pitching Auburn to these voters at the same time. The result: 135 additional votes were submitted in the final AP poll. Despite Ohio State’s Woody Hayes doing some campaigning of his own, Auburn finished with a large poll lead. A lot of that was due to Beckwith’s work, and Auburn’s demolition of Alabama pushed the Tigers over the top. [...]
Final 1957 AP Poll
1. Auburn (10-0, 210 first-place votes, 3,123 points)
2. Ohio State (9-1, 71 first-place votes, 2,646 points)
3. Michigan State (8-1, 30 first-place votes, 2,550 points)
4. Oklahoma (10-1, 22 first-place votes, 2,182 points)
5. Navy (9-1-1, 6 first-place votes, 1,915 points)
On Monday, December 2, Auburn officially became AP national champion, thanks in part to the late-season collapse of Bear Bryant’s Aggies. The same day, Bryant made official what everyone seemed to know was going to happen: He was indeed taking the head coaching job in Tuscaloosa. Auburn would beat Alabama the following November to finish up a 9-0-1 campaign.
The Crimson Tide would win nine of the next 10 Iron Bowl battles.