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Jim Noles Headshot

Occupy... Iron Bowl

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It's been called "the quintessential intrastate football rivalry." "Quintessential" -- that's a mighty big word.

But, even if you live in Alabama (like me), you don't need a dictionary to figure out what ESPN was talking about when it anointed the annual bout between the University of Alabama and Auburn University as among the top ten rivalries in sports.

Okay -- I admit -- I needed a dictionary. But I digress.

Regardless of your adjectives of choice, there's no argument. It's classic. It's archetypical. It's big. It's the Iron Bowl, due to be played for the 76th time this Saturday, November 26, before a sell-out crowd.

It's the kind of rivalry that, like last year (and the year before), has national championship implications.

It's the kind of rivalry that causes married couples to proclaim themselves "a house divided" on the front plate of their Wagon Queen Family Truckster.

It's the kind of rivalry that became so disagreeable between the two schools in 1907 that it suffered a forty-year hiatus -- until the Alabama Legislature reportedly threatened to cut off funding to the two schools unless they resumed it.

And it's the kind of rivalry that, after Auburn's come-from-behind 28-27 Iron Bowl win last year, "inspired" (to use the term loosely) an Alabama "fan" (again, to use the term loosely) to "allegedly" (here, a nod to the lawyers out there) poison the beloved oak trees that Auburn students ritually cloak with toilet paper after every victory.

In fact, it's so big that it even warrants polling in Birmingham, Alabama, in the shadow of the Regions Bank building, where a small band of Occupy Birmingham activists have encamped.

A proffered bag of Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuits opened the polling Wednesday morning. After a brief discussion of the corporate merits of Chick-Fil-A, one occupier simply pronounced, "Sometimes, you can't let politics get in the way of a good biscuit."

Presented with the question of his Iron Bowl allegiance, Allyn Hudson, a former accountant, declared "Roll Tide." "They can't look past this game, though," he warned. "I'm worried that they will get too focused on thinking about a rematch with LSU and overlook Auburn. But I have confidence in Nick Saban. If something's going wrong, he'll figure it out and adjust."

Jenny Vardeman, a resident of Jefferson County and a relative newcomer to the encampment, exchanged fist taps with Hudson. "Roll Tide," she agreed.

Joanne Stocker, a veteran of Occupy Wall Street, climbed out of her crate shelter and adjusted her glasses to join the conversation.

"My vote is for the children," she said. "I'm from Pennsylvania. That's what I'm thinking of."

"I guess I would say Auburn," added Andrew Mobley, who had previously worked as a biologist at UAB. "But I probably haven't watched a football game in ten years. I'd rather live my own exciting life than watch other people live theirs."

Another man, who introduced himself as Steve, agreed. "Auburn," he said simply. "I like the underdogs." The sentiment garnered a round of nods.

As we talked, a sixth man, called Ghost by the others, walked up to us. Although he wore a blue FBI ball cap, Ghost's growth of beard and silver earring belied any apparent affiliation with the Bureau. Like Stocker, he has previously been in New York at Zuccotti Park.

"Ghost, I'm guessing you don't necessarily have a last name," I said.

He smiled, took a drag from his cigarette, and agreed.

"You got a pick for the game?" Hudson asked.

"What game?" Ghost replied.

"The Auburn-Alabama game."

"That's the big rivalry around here, isn't it?"

"Yeah."

Ghost took another drag.

"Nope."

Nope? Nope? Well, give him time. The occupation is still young.

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