What’s the one thing every fan should know most about the Iron Bowl?

Well, that’s a loaded question, because there are about 1,000 right answers.

Alabama vs. Auburn, arguably the best rivalry in college football and among the best in all of sports, is a rich minefield of traditions and rituals bridging 2 fanatical fan bases in 1 football-mad state.

You could probably knock on the door of every household in Alabama, ask for their perspective on the Iron Bowl and get enough answers to fill 1,000 books. Maybe even 10,000. Those unique perspectives could literally fill a library in Tuscaloosa or Auburn, or any other city in Alabama, because while the Crimson Tide and Tigers only play football against each other on 1 day per year, this is really a year-round rivalry.

It’s said New York is the city that never sleeps; well, Alabama-Auburn is the rivalry that never sleeps. It’s played out in a state with no professional sports teams, between schools that are a mere 160 miles apart, among pundits, observers and fans who care as much about the rivalry in April as they do in mid-November, in those final days of anticipation leading up to the game.

There might be an offseason, but there is no break from this rivalry. There might be boundaries among towns and counties in Alabama, but there is nowhere to hide from the euphoria — and the agony — that is attached to the result of those 60 minutes at Bryant-Denny Stadium or Jordan-Hare Stadium every Thanksgiving weekend.

And this rivalry that’s really unlike any other in sports is one with a million stories and probably about a million and a half things that every fan should know about. It is truly a rivalry with an open book, because fans who are invested in it sign up for the constant whirlwind of emotions that seem to never end.

It’s also an exhausting rivalry for those who live and breathe it. There is always so much to fret about, to talk about, to feel.

And, of course, there’s so much to know, understand and appreciate. Which brings us back to the question of what every fan should know most of all about the Iron Bowl. The answers are legion, but we’re going to do the seemingly impossible and pick 10 things that everyone, from Alabama to Alaska, should know about the game.

As we count it down from 1 to 10, in these tense days leading up to the 87th Iron Bowl on Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny, it would be fair and proper to know one central thing about the rivalry: that it’s great in every way.

Here’s our list of 10 that could be 10,000:

1. The Rivalry Rests for 41 Years

Yes, you read that right. Forty-one years. A lot of people, especially outside Alabama, might not know that Alabama and Auburn didn’t play for about 4 decades. From 1908 through 1947 there was no Crimson Tide vs. Tigers, reportedly due to issues related to player per diems and officiating. It’s incredible to think about no Iron Bowl for that long, but it’s true.

After the games in 1906 and ’07, Auburn head coach Mike Donahue threatened to cancel the rivalry altogether if Alabama head coach Doc Pollard kept using his elaborate formations and shifts. Imagine that going down today. But it happened then, and the rivalry ended prematurely after the 1907 game. Just imagine if it had never picked up again in 1948. Imagine how differently we would view football in the state of Alabama and, of course, what would become of Paul Finebaum without an Iron Bowl?

There was a rumor that the series was discontinued as a backlash to violence on the field and among fans during and after the 1907 game. According to other sources, it was because of a disagreement between the schools on how much of a per diem to allow players for the trip to Birmingham, the number of players each school should bring and where to find officials for the game.

It was too late to play the Iron Bowl in 1908 by the time all these issues were resolved, and the decades-long Iron Bowl Hiatus began.

2. The Iron Bowl Goes National

Seventeen years after the resumption of the rivalry, the Iron Bowl was broadcast on national TV for the 1st time in 1964. Naturally, Alabama quarterback named Joe Namath would show the nation, watching on NBC, that he had a flare for the big stage, something New York Jets fans (and Baltimore Colts fans) would find out a few years later. Namath led the 2nd-ranked and eventual national champion Crimson Tide to a 21-14 victory over the Tigers at Legion Field.

In a snapshot of the Crimson Tide’s present and future, Namath gave Bama a 21-7 cushion in the 4th quarter by firing a 23-yard touchdown pass to Ray Perkins, who would ultimately replace Paul “Bear” Bryant as the Tide’s head coach in 1983. Talk about a crazy confluence of, well, everything.

Auburn fought back, as Auburn usually does against its ancient rival, with Tom Bryan finding Jimmy Sidle on a 16-yard scoring pass to make it 21-14. But the Tigers, who finished a decent 6-4-0 that year, ran out of time and the Crimson Tide improved to 10-0. Bama won the game, but the Iron Bowl itself also won that day, as the nation watching on Thanksgiving Day got to see what all the fuss was about in this little Southern rivalry.

3. The Bear and The Streak

No. 4 Alabama’s 28-17 victory over Auburn on Nov. 28, 1981, at Legion Field meant a lot in the rivalry and in college football. It was the legendary Bryant’s 315th career victory, moving him past Amos Alonzo Stagg to become the all-time winningest FBS coach.

If that wasn’t enough of a reason to underline this Iron Bowl in red, there was the fact that it grew Alabama’s winning streak over Auburn to 9 — still the longest streak for either team in Iron Bowl history. It’s still the longest today because Bo Jackson and the Tigers finally did something about it in ’82.

But that’s not all. Alabama shared the SEC championship that year with Georgia, and the Iron Bowl win sealed that co-conference title for the Tide. It also brought an end to a glorious era in Tuscaloosa, as the 1981 SEC championship turned out to be Bryant’s 13th and final one.

4. A Birmingham Night in the Mud

It was a weird, wonderful Iron Bowl mess on an early December night at Legion Field in 1967. For the 1st time in Alabama-Auburn history, the Crimson Tide and Tigers came together under darkness. And then it rained. A lot. The thunderstorms turned Legion Field into a muddy mess and the 1st evening Iron Bowl became one for the history books.

According to reports, the game was frequently stopped to clear off raincoats and other wet weather gear that blew onto the field. Talk about a total mess for the roughly 71,200 who showed up to see a grand tradition and instead got soaked.

Not surprisingly, the awful weather made this Iron Bowl a very low-scoring affair. Down 3-0 in the 4th quarter, the 9th-ranked Tide gathered themselves, stole the night and made a memory. Late in the game, Alabama quarterback Ken Stabler ran 47 yards for a game-winning touchdown to lift the Crimson Tide to a 7-3 victory. Stabler’s water-logged TD sprint became known in Bama lore as the “Run in the Mud.”

5. A Kick Six on The Plains

Alabama had an air of invincibility going into the 2013 Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide were ranked No. 1, were 2-time defending national champions and had won 3 of the previous 4. They were 11-0 and 1 Iron Bowl win away from playing for yet another.

But Auburn was really, really good that year. The Tigers were ranked 4th and hell-bent on finally knocking the Tide off their perch. Little did we know the absolutely stunning way Auburn would accomplish that. All America knew was that it was 28-28, there was 1 second left and Bama freshman kicker Adam Griffith was set to attempt a 57-yard field goal to win the game.

Griffith’s kick fell short, which wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was Auburn cornerback Chris Davis catching the ball at the back of the end zone and returning it 109 yards for a game-winning touchdown as time expired and Jordan-Hare Stadium shook. The instant classic of an Iron Bowl became known as the “Kick Six” game. Not surprisingly, the 2013 Iron Bowl won the ESPY Award for Best Game of the year, in any sport. And Davis’ run from end zone to end zone won another ESPY Award for Best Play of the year.

6. The Rivalry Starts … in February?

The 1st Iron Bowl was staged in Birmingham, but it wasn’t at Legion Field, which wouldn’t open for business until 1927, and it wasn’t played anywhere near Thanksgiving weekend as it is today.

Nope. Alabama and Auburn went at it for the very 1st time at a place called Lakeview Park in Birmingham, on Feb. 22, 1893. Yes, February. A February Iron Bowl. Crazy, but it happened, and Tigers fans got first dibs on the bragging rights thing as Auburn won 32-22 in front of an estimated crowd of 5,000.

Interestingly, there was a difference of opinion among the schools about which season to attach this game to. Alabama considered the matchup to be the final one of the 1892 season; Auburn counted it as its first of the 1893 season.

7. Finally, Tuscaloosa is the Backdrop

Even after the schools agreed in the late ’80s that Auburn could play its Iron Bowl “home games” at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Alabama remained steadfast and kept playing its Iron Bowl home games in Birmingham instead of moving them to Tuscaloosa. Eventually even the Crimson Tide changed with the times and gave Bryant-Denny Stadium a steady taste of the Iron Bowl.

Bryant-Denny was expanded in 1998 to a capacity of 83, 818, slightly more than Legion Field. And with that, starting in 2000, Alabama actually played its Iron Bowl “home games” at its on-campus home. Auburn traveled to Tuscaloosa that year for the 1st time in a century (1901) and the 18th-ranked Tigers made the wait worthwhile (for Auburn fans), smothering the unranked Crimson Tide 9-0.

Damon Duval drilled 3 field goals for the game’s only points, while freezing rain, sleet and Auburn’s defense kept Alabama down and out all day. It was the Tigers’ 1st shutout of the Crimson Tide since 1987. It was also the last game for Mike DuBose as head coach at Bama and is still, 22 years later, the last time the Tide have been shut out.

8. Dye ‘Takes’ Iron Bowl to Auburn

Longtime Auburn head coach Pat Dye had a special bond with Bryant, working for him as linebackers coach at Alabama under Bryant, his longtime mentor, from 1965-73. The Dye-Bryant friendship was one of those unique ties between the schools that bridges the rivalry and that not many people might know about. When when Dye was hired as the Tigers’ head coach in 1981, he met with Bryant, and Dye said the very first thing the Bear said to Dye in that meeting was: “Well, I guess you’re going to want to take that game to Auburn.” To which Dye responded: “We’re going to take it to Auburn.”

When Bryant reminded Dye that the schools’ contract with Legion Field went through 1988, Dye said: “Well, we’ll play ’89 in Auburn.” And while Dye and Auburn could’ve pushed further to move its Iron Bowl “home games” to Jordan-Hare before the contract expired, Dye knew that Bryant was firmly opposed to playing any Iron Bowl games in Auburn. And also knowing Bryant’s legendary status in the state, Dye knew it wouldn’t be too smart to try to make the rivalry a home-and-home affair while the Bear was still breathing.

Bryant would coach 1 more year at Alabama after that famous meeting between mentor and pupil, and he passed away shortly thereafter in January 1983. Fast-forward to the late ’80s, when the rival schools agreed that Auburn could play its home Iron Bowl games at Jordan-Hare beginning in 1989 (with the exception of 1991), but that Alabama would keep playing its series home games at Legion Field. So, on Dec. 2, 1989, Dye finally had his day as Alabama, then coached by Bill Curry, ventured to The Plains for the very 1st time.

The 11th-ranked Tigers made the special occasion a ton more special by knocking off undefeated and No. 2 Alabama, 30-20, in front of a sellout crowd that got to bask in the glory while witnessing history. Not a bad afternoon to be an Auburn fan.

9. Something Had to Give in ’71

It took until the 1971 Iron Bowl for this cool nuance to occur in the rivalry: When 3rd-ranked Alabama and 5th-ranked Auburn ran onto Legion Field on Nov. 27, it was the 1st time in the series that both entered the game undefeated and untied. But though both teams were obviously very good that year, the game itself wasn’t, as the Crimson Tide grabbed a 14-0 lead after the 1st quarter and cruised to a 31-7 win.

Bama won more than the Iron Bowl that day. The Tide locked up the outright SEC championship with the victory, winning all 7 of their SEC games that year. Alabama couldn’t take it the distance, however, losing badly to No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl with a national championship at stake. Meanwhile, the Tigers settled for a 2nd-place tie with Georgia in the SEC and ended up losing their final 2 games of the season, falling to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Terry Davis’ touchdown runs of 6 and 11 yards gave Bama that quick 14-0 lead before Auburn scored its only points of the day on a 31-yard Harry Unger TD pass to Terry Beasley in the 2nd quarter. The Tide put the game away in the 4th quarter with 17 unanswered points as Johnny Musso scored on touchdown runs of 12 and 6 yards. Finally, 1 of the teams had a blemish on its record going into the bowl games.

10. The Iron Bowl Gets Its Name

Why is the Iron Bowl called the Iron Bowl? What exactly does iron have to do with the state of Alabama?

A lot of football fans outside Alabama probably don’t know that Birmingham, the site of the rivalry for decades, has a historic role in America’s steel industry.

And history credits legendary Auburn head coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan with coining the Iron Bowl name. Jordan was famously asked by reporters in 1964 — when the Tigers were sleepwalking through a 6-4 season with a 3-3 SEC record — how he would deal with the disappointment of not taking his team to a bowl game. He replied: “We’ve got our bowl game. We have it every year. It’s the Iron Bowl in Birmingham.”

Thus, Alabama vs. Auburn became the Iron Bowl.

And, not surprisingly, Jordan’s team lost the Iron Bowl that year, 21-14, to a 2nd-ranked Alabama team that won the national championship.

That Iron Bowl in ’64 was played on Nov. 26. This Saturday, 58 years after Jordan gave The Rivalry its proper name, the 87th edition of the Iron Bowl will once again be played on Nov. 26.

But it won’t be played in Birmingham. Those memorable days are long gone.

It’ll be at Bryant-Denny.

And it’ll be special, like always and forever, no matter the final score.