He doesn’t remember which phone he had. He thinks it might have been the iPhone 3G, though he’s not positive. But he clearly remembers the text message that was on it that day, the picture he received on Nov. 29, 2008.
As he sat in the home locker room inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama left guard Mike Johnson was locked in. It was the redshirt junior’s fourth season with the Crimson Tide, and though his team was ranked No. 1 in the country with a date already set to play No. 2 Florida the following week in the SEC Championship Game, Johnson wanted badly to beat the 5-6 team in front of him.
Johnson arrived at Alabama in 2005 and for three years thought he’d be on the team that ended the losing streak to Auburn. Instead, it grew. There was the “Sack Brodie” game in 2005 that pushed the losing streak to four. Then the “Fear the thumb” game in 2006 where it stretched to five. In Nick Saban’s first season in 2007, Alabama lost its sixth in a row, Auburn’s longest winning streak in Iron Bowl history.
So as he sat in the locker room preparing for the day’s 2:30 CT CBS broadcasted game, Johnson couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw what the photo to his phone revealed.
On the other side of the stadium, where opponents exit a bus and walk into the visiting locker room, Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville held up seven fingers, symbolizing what the streak would reach with a win that day. Johnson was shocked.
He showed his teammates. They joked that Tuberville was holding the number of fingers that showed how many losses the Tigers would have after the day’s game had been completed.
The six-game losing streak to Auburn was psychologically damaging to the Alabama program and to its fan base. After the streak went to five, Alabama fired head coach Mike Shula at the end of the 2006 season. That was in no small part because he never beat LSU or Auburn. But it was mainly Auburn. Going 0-4 against the Tigers was a sin too great from which to be cleansed.
But Saban lost his first Iron Bowl too. So the 2008 Iron Bowl was in many way therapeutic for the entire Alabama program.
That year was different, and the teams knew it.