In 1948, Auburn and Alabama football players stepped on the field together for the first time in 41 years, the fierce rivalry between schools suspended for more than four decades over a financial debate.
“Both teams let their pride get in the way,” said David Housel ’69, athletic director emeritus, former sports information director and advisor to The Auburn Plainsman. “No one would budge or play together for those 41 years.” That same year, the Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) chapters at Auburn and Alabama came together in the spirit of friendship to establish the ODK Trophy, a prize given to the winning team after the game each year.
The ODK Trophy remained a steady tradition between the schools until January of 1978, when Melford Espey, assistant to Alabama’s vice president of student affairs, thought it needed a name change.
That year, to increase the importance of the trophy, Espey thought it should be named after an Auburn and Alabama staple, James E. Foy. An Alabama graduate, Foy later moved to Auburn and became one of the most beloved figures in school history. When Foy retired in 1978, Espey thought it would be special to name the trophy after the man who linked the two schools.
“The spirit of the trophy and the trophy itself is one of mutual respect to an opponent—there’s no belittling. Alabama has a great program, Auburn has a great program, and whoever wins the game gets the trophy,” Housel said.
For many years, there was no big presentation—the trophy was just delivered to the winning team. Eventually, someone had the idea to present the James E. Foy Sportsmanship Trophy at the halftime of the Alabama vs. Auburn basketball game. Even later down the road, someone else had the idea to make the losing school’s SGA president sing the winning team’s fight song.
Unfortunately, this led to some students making a mockery of the rivalry in the years to come.
“It just gave both fan bases an opportunity to make a joke of the whole presentation by booing and catcalling, which goes against the spirit of the trophy and the sportsmanship behind the game,” Housel said. However, last year when the Alabama SGA president attended the game, there was no fight song sung, making it seem that the tradition of singing the song had died down.
“Presenting the trophy and having the crowd be loud and rambunctious in support of their team is a good thing, but when you get loud and criticize or make fun of the other school, that’s not good,” Housel said. “It isn’t keeping in spirit with the trophy.”
The Foy Trophy and the Iron Bowl are rooted in tradition, but to some, they mean much more than that.
“It signifies good relationships between two schools, despite a bitter rivalry,” said current SGA President Dane Block. “On a personal note, it means bragging rights for the year to come. The Auburn family has pride in our school so when the trophy returns to its home, it is something to be proud of.”
The Iron Bowl is a huge event in the South, and while it does spark a rivalry of its own, the Foy Trophy is a way to bring the schools together in the spirit of sportsmanship and goodwill, as Foy intended.
“The Iron Bowl is like no other,” Block said. “As I try to find the words to describe the feeling, let alone the experience of an Iron Bowl, I come up empty handed. It sounds cheesy but it just means more. The pride each school has in their own is something incredible. Experience it firsthand and you’ll understand.”
By Anne Dawson ’18