TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Reminders of Alabama's Great Iron Bowl Collapse popped up in the football building shortly after the game.
The Tigers' 24-point comeback, the biggest in school history, and 28-27 win over their rival was perhaps the seminal moment in last season's national title run. For Alabama, the program's biggest-ever meltdown was just as unforgettable.
"I think everybody that played in that game, it's something that we'll remember for the rest of our lives," said William Vlachos, the second-ranked Crimson Tide's center.
The coaches have certainly helped nurture those memories going into Saturday's rematch in Auburn with the Tide (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) now the team from the state on the verge of a title shot.
Alabama's a 21-point favorite over the Tigers (7-4, 4-3) for this one but has been pointing to this game ever since the last one.
Signs reading "28-27. Never Again" found their way into the weight room and locker room not long after the ninth-ranked Tide blew the huge lead.
If players need a little motivation lifting weights, they check the wall.
Or just listen to the booming voice of strength coach Scott Cochran.
"He's gonna remind us every time we work out that this is not what we want to happen," Tide safety Robert Lester said.
Tailback Trent Richardson said the reminder "always has to stay in your head."
"We played some of the best football we played, and they came all the way back on us," Richardson said. "They went on to win the championship. You've got to have that in the back of your head."
The Tide was up by three touchdowns before Auburn even had a first down. A 314-2 lead in total yards disintegrated under three touchdown passes and a scoring run by quarterback Cam Newton, who was on his way to the Heisman Trophy.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said the game might have emphasized the different makeup of a national title team and one that doesn't measure up. After all, the Tide scored a late touchdown in a 26-21 Iron Bowl win two years ago en route to SEC and national championships.
"When you have a team that wins a national championship, whether it's ours or theirs, they have that kind of competitive spirit," Saban said. "You tell your players at halftime that they're not going to go away and you've got to get ready for the barrage of what's going to happen and you've got to sort of survive the flurries. They did a better job in the second half than we did."
The game supplied ample bitter reminders and anomalies for Alabama, including:
— Alabama's normally sure-handed tailback Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, stumbled at the end of a long run and had the ball knocked loose from behind by defensive end Antoine Carter. It rolled about 20 yards and into Auburn's end zone, where the Tigers fell on it for a touchback.
"I was stumbling. I was trying to gain my balance," Ingram said. "When I gained my balance, he hit it out. Great play."
It was only his second lost fumble in 38 career games and 621 touches.
Vlachos said that play sums up the day's frustration. "I don't think you can explain a ball rolling however many yards down the sideline, out of the end zone," he said.
— All-America safety Mark Barron appeared in position to break up a pass downfield. Barron couldn't raise his right arm because, it turns out, he was playing with a torn pectoral muscle, and the play turned into a 70-yard touchdown.
It's a play, Saban said, "that he'd have probably made nine out of 10 times if he wasn't hurt."Comment on this story
"That's when we realized maybe something more was wrong with him," the coach said.
— The Tide had first-and-goal at Auburn's 3 but had to settle for a field goal for their only points of the second half after Richardson dropped a sure TD pass.
"It hurts a lot," the tailback said. "I know in my head that we could have had that ballgame won. But I've tried to put it behind me. I got too happy trying to go into my celebration too fast."
Maybe the entire team did.