FLORENCE — Forget the streak of Southeastern Conference teams winning BCS championships. Perhaps the most impressive streak in the SEC will continue Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
That’s when Jo Beth Hurt will enter Bryant-Denny Stadium to attend her 60th consecutive Iron Bowl. Her husband, Bob Hurt, isn’t far behind. He will be attending his 59th straight Auburn-Alabama contest.
“It’s amazing that we’ve both been able to go to as many Iron Bowls in a row without being sick or something else coming up,” Jo Beth said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
She hopes that fun continues Saturday, although her beloved Auburn Tigers are going through a miserable season and are a 34-point underdog to the second-ranked Crimson Tide.
Jo Beth began her streak in 1953 when she was a sophomore at Bessemer High School. Bob’s streak began in 1954 when he was a freshman at Auburn. The two, who met at the university, didn’t attend the Iron Bowl together until 1958.
“I went with my high school boyfriend to my first Iron Bowl and never have missed since,” Jo Beth said. “Bessemer is right next to Birmingham, so it was easy for me to go to the game (which was played at Birmingham’s Legion Field until 1989). I would go with my dad and with friends.”
While Jo Beth was born into an Auburn family and was an Auburn fan from an early age, Bob didn’t become a Tigers fan until he took a train from his hometown of Chattanooga to attend college at Auburn.
“When I got off the train at that train station, I looked around and said ‘Where in the hell am I?’ ” Bob said with a laugh. “I didn’t know a soul there, but I was in the right place at the right time.”
Bob said he became ingrained in the Auburn campus life quickly, and was a cheerleader for the Tigers in 1956 and 1957. He still proudly wears a 1957 national championship ring. A picture of him with former Auburn coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan at a pep rally celebrating the championship hangs in the couple’s living room.
“I just love football and love Auburn,” Bob said.
And that love manifests itself every year in late November when the couple treks from Florence to either Auburn or Tuscaloosa for the state’s annual rivalry game.
Having seen the ebbs and flows in the rivalry during six decades, one Iron Bowl stands out in particular for the couple.
“Back when boosters could help in recruiting players, Bob was the recruiting contact person for this area, and we would meet the coaches,” Jo Beth said. “When Coach (Pat) Dye became coach, he met us up here and we took him to a barbecue dinner. Our (12-year old) daughter Jo Anna said ‘Coach Dye, I want to ask if you would do something for me. Would you please beat Alabama? I can’t remember Auburn ever beating Alabama.”
One year later in 1982, Dye led the Tigers to a 23-22 victory over Alabama to snap a nine-game losing streak in the series. The Hurts were there to rush the field with other delirious Auburn fans.
“We looked for Coach Dye after the game on the field, but couldn’t find him,” Jo Beth said. “But on Sunday, the phone rings and it was him, wanting to talk to Jo Anna. He said he told the team before the game about her asking him to get a victory over Alabama for her. That’s probably my favorite Iron Bowl memory.”
Other games stand out for the Hurts, most notably the 1972 “Punt, Bama Punt” game and the 1989 game, when the Iron Bowl was played in Auburn for the first time — both Auburn victories.
“That was a very emotional day,” Jo Beth said. “There were lots of people with tears in their eyes. The Tiger Walk was about five or six deep before the game.”
But more than just the exciting games, their love of Auburn causes the Hurts to keep making their annual pilgrimage.
“It’s just hard not to love Auburn when you’ve gone to school there,” Jo Beth said. “Auburn is like a second home to us. You can watch the game on TV, but there’s nothing like it when the team comes out before the game with the fight song playing. This is just part of life for us.”
And with all three of their children having graduated from Auburn and a granddaughter attending the university, don’t look for the Hurts to end their Iron Bowl streak anytime soon.
“I saw a lady in a wheelchair at a game and said to my children ‘See that lady in the wheelchair? You’ll have to do that for me one of these days,’ ” Jo Beth said. “We plan on going to the games as long as our health will let us.”