The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 26, 2013

Decatur man has perfect attendance at Iron Bowl


Associated Press

— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Al Jones is the last man standing among the official members of the Alabama-Auburn Perfect Attendance Club. When he visits Jordan-Hare Stadium this weekend for the annual Iron Bowl clash, the Decatur native will have mixed feelings about that accomplishment.

He's been attending the event every year since the rivalry's renewal in 1948 and that 66-game streak is an incredible accomplishment that he's proud of. But his status as the only remaining member of the club means longtime friends Dick Coffee of Birmingham and Oakley Melton of Montgomery passed away since the 2012 game, leaving the 87-year-old Jones as the only remaining member of an organization that numbered in the dozens when it was started by Melton in the mid-1950s.

"I guess there were 30 or 40 of us in it at first," Jones said. "I wonder why I'm the last one standing. The guy I really admired is Dick Coffee, who had a streak of 781 straight Alabama games. His wife described it perfectly at his funeral when she said Dick had never seen Alabama play on television."

Jones was a navigator in the Air Force when World War II ended and he enrolled at Alabama after the war. A fraternity brother of Melton, the trio of Jones, Coffee and Melton attended the first Iron Bowl at Legion Field in 1948.

"I was in school down there," he said. "I went to the game in 1948 and 1949 when I was in school, and I just kept on going. Then there was some inspiration to it after Oakley started the club.

"One of the great things about it is I've been alive for every one of Alabama's national championships. I was six days old when Alabama beat Washington in the 1926 Rose Bowl."

While many of the games fade over time, Jones has his list of favorites and those that fall into the other category. At the top of his list is the 1985 Iron Bowl, a 25-23 Tide victory that still ranks as the most exciting fourth quarter in the history of the series. There were four lead changes in the final eight minutes before Mike Shula led the Alabama offense 45 yards in six plays in the final 57 seconds, culminating with Van Tiffin's dramatic 52-yard field goal as time expired.

"I guess the field goal in Birmingham would certainly rank up among the favorites," he said. "That thing went over Graymont Avenue. It's still heading south, he hit it so good."

His least favorite Iron Bowl is just as dramatic as Auburn rallied from a 16-0 deficit in the fourth quarter in 1972 to knock off Alabama 17-16, using a pair of blocked punts by Bill Newton and a pair of returns by David Langner for the shocking upset.

"The one I hated the most is 'Punt, 'Bama, Punt,' " he said. "Something about 'Bear' (Alabama coach Paul Bryant) that day. He had them in short punt formation twice."

Melton missed the 2011 game at Jordan-Hare Stadium because of back problems, but Jones continues to be the picture of perfect health despite his age and has never come close to missing an Iron Bowl because of his health.

"I'm pretty active," he said. "The last few years, I've gone to the game with my nephew and sit in the box (luxury suites) but I'm in good shape. I bet I could climb the stadium steps two or three times and back."

Of course, he's a little biased but he believes the top-ranked Tide will win another Iron Bowl this weekend.

"I think our defense is going to slow Auburn's offense down and we'll be all right," he predicted, "but I'd be happy with a one-point win. I'm a little scared. We're playing them at (Jordan-Hare) and that counts for something."