We interrupt this tornado warning for a football game

Photo of a tornado
Not a football game (click for a larger version)
Image from Wikimedia Commons user Justin1569
Happy Thanksgiving! To my many friends in the United States, I hope you had a wonderful holiday full of family, friends, food, and – for many of us, football.

It’s hard to overstate the cultural impact of (American) football in the southern United States. Pro football is king on Thanksgiving Day itself, of course, but late November is when the college football season is reaching peak excitement. I’ve written here before about growing up as a college football fan, in a city without an NFL team. But as big as the college game was in Orlando, fans there don’t have the fanaticism of a football state like Alabama – the topic of today’s post.

On the night of December 2, 1983, more than nine inches of rain fell on Alabama. Severe thunderstorms were in the forecast again the next day, but no amount of rain could stop the traditional “Iron Bowl” rivalry between the University of Alabama and Auburn University. The teams were meeting on Saturday, December 3rd, for the 36th consecutive year at the neutral site of Legion Field in Birmingham, about halfway between the two schools.

Alabama had dominated the rivalry throughout the 1970s, winning nine straight games, but Auburn had finally won one the previous year. Led by sophomore running back (and future two-sport star) Bo Jackson, Auburn had a record of 9-1 and was ranked number 3 in the country, while Alabama was 7-3 and ranked number 19. The game was being televised nationwide on ABC, called by the legendary Keith Jackson along with former Arkansas coach Frank Broyles, and shown in Birmingham on the local ABC affiliate.

The sun was shining at kickoff, but the weather took a rapid turn for the worse. Tornadoes are fairly not as common in Alabama as they are in the Great Plains, but they do happen – and as the afternoon wore on and the air pressure dropped, conditions started to look perfect for a tornado to form. Late in the third quarter with Alabama leading 20-16, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a tornado warning for north-central Alabama, including Birmingham. The local ABC affiliate, superimposed a tornado warning on the national broadcast signal, and meteorologist Mary Brown prepared to read the NWS warning.

But – this is the American South, where even the meteorologists are football fans. And from this perfect storm (lol #seewhatididthere) of weather football arose one of the great moments of unintentional comedy ever to air on American televisions. Click the video below to watch the hilarity unfold:

Auburn held on to win 23-20. There was no Internet in 1983, so this never became a meme, but a tradition was born all the same.

We interrupt this tornado warning for a football game!

Read more about how weather impacted this game at the Alabama Weather Blog.

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