Up until the year 1906, the sports team from University of Alabama was referred to as either the “varsity” or “Crimson White,” referring to the school colors; then, in 1906, Hugh Roberts used the phrase “Crimson Tide” when he was describing a game against Auburn in Birmingham that was played in red mud. Auburn was favored to win, but Alabama played a great game, thus the beginning of their name. However, it was former sports editor of the Birmingham News, Zipp Newman, who was responsible for popularizing the name.
When you think “tide,” you think of the sea or some body of water. You don’t really think of it as a name for a school’s athletic team. Additionally, their mascot is an elephant. How did it come about that they are now known as the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Before the tide
Newspaper accounts from the early 1900s on Alabama football referred to the football team from the University of Alabama as the “varsity” or the “Crimson White,” a nod to the school colors. After a while, they were referred to as the “Thin Red Line.” This was a nickname that stuck until 1906.
The coming of the tide
In the 1907 Iron Bowl, Alabama faced off against Auburn in Birmingham. This game is also remarkable as the last contest between the two schools until 1948, when the Iron Bowl resumed.
This game happened to be played in a sea of red mud, and Auburn was heavily favored to win; yet the “Thin Red Line” apparently played a good game, and they held the game to tie at 6-6. Upon reporting about the game, Hugh Roberts, the former sports editor for Birmingham Age Herald, used the phrase “Crimson Tide” in describing the team. And since then, the name stuck.
It should also be noted that although, Hugh Roberts is credited with coining the phrase, it was Zipp Newman (former sports editor for the Birmingham News), among so many other writers, that popularized the name when referring to the team.