Still Crazy After All These Years

The following was written for a dear old childhood friend upon the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY EDGAR!!! The good times continue!

It was the spring of 1975 and Olivia Newton-John was coming to Troy. I had been asked, by a girl from A O Pi, to attend a formal in Atlanta that same weekend. When I realized that Ms Newton-John, the Austrailian goddess, was scheduled for that weekend I had some apologizing to do. I had to back out of the formal. I had heard that a Camden contingent was headed for the Wiregrass and there was no way I was going to miss all this. Stick Dunham and Lyn Wheatly would be the primary hosts for our hometown gang. Excitement was abound. Here is the guest list of the guys I can remember were there…Frank “Woodchopper” Dobson, Tommy “Ompsy” McGraw, Frank “The Hammer” McGraw and our dear Edgar Alvin “Eddie Bo” McGraw.

The lines were drawn, the beer was cold and the Wilcox County crew was headed southeast. I’m not sure who was where that afternoon but I remember winding up with Little Buck headed up Three Notch St. in my 1970 Maverick listening to Linda Ronstadt singing, “When Will I Be Loved”. The Mav, of course, had been purchased from Johnny Webb and was well-equipped with three-on-the-column and no AC.

Somehow we all wound up in the Smith Hall parking lot as the concert was to be held next door at the gymnasium. Everyone was “juiced up” and ready to roll. Most of our crowd sat in the bleachers but “Buck 2” and I were more adventurous and made our way down near the stage. At one point Frank found some roses that were placed nearby and carried them to Ms. Newton-John personally. Also during a lull in between songs I heard Ompsy’s distinct voice bellow, “I love you baby!!!!”

Some quick background on our connection with Olivia… The summer before we had all become enamored with her. Little Jack Strother had opened a beautiful “Supper Club” in a double wide just west of the four way stop, on the bypass, on the way to Canton Bend, Miller’s Ferry, Catherine, or wherever one might be headed out that highway. Jack had some state-of-the-art video equipment and some footage of Ms.Newton-John singing, “If You Love Me Let me Know”. After hours at the “Supper Club” a large group of us would gather around the projection screen, watch the video as we sang along and lust after Olivia.

Those were the days of wagering on Major League Baseball. Edgar happened to be life guard that summer at our swimming pool located over by old Barnett Field where the “Youth Center” was located above the locker rooms. I’m not sure if Edgar saved anybody from drowning that season but I do recall us poring over the Sporting News and daily papers in an attempt to decide who we would place our bets on that evening.

Anyway, back to Troy. When the concert was over we headed back toward Smith Hall and our cars. Frank Jr. had parked next to me in his Gran Torino. We got in our respective vehicles and I noticed Frank waving and hollering at me frantically. I rolled my windows down and he turned his 8 track up full volume to “If You Love Me Let Me Know”. We then all roared and hooted and headed for Stick’s house where a good time was had by all.

Later in the evening, after many lies and beers, we realized that more brew could be in order. Eddie Bo and I were nominated to go to the Jr. Food Store and load up. We did. Edgar marched into the convenience store, found a dolly and loaded it to the top with Schlitz, “The beer that made Milwaukee famous,” and we returned to Stick’s house where the festivities continued until the wee wee hours of the morning.

I’m going to leave it at that before I get us all in trouble.

Auburn: Gus Bus at the Halfway Point

This week the Gus Bus is in the shop for a tune up and some repairs. She wasn’t hitting on all eight last week. The ride to Starkville proved to be a rough and tumble one. There were some sputters. There were some misses. And there were even some zebras cluttering the highway that caused the bus to swerve completely off the road.

But be not dismayed AU faithful. The Gus Bus will return to the freeway as fast as ever, a week from Saturday, and fully equipped to make a run toward either Pasadena or the Big Easy.

Here are the stops that newly tweaked vehicle will make along the way.

Back to the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium first. The opponent will be the struggling South Carolina Gamecocks and, barring some kind of total collapse, the Tigers should prevail.

Next stop Oxford, Mississippi. Better check the tires and fluids, change the oil and wash the windshield for this excursion. The Black Bears will be a highly formidable foe. This could be the most challenging game left on the schedule.

November 8 will find a return trip back home. Texas A&M will come calling. They will fill the crisp, cool air with footballs. I know I will be ‘Trilled’ to see this battle. The home team does have a much better defense and they should be able to outscore the visiting Aggies at worst.

Athens, Georgia will be the destination as the Tigers hit the road for their tenth game of the 2014 campaign. This is a hard team to read. One thing you can expect is that the pups will come out growling and snarling. They WILL be ready to take on the Tigers. The Cats and Dawgs create some flying fur between the hedges.

Auburn’s first Heisman Trophy winner, Pat Sullivan, brings yet another group of canines to the place where he thrilled Tiger fans, a few decades ago, for the eleventh game of the year. Wow! Where does the time go? It seems like yesterday that I was sitting in a Math 100 class with Super Sully’s favorite target, Terry Beasley. We wish Coach Sullivan well, but the Gus Bus should flatten the visiting Bulldogs.

The Iron Bowl. The last stop of the regular season. The biggest game of the season. THE game of games each and every year in the state of Alabama. One of the most watched and talked about games across the nation. The orange and blue machine will roll into Tuscaloosa on November 29th. All eyes on T-Town. But what will be at stake? Will either team still have a shot at the College Football Playoff? Will the SEC West Championship remain within the grasp of either squad? None of these questions can be answered with certainty. The one thing we do know is the championship of the state of Alabama will be decided that day, and THAT is enough. But… something tells me that more will be within reach of at least one of the participants of the Iron Bowl.

So there we have it. We are halfway home. It has been a good ride on the Gus Bus thus far. Now buckle up for the remainder of the trip. And what a long, strange one it promises to be.

Auburn faithful, kick back and enjoy some great college football this weekend from the comfort of your living room, man cave, sports bar or wherever you might find yourself Saturday. Take time to enjoy all that is on tap. Refresh, refuel, refocus and GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!

Auburn: Corn Dogs and Cowbells

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the old Stealer’s Wheel song entitled ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’. That is the way I feel at this point in the college football season. I’ve got, now sing along with me, ‘Corn dogs to the left of me, cowbells to the right, here I am…’

When we’ve heard the clang of the last cowbell in Starkville, MS early Saturday evening, the Auburn Tigers will have completed playing their sixth game of the 2014 season. The same will be true for the host Bulldogs.

One of these teams will stand tall with a 6-0 record. The other will be 5-1. It will be extremely difficult for the loser of this game to capture the SEC West title. The winner of this contest will have to lose TWO conference games in order for the loser to have even a slight chance at winning the division. BIG game folks. REALLY big game!

But ah, before we break this huge clash down, let’s take a quick look at last Saturday and Auburn’s win over the LSU Tigers.

Auburn 41, LSU 7. That matches the largest margin of victory in this series for the Alabama Tigers. The 1999 game also ended in that very same score.

Auburn truly needed this game to exorcise some Bayou Bengal demons. Les Miles was 7-2 against Auburn and a couple of those wins were just flat out luck, or as I stated in last week’s column… Voodoo. The big victory created a massive, collective smile across the face of the Auburn Family.

Auburn played, by far, it’s most complete game of the season in Jordan-Hare Stadium last Saturday night. The offense was hitting on all eight cylinders and the defense was lights out. It was a great TEAM effort. HUGE win.

That is all well and good but it is time to focus on the business at hand.

Auburn vs. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs are averaging 541.8 yards per game while the Tigers offense is totaling 497.2.

State’s yardage has come by 272.6 yards rushing and 269.2 yards passing. Auburn is running for 268.0 and passing for 229.2 yards per outing.

State is scoring 42.6 points per game and Auburn scores at a 42.0 per game clip.

On defense the Bulldogs are struggling a bit giving up 426.4 yards each game with 328.2 coming through the air, but they only allow 98.2 rushing yards each outing. They sit at thirteenth in the SEC in total defense.

The Tigers are allowing a total of 306.0 yards per game. They are permitting an average 206.4 yards passing and 100.2 yards rushing each outing. They are number fourteen nationally in total D. In scoring D they come in at number nine giving up only 14.4 points per game while State allows 19.4 points per game.

Here are some take aways from observing those statistics. Both teams are very well balanced on offense. Both teams are very tough against the run on defense. They are practically dead even in scoring offense.

But here is where we get some separation. Auburn is much stronger in total defense giving up almost 120 yards per game less than State is allowing each time they take the field. Big edge to Auburn.

Also, MSU’s 328.2 average yards allowed passing indicates a leaky secondary. Nick Marshall’s passing was noticeably better last week. He hit 14 out of 22 passes for 207 yards. He also rushed for 119 yards. It appears the Marshall is hitting his stride.

Now let’s not take anything away from Dak Prescott. The young man is on fire! He is averaging 336 yards total offense per game and he is cool under pressure. AND he is a bona fide Heisman candidate.

Running backs. The Bulldog’s Josh Robinson has 592 yards rushing. The Tiger’s Cameron Artis-Payne has 594.

Both teams are 5-0. Auburn is ranked second in the AP poll while Miss State is tied with arch-rival Ole Miss at third in the country according to the AP.

Both teams are coming off emotional wins on their home fields.

This contest is being billed as the biggest home game in Miss State history. Tickets are going for as much as $1200 a pair. Their fan base is frothing at the mouth and at a fever pitch. They have never experienced anything like this in their school’s history. ESPN Game Day will be on hand.

Auburn has been there… many times. The last time was on September 18th in Manhattan, KS.

I have found myself in much the same position as the State fans find themselves now. I have seen the Tigers fail to seize the moment. I have seen Auburn rise to the cusp, only to watch it slip away.

13 seconds. That is how close the Auburn Tigers came to capturing their second national title in four years. Those 13 seconds have been a mantra around their football facilities since that fateful night in Pasadena earlier this year in the venerable Rose Bowl venue.

I sense something very, very special brewing on The Plains. TNT… Tough and Together.

From this vantage point it appears that the Auburn Tigers are much better on defense and special teams than their opponents, with Quan Bray taking two punt returns to the house. It seems that the two offenses are about equal.

Mississippi State has the cowbells and the home field advantage.

I think the game will be very close for the most part with Auburn’s overall talent, depth, coaching and big game experience prevailing in the end.

Auburn 41, Miss State 27.

Auburn vs. LSU: A Primer and a Prediction

My first exposure to LSU football emanated from the studios of the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana. WWL radio was situated in the venerable old gal. The station was found at 870 on your AM dial. Heck, what was FM back then? Did it even exist? This was in the early 60′s.

My family attended an average of about three Auburn games per season. The radio was our prime source for football information and live games.There was usually only one college game each week on TV. My daddy and I would often listen to the Auburn game in the afternoon and the LSU game at night. When we did go to Auburn I would stretch out in the back seat on the way home, we didn’t have seat belts either, and take in the other Tigers game from that position.

Great radio announcers are a dying breed. They should be able to paint a vivid picture of the game for their listeners. I could “see” LSU head coach Charlie McClendon’s Chinese Bandits, the term for the Tiger defense, as they swarmed a ball carrier. I could smell Death Valley’s turf. The commercials made me wonder about places like Ville Platte and Bogalusa, LA.

Even though I was a die hard Auburn fan, I dreamed of attending a game in Baton Rogue at night. We didn’t even have lights in Jordan-Hare Stadium until 1981. Coach Shug Jordan was adamant that college football should be played on real grass in the daytime.

My dream of attending a game in the Red Stick after dark finally happened in 1988. The undefeated and fourth ranked Auburn Tigers were 4-0. LSU had been beaten and was not ranked. The game was a defensive slug out. Auburn clung to a tenuous 6-0 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the game. LSU found itself with a fourth and goal at the Auburn eleven yard line. Auburn only had to muster a great pass rush one more time. They did not. Tommy Hodson hit Eddie Fuller in stride as he cruised into the end zone. Tiger Stadium exploded. The game has come to be known as the Earthquake Game. The noise caused a seismograph, in a nearby campus building, to register as an earthquake. My heart was completely broken as Auburn’s hopes for a national championship evaporated in the oppressive humidity of the October Louisiana night. Final score… LSU 7, Auburn 6.

I have not gotten over that game to this day.

The series is replete with oddities and bizarre occurrences.

There was the 1994 “interception” game and the 1996 contest when Auburn’s old basketball arena, The Barn, went up in flames. I won’t even talk about the 2005 and 2007 games. Voodoo! Pure and simple.

The 2004 and 2010 games were major turning points in Auburn’s march to national championships. Yes, I count the 2004 season as a mythical National Championship.They were proclaimed such by People’s Choice. Auburn was the best team in the country that year.

We will move on to this year’s matchup shortly after a quick look back at last week’s game against LA Tech.

One ex-Auburn quarterback called the homecoming clash a “glorified scrimmage”. That pretty much sums it up. Auburn was expected to dispose of the Bulldogs without a great deal of difficulty. They did.

Nick Marshall had a good day completing 10 of 17 passes and rushing for over 100 yards. Quan Bray was a force of nature. He scored three touchdowns and one of them was a 76 yard punt return. The other two came on superb passes caught. Duke Williams also made a circus catch for a TD.

The most impressive aspect of Auburn’s win was, once again, the defense. This unit is truly making great strides toward becoming one of the nation’s best. Hat’s off to Auburn’s defensive coaches Ellis Johnson, Charlie Harbison, Rodney Garner and Melvin Smith.

Ok, Auburn and LSU. Auburn has been made an 8 point favorite. The game will be televised on ESPN at 7 PM EDT. LSU is 4-1 with wins over Wisconsin, Sam Houston State, UL Monroe and New Mexico State. Their lone loss was to Mississippi State in Baton Rouge. Auburn is 4-0 with its wins coming over Arkansas, San Jose State, Kansas State and, as mentioned, LA Tech.

Auburn is ranked number 5 in both polls. LSU comes in at number 15 in each of the two.

The visiting Tigers are young but very talented. They are big and strong and fast as we have come to expect a Les Miles team to be. Auburn is big and strong and fast and laden with seasoned veterans. This is crucial .

LSU will start a freshman, Brandon Harris, at quarterback. He will be starting his first game in one of the most hostile environments in all of college football, Jordan-Hare Stadium at night. Baptism by fire. This is crucial also.

And I can’t help but think the Tigers from Alabama retain a very bitter taste in their mouth from their only regular season loss last year. They went down, 35-21, in Louisiana and it was a turning point in their season. They grew up and became a team on that rainy night on the bayou.

This is one of those games that could come down to turnovers. Auburn has been very good in taking the ball away from the opponent. Expect their front seven to rattle the young QB and help force a couple of picks.

When it’s all said and done, the host Tigers should be able to put the visiting Tigers away after yet another bruising battle between the two SEC West powers.

Auburn 31, LSU 20