Before He Was “The Head Ball Coach”

It was Saturday, October 30, 1965. And it was a beautiful day for football! My father, mother and I were on our way from Lower Alabama to the Plains of Auburn for a homecoming game that matched our Tigers with the Florida Gators.IMG_2355

The visitors were a heavy favorite. They were bringing an impressive 4-1 record into the tilt, while the home team, with losses to Baylor, Georgia Tech, and Southern Mississippi, was really struggling that year at 2-3-1.

The contingent from Gainesville, Florida was lead by a brash young kid from Johnson City, Tennessee. His name was Steven Orr Spurrier.

This was the first game ever televised from, what was then, Cliff Hare Stadium. It would later be re-named Jordan-Hare Stadium for, then, legendary head coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan.

Coach Jordan was given to referring to the Gator quarterback as “Steve Superior”.

“Superior” had led his team to wins over non-conference foes Northwestern and North Carolina State. They sported SEC victories over LSU and Ole Miss. Their lone setback came at the hands of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

When the LeCroy clan finally made it to Auburn, it seemed like it took an eternity to get there, they headed over to the home of Nelle and Bill Mims, my aunt and uncle. Aunt Nelle was my mother’s sister. Uncle Bill was retired from the Georgia-Pacific railroad. They had moved to “the loveliest village” where he now had a job with Buildings and Grounds at Auburn University.

Uncle Bill quipped to my father that he might have to drive the jeep that would carry the ABC television camera up and down the home sideline as this was an altogether new venture for the school.

I thought that would be the greatest thing in the world! Would I be allowed to ride in the jeep? As it turns out, this did not come to pass, but that was okay. There were some big fish to fry later that day.

And what a day it turned out to be!

The visiting Gators led the home underdog Tigers 10-0 at the half. Junior quarterback, Spurrier, had thrown a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jack Harper and their kicker, Wayne Barfield, booted a 26-yard field goal. The sellout crowd, of 45,000, was dismayed but not daunted.

The Tigers regrouped at the break. And it turned out to be a tough second half for the young quarterback from the mountains of East Tennessee. Auburn middle linebacker, Bill Cody, intercepted a Spurrier pass and returned it for 29 yards and a touchdown. Spurrier also fumbled at the Florida 10, in the fourth quarter, and it rolled into the end zone. Cody was also the recipient of this snafu that gave Auburn an insurmountable lead.IMG_2358

The Tigers scored 28 unanswered points in that second half. Spurrier threw a late TD pass to Charlie Casey, which mattered little, and Auburn upset the Gators, 28-17.

It was a big win for the home team and a hard learning experience for the tough, talented and talkative young Gator QB.

October 29, 1966 was a horse of a different color.

Florida was celebrating homecoming this time around.

60,000 fans had jammed Florida Field, which was later dubbed “The Swamp” by an alumnus who had returned to coach the Gators in 1990 ;).

Florida was undefeated and Steve “Superior” was their senior quarterback. They also had designs on an SEC Championship, a National Championship, and a Heisman Trophy for their team leader.

The game turned out to be a see-saw battle which went down to the wire.

Auburn took the opening kickoff and Larry Ellis returned it 89 yards for a touchdown.

It’s on!!!

Florida retaliated with a 10-yard TD pass from Spurrier to Richard Trapp. They also scored on a 2-yard TD run.

Auburn stunned the old Gator grads with a 90-yard fumble return and added a 30-yard field goal by Jimmy “Rattlesnake” Jones before halftime. They took a 17-13 lead into the dressing room. The Tigers opened the second half scoring with a 27-yard field goal.

Florida immediately tied it when Larry Smith scored a TD from two-yards out. It was 20-20.

Spurrier put the home team on top with 2-yard sneak, early in the fourth quarter, but Auburn quarterback, Larry Blakeney ran one in from the three after Yearout recovered yet another fumble at the Gator 16.

The game was tied, 27-27.

Spurrier then began to engineer a march toward the Tiger goal line, but the drive was stopped when the Gator field general was called for an intentional grounding penalty.

It was now fourth down with just over two minutes remaining in the game and Florida at the Auburn 26 yard-line.

A field goal attempt would be 40 yards and that was outside the comfort zone of the Gator’s regular placekicker.

Spurrier had kicked 40-yard field goals in practice and begged Florida head coach, Ray Graves, to give him a shot at it.IMG_2359

He did.

You can imagine what happened. It was like something out a sports novel for young kids, or maybe the popular AMC TV show, Friday Night Lights.

Yes, Steve Spurrier nailed the field goal, with 2:12 remaining, Florida captured very hard-fought 30-27 win and, as most of you know, Spurrier went on to take home the Heisman Trophy.

Those are my first memories of Steve Spurrier, or “Superior”, and his heroics on the gridiron.

You know the rest of the story. I don’t need to recount it for you here, yet again.

Many, many tales of championships he won at Duke and Florida have “swamped” television, newspapers, and social media over the past week. And you know of his unprecedented success at the University of South Carolina, from which he recently resigned. You also know of his failure to generate a winner on the NFL level with the Washington Redskins.

I’ll never forget the great upset wins Auburn had over number one ranked Gator squads in 1993, ’94, and 2001. But those were the ONLY three wins my Tigers were able to generate vs. the “evil genius” during his tenure at Florida. Auburn’s final record stood at 3-10 against Spurrier and the Gators.

OUCH!

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There are many fan bases that “Darth Visor” has rubbed the wrong way over the years. Cough cough… Georgia and Tennessee.

But I have always really liked him and have truly enjoyed following the journey of Steven Orr Spurrier. My son and I have had numerous conversations in “Spurrier Speak”. They would begin something like, “Well, we found out nobody had ever scored fifty points on Georgia in Athens before, so we thought we’d try that!”

Priceless!

I laugh when I think about it and about him.

I know you’ve probably also read many of Spurrier’s famous quotes from over the years. I’ll leave you with, possibly,one my favorites. It’s from the lips of the only Heisman winner he coached, Danny Wuerffel. This was after Wuerffel had thrown a costly interception. He then apologized for the turnover.

Spurrier replied, “Danny, it’s not your fault, it’s my fault for putting you in the game.”

So here’s to the “Head Ball Coach”!

May he not, “Go gentle into that good night.”

Damn It Anyway

Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers will open the 2015-16 men’s basketball season on November 13th versus the UAB Blazers at Auburn Arena.

Here is a projected look at the starting five which includes four who did not start last season for the Tigers:

1. Kareem Canty 2. T.J. Dunans 3. Danjel Purifoy 4. Cinmeon Bowers 5. Tyler Harris

OH WAIT!!! It’s not basketball season just yet, DANGIT!!!

Ok folks, just a feeble attempt at humor during a time when it is much needed, especially with the position the football team has now found itself in.

Now, let me pose a few questions to you. What if you knew, before the season began, that neither Carl Lawson nor Jeremy Johnson would be in the starting lineup? What would you have thought? What would your projection be as far as wins and losses after five games?

And how about these stats?

*After five games last season the Tigers were averaging 268.0 rushing yards per game and 229.2 passing yards while posting a 5-0 record. This season the numbers are 190.0 rushing yards per game with 153.8 passing.
Defensively, after five games last season the Tigers were allowing 100.2 rushing yards per game and 206.4 passing yards. This season the averages are 209.6 rushing yards allowed per game and 202.4 passing.
Last season through five games the offense made 21 trips into the red zone and scored every time with 17 of those touchdowns. This season the Tigers have scored on 13 of 17 red zone trips with 10 touchdowns.

*Taken from Inside The Auburn Tigers at Auburn.scout.com

Chew on this for a bit:

SportSourceAnalytics ‏@SportSourceA
With Duke Williams’ dismissal, @FootballAU now only has 16.6% of their offensive production back from 2014. Lowest in #FBS. #Auburn

“Sobering is probably not the right word, because alcohol may be the only solution for remainder of season.” (Author’s comment from the above which was taken from Twitter.)

And my reply which is taken from Willie Nelson:

“Well I gotta get drunk and I sure do dread it, ‘Cause I know just what I’m gonna do, I’ll start to spend my money callin’ everybody honey and wind up singin’ the blues, I’ll spend my whole paycheck on some old wreck, And brother I can name you a few, Well I gotta get drunk and I sure do dread it, ‘Cause I know just what I’m gonna do…”

Well there you have it. Thank you for reading the the column! Tip your waitresses! See you next week! Drive safely! We love you!

Noooooooo… but LAWD, ain’t it tempting?

Auburn now stands at 3-2 and 0-2 in the SEC.

That’s where we are. Where do we go from here? Will the Tigers win even ONE conference game? Will they make a bowl? Can they right the ship?

Here is the ONLY thing that I know for sure. And this is guaranteed. AUBURN WILL NOT LOSE SATURDAY. It will not happen. Bet the farm on it.

And most of you are already quick onto this ruse. Auburn cannot lose Saturday because they have an open date.

Ok! Let’s dig for that silver lining I mentioned in a previous column.

In spite of what you’ve heard, Auburn won last Saturday. Yes, the opponent was San Jose State but I will sure as heck take it. SJS had more first downs, more yards rushing, and more yards passing; but Auburn had more points. It’s a place to start. It’s something to build on. The Tigers also ran the ball well, with Peyton Barber doing the most damage. It’s something to build on.

Sean White didn’t exactly air the ball out, he was 6 for 10, but he had ZERO interceptions. He made some good decisions and he seemed to provide some spark and leadership. It’s something to build on.

Also, Auburn gathered four turnovers and had ZERO themselves. Yes, they put the ball on the ground but they did not LOSE a fumble. It’s something to build on.

Auburn may not have looked like the Packers of the 60’s but they WERE opportunistic. It’s something to build on.

Now, back to the present and the immediate future. Auburn, mercifully, finds itself with that open date. Talk about something that was needed. Hallelujah!

In practice the team has gone back to the basics. They are working on fundamentals. They are doing some one on one work. It appears that the coaches and players have turned up the intensity and focus. That is what they’d better be doing because, if they don’t go all in and improve from week to week, then we’re all looking at a record of 4-8, most likely.

People, Gus Malzahn, Will Muschamp and the rest of the coaching staff did not suddenly turn stump dumb. They did not forget how to coach. There have been circumstances, both within, and without, and beyond their control, that have brought them to this point. They are doing everything possible to get this thing turned around. You can bet on that.

Earl Brown was the head football coach from 1948-1950, just prior to Shug Jordan’s hiring. He won a total of three games in those three years. His final season saw the Tigers go OH and TEN. OH yeah. he was quoted as saying Auburn was, “a graveyard for coaches.”

And then along came Ralph “Shug” Jordan.

Shug, himself, was quoted as saying something to the effect of, “Auburn’s worst enemy is Auburn.”

I couldn’t agree more.

AND the ONE thing that the Auburn Family does not need to do is become fractured, frustrated and forlorn. There does not need to be in-fighting. Or people screaming for the coaches heads (and I have heard some of this already).

Auburn, and her Family, don’t need to be thinking about their final record and what bowl they, may or may not, go to. They need to be focusing on the here and now and getting better. The Auburn Family needs to unite and get behind these coaches and this football team.

This football team will, hopefully, harken back to the aforementioned Shug Jordan’s Seven D’s of Success:

1. Discipline 2. Desire to Excel 3. Determination 4. Dedication 5. Dependability 6. Desperation 7. Damn it Anyway

And I will quote coach Jordan’s elaboration on point number seven.

“When you have done everything you can do and things still seem to be going against you, you have to reach down, get something extra from your innerself, forget the adverse circumstances and do something anyway. Someone once put it, ‘Do something–right or wrong–just do something.’ One thing for certain. You are not going to win by accepting the overwhelming odds.”

Amen.

I Believe In Auburn and Love It

Saturday night was was another tough one in an ever-growing string of disappointing Saturdays for Auburn University and her Family.

If you are even the most casual of Auburn, or college football fans, you know what happened. The Tigers came up, again, on the short end of the stick.

Mississippi State 17, Auburn 9

Auburn showed signs of improvement but it was not enough to win. There were some areas on which to build and it is my undying hope that Gus Malzahn’s 2015 group of fighting felines from East Alabama will do just that (now channeling my inner “Leonard” from “Leonard’s Losers).

Since that excruciating loss on Saturday night, I have been “wrestlin’ with them angels” as Coach Pat Dye once, now famously, said.

I have wrestled with angels and devils, demons and deities, and have come to no conclusions about Auburn or how the remainder of this young football season might turn out.

But I do know this. It is in times like this that players, coaches and fans alike have to reach down deep within themselves and respond how Auburn men and women have responded, so often, to adversity in the past. And that is by calling on those qualities that have been ingrained in them by those who have gone before them and by those who live by them today.

The Auburn Creed stands above all else as an articulation of who the Auburn Family is and/or what they believe in:

The Auburn Creed

I believe that this is a practical world and that I can count only on what I earn. Therefore, I believe in work, hard work.

I believe in education, which gives me the knowledge to work wisely and trains my mind and my hands to work skillfully.

I believe in honesty and truthfulness, without which I cannot win the respect and confidence of my fellow men.

I believe in a sound mind, in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid, and in clean sports that develop these qualities.

I believe in obedience to law because it protects the rights of all.

I believe in the human touch, which cultivates sympathy with my fellow men and mutual helpfulness and brings happiness for all.

I believe in my Country, because it is a land of freedom and because it is my own home, and that I can best serve that country by “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God.”

And because Auburn men and women believe in these things, I believe in Auburn and love it.
-George Petrie (1945)DSC02603

My father taught me The Auburn Creed, and not with words, EVER, but by the way he lived. By his example.

The following is a blog that I wrote around Father’s Day weekend. Thank you for indulging me, if you have or haven’t read it.

A Tribute To My Father

My father, daddy to us, was born into a poor family of dirt farmers, in Chilton County, AL, back in 1916. He was the baby of nine children. Being such, he was spoiled by his older sisters, especially Aunt Lorene, who was closest to him in age. She even went off with him to Jacksonville State, in 1937, to “take care” of him.

Daddy played football during his brief time at Jax State. He was a center and back then, much like in the shotgun formation today, the center had to deep snap in the single wing formation. He prided himself on doing it well.

He grew up knowing none of the luxuries his sons enjoy today. He had to get up before dawn, start a fire, milk the cows and, often, fetch corn from the large crib in the yard near the smokehouse and water pump.

He also plowed, and plowed, and plowed the small parcel of land they made a hard living on, in the Isabella community near Maplesville, Alabama.

Yes, the family DID, indeed, live five miles from the school and the kids had to get there any way they could. They would walk, or if they were lucky, grab a ride on the back of a wagon which was headed that way.

After his one year in Jacksonville, he heard about a co-op program, whereby he could go to school at Auburn, and he hoped to study agriculture. He would go to school for a semester and then work the following semester. Under this program he could graduate college and have it paid for, in full, by the time he graduated.

He spoke numerous times of, literally, plowing his way through Auburn. Much of this plowing was done along S. College St. where the KA house and other fraternities stood for many, many years. This was across the street from the buildings where he attended classes. These classroom buildings were Samford Hall, Comer Hall and Langdon Hall.

Coincidentally, Auburn Stadium, which is now Jordan-Hare Stadium, was built during his sophomore year on the Plains, in 1939.

Daddy met mama while they were both students at Auburn. They were married in 1941, shortly after he graduated. Mama insisted they be married on a Sunday, March 15, so they could attend Auburn First Baptist Church on their wedding day.

He served, stateside, during WW2 in communications. My brother, Jerry LeCroy, was born on August 14, 1945. Daddy was stationed in Miami, at the time, and that day happened to be the day Japan surrendered.

My uncle, Wilfred Weatherly, sent him a telegram stating, “Braxton Jr. is born and the Japs surrender!” Oddly enough, I was the one later named Braxton Jr.

My parents moved to Camden, AL in 1948. Daddy was employed by the Farmer’s Home Administration at the time and remained with the FHA until his retirement in the early 70’s.

Daddy was a proud alumnus of of API (Alabama Polytechnic Institute). The name was not officially changed to Auburn University until 1960. He told many tales of the football games he attended which only served to really whet his youngest son’s voracious appetite for all things Auburn. My love for Auburn was already strong before he took me to my first game in 1961. My life was, then, changed forever. Auburn defeated Clemson, 24-14, on homecoming that bright Saturday. And hardly a passing Saturday, in autumns to come, passed without me begging daddy to take me to Auburn.

God bless him, he did this quite a few times over the next several years.

On April 2, 1982, daddy passed away. He was far too young to go at 66 years of age. He died of an extremely rare blood infection called “micro bacterium fortuitum”, which he evidently contracted during open heart surgery to replace an aortic valve in September of 1980. He also had an aneurism repaired and a quadruple bypass during that surgery.

He was never the same after that.

We now have a brick, in his honor, placed in the ring just inside the gate in the south end zone, where the Auburn Tigers enter, at the completion of the Tiger Walk.IMG_1178

There are countless times I’ve wanted to talk with him about football after a particularly big win involving our Tigers. I’ve even prayed to him and the “huge cloud of witnesses” that must surround Jordan-Hare Stadium during a beautiful fall afternoon. And with all due respect to my Alabama friends, I could picture him beaming brightly after the “Kick Six” in November of 2013.

Daddy, it’s a beautiful summer Saturday afternoon here in north Georgia. Two of your great-grandchildren, Max and Lorelei are here with us. I so wish they could share this time with you. You could regale them both with tales of the 1949 Alabama game, a huge 14-13 upset in the rain at Legion Field, or the last game you attended in 1980. That was the only game trip you shared with your grandson, Luke. And I remember your story, that night, of sitting near some twins who were family of one of the Dixie Darlings from Southern Miss. and how you thought you were “seeing double”.

I will raise a glass to you tonight, Daddy. It’ll be Makers Mark and not your favorite, Old Forester. But I will smile, hoist the glass, and through my tears give you a resounding “WAR EAGLE”.

After much consternation as to how I would approach my column this week, this is what I came up with.

So, when I encounter adversity I often turn to my father and his memory. I know how he would respond, and that is with humility, grace, dignity and aplomb.

In the grand scheme of things, football is just that… football. It is not eternal. It will not sink you or save you. But, it is a metaphor for life.

And… it’s a whole lot of fun, especially for those of us who grew up in the great state of Alabama. 😉

Now! Let’s all assemble in our homes, cars and bars, or arenas, and have a WHOLE LOT OF FUN with it THIS Saturday!