40 Years Ago: The 1974 Auburn Tigers

It was September 14, 1974 and the unranked Auburn Tigers opened the season at Legion Field in Birmingham, AL. The Tigers were led by Ralph “Shug” Jordan who was entering his 24th campaign as head coach. The opponent was the Louisville Cardinals who were coached by, then unknown, Lee Corso. Auburn came out on top that night, 16-3, in a game that didn’t give fans any reason to expect the run the Tigers were about to embark on.

I was sitting on the end of a bleacher seat in Troy, AL, with my ear glued to a transistor radio, listening to Gary Sanders call the Auburn game. It was incidental that the Trojans were embroiled in a hard fought game with Northeast Louisiana, a game which they won 20-19. I trudged back to my fraternity house, Lambda Chi Alpha, happy that Auburn had won but wondering what the remainder of the season held in store.

The Chattanooga Moccasins, not named for the snake but the moccasin shape of the river near their home, were next up and did not create much anxiety or apprehension in the week leading up to the game. Auburn summarily disposed of the visitors 52-7. Many of of us who attended the game left at halftime to get a head start on that evening’s festivities.

The following Saturday on The Plains was an entirely different story. The 14th ranked Tennessee Volunteers were coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time EVER and all in attendance would rarely even take a seat during this highly anticipated contest.

The previous year UT had beaten AU 21-0 in a driving rainstorm in Knoxville. Adding insult to injury, Tennessee punted on first down more than once knowing the combination of the downpour and the inept Auburn offense were probably not a threat to score that afternoon. They did not. The Vols came out on top 21-0.

The 1974 game was shaping up as a doozy. Neither team had lost and the Vols had been installed as a four point favorite. I told anyone who would listen to take Auburn and the points. This was a true “lock.” There was no way Auburn was going to lose this one… and they didn’t. The Tiger defense, led by linebacker Ken Bernich and bookends Rusty Deen and Liston Eddins, gave Vol All-American quarterback Condredge Holloway and his entire offense fits. The visitors would not score. They almost failed to cross the fifty yard line even once.

Auburn reserve fullback Kenny Burks scored three touchdowns in leading the Tigers to a most impressive 21-0 win. Yes, 21-zip. The same score the Vols had won by in ’73. People were beginning to take notice.

Visiting, and eleventh ranked, Auburn pulled out a squeaker in the rain against the Miami Hurricanes the following week. The Tigers vaunted defense was number one in the country. Miami had a stout group of defenders themselves. Auburn 3, Miami 0.

The Tigers were now on a roll as they mowed down their next three opponents. Their veer offense had come on strong to complement the stifling defense. Quarterback Phil Gargis along with running backs Secedrick McIntyre and Mitzi Jackson were putting up big rushing numbers. Gargis was also teaming up with wide receiver Thomas Gossom for some big plays through the air. The scores of said trifecta… Auburn 31, Kentucky 13, Auburn 31, Georgia Tech 22 and Auburn 38, Florida State 6.

On November 2, the undefeated Tigers went into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL ranked number five in the country. The Florida Gators were ranked at number eleven. The game was nationally televised. Hopes were high. Those hopes were dashed as the home team came away with a 25-14 victory.

Regroup and press on. In week nine Auburn got by a very tough Mississippi State Bulldog squad 24-20 in Jackson, MS. Even over the radio, the home team’s cowbells were deafening. This prompted Shug Jordan to complain loudly to the SEC office and the artificial noisemaker ban was spawned.

The Georgia Bulldogs were next up in Auburn. They came up on the short end of a real nail-biter, 17-13.

Now the stage was set for a showdown between seventh ranked Auburn and the number two Alabama Crimson Tide. Sitting with friends in the Auburn student section, I saw the Tigers come ever so close to pulling off the upset on a classic autumn day back in Legion Field.

Bama managed to go to the locker room with a 10-7 lead over the Tigers. They stretched their lead to 17-7 in the third stanza on a 13-yard run by Calvin Culliver. Late in that quarter Phil Gargis hit what appeared to be a 41-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Gossom. The points were put on the scoreboard, and then they were taken down. An official, who was far removed from the play, said Gossom had stepped on the boundary line and the score was called back. This same official had not even thrown a flag.

Gargis scored late in the fourth quarter on a two-yard run. Auburn missed on the two-point conversion attempt. They got the ball again with time running out and moved into Tide territory. In a bit of trickery, the Tigers ran a reverse to end Dan Nugent. He was met near the line of scrimmage by linebacker, and future head coach on the Capstone, Mike DuBose and was jarred loose from the ball. Bama recovered the fumble and went on to win, 17-13.

Auburn regrouped after the Iron Bowl and played the Texas Longhorns in the Gator Bowl. The Tigers were underdogs to Coach Darrell Royal’s team. They were having none of that. They dominated their Southwest Conference foes in a 27-3 walloping.

Auburn wound up the 1974 season 10-2. Their final rankings were number eight in the AP poll and number six in the UPI poll.

1974 was a great year for the Auburn Tigers as they far exceeded everyone’s expectations. It is now forty years later and expectations are sky high. Will they meet or exceed those expectations? The answer from here is a resounding YES!

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