Auburn vs. Alabama: Tough Times at Legion Field

Our Managing Editor, at the behest of our Executive Editor, asked some of us here at Campus Pressbox to do a piece on our chosen team’s rival. Auburn has a few exciting rivalries bubbling and brewing as the 2016 season fast approaches. In the SEC West, LSU has become a very good one since the divisions were aligned in 1992. Arkansas has reared its Hawg head with Bret Bielema making noise out in Fayetteville, and this game has become a little testy at times.

Over in the SEC East, Georgia has and will always be Auburn’s biggest rival. Although, the Bulldogs have had the better of it, by far, lately, winning eight of ten in The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

Ok, ok! You know, as well as I do, where this is going…

Auburn vs. Alabama

The game is better known as… everyone, all at once… The Iron Bowl. But I don’t prefer that designation for the greatest and grandest rivalry in college football today. It’s the Auburn-Alabama game, or the Alabama-Auburn game, depending on which side you are affiliated with. Here is my take on that subject.

Back to the business at hand. We were asked to speak to which of these games are our team’s best and worst losses in the series, which ones we would like to live, re-live, do over, or delete; and the implications any changes in the outcomes would have on the current teams or traditions.

Auburn’s Best Loss

The 1981 game would have to be my choice as the Tigers’ best loss to the Crimson Tide. Pat Dye was in his first year as Auburn’s head coach. His record was 5-5 coming into this game and a win would have put Auburn in a bowl game for the first time since 1974, when Auburn annihilated Darrel Royal’s Texas Longhorns, in the Gator Bowl, to the tune of 27-3.

To heighten the drama, Alabama head coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, stood at 314 total wins which had him tied with Amos Alonzo Stagg for the most ever in college football history. No one gave Auburn much of a chance to deny Bryant his place as the winningest coach ever. Bama was an 11.5-point favorite.

Somebody forgot to tell Auburn.

Bama scored first to take a 7-0 lead, but the Tigers knotted it on a 63-yard touchdown run by George Peoples in the second quarter.

Both teams tallied a touchdown in quarter number three and it stood 14-14 entering the final stanza. Auburn kicked a field goal to take a 17-14 lead early, and the Legion Field crowd held its collective breath as the often non-functional clock continued to tick. A shovel pass to Jesse Bendross put Bama in front 21-17 and Linnie Patrick ran for a 15-yard TD to cap the scoring and give Bryant his 315th win, by the hardest.

The mood of Auburn fans, after the game, was not dejection, at least from those whom we interacted with at that time. Optimism was palpable as Coach Dye’s team had laid the foundation for what was about to become the Golden Era of Auburn football.

The Tigers did indeed upset the Tide the following year, to end a nine game losing streak, as a young freshman named Vincent “Bo” Jackson went “over the top” late in the fourth quarter to give Auburn a 23-22 victory. Starting with that monumental win, Auburn’s record against Alabama stands at 18-16 in this classic football series.

And so, if I had to re-live a loss to our arch-rivals, it would have to be this 1981 game. I could full well live with that knowing what was in the offing. If we got a do-over on it, I would have Auburn pick off that shovel pass and run it back the other way for a touchdown, take a 10-point lead, and win by a field goal, 24-21. The Bear would not have gotten his 315th win that day, and it would have been the beginning of a three-game winning streak for Auburn.

This would not have huge implications on the current team or traditions, but it would provide an immense sense of satisfaction for Tiger players and fans, and put Auburn one game closer to tying the overall series record.

Auburn’s Worst Loss(es)

Oh me, oh my. I’d rather not go there. Sigh. Ok.

Well, I don’t know how you can separate the ’84 and ’85 games. Both were last-second, gut-wrenching losses for my Tigers.

’84: Auburn was 8-3, with their only conference loss coming to Florida. The Gators were SEC Champions on the field that year, but they were on probation. If Auburn had won the game it would play in its second consecutive Sugar Bowl. Alabama was 4-6 and about to suffer their first losing season since before Paul Bryant began coaching the Tide.

Auburn came out flat that day for some odd reason. It scored first, but Alabama, the designated home team at “neutral” Legion Field, rallied and led 17-7 as the fourth quarter began to wind down. Then the Tigers’ Brent Fullwood streaked for a 60-yard TD and the two-point conversion was successful, 17-15. Later in the quarter, on fourth down, Auburn found itself at the Alabama one-yard line. I jumped up and began screaming at the TV, “Kick the field goal. Kick the damn field goal. Let’s get outta here.” Dye opted to go for it and Fullwood was stuffed for a three-yard loss when Bo Jackson thought he was going to get the ball, went the wrong way, and did not block for his teammate.

Auburn did have an opportunity to kick a last second field goal which missed badly. Game over. Nightmare.

’85: Nightmare Deux, in spite of Bo Jackson making a final, emphatic case for the Heisman Trophy. He put forth a brilliantly gallant effort, and he was playing with two broken ribs. The game went back and forth like a heavyweight prize fight. Auburn went up 23-22 very late in the game. The prospects of a win looked quite promising, especially when Alabama found itself at its own 12 yard-line with 37 seconds remaining and no timeouts on the board. A couple of plays later Mike Shula got off a pass to Greg Richardson coming across the middle, and he managed to somehow get out-of-bounds with six seconds left on the clock.

Van Tiffin then nailed a 52-yard field goal and that was that. 25-23, Alabama.

Alrighty then! That was a nice exercise in masochism.

Let’s go right to the do-overs. In ’85, either Richardson does not get out-of-bounds or Tiffin misses the field goal, and Auburn wins, 23-22, for the second time in four years. Back to ’84, Auburn kicks the 18-yard chip shot and wins, 18-17. The Tigers now, with my ’81, ’84, and ’85 do-overs, win nine-in-a-row. This trumps what would now be an eight-game winning streak for Alabama, ’73- ’80, in the series. Auburn goes 18-8 over these next 26 games, through 2006, and Nick Saban is not hired in 2007 as he wants no part of the turmoil in Tuscaloosa.

The implications? Auburn continues as the dominant team in the state, Alabama doesn’t win four more Natties, and all is well on the Plains.

Revisionist history. Pretty sweet, right?

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Auburn: These Are The Times That Try Men’s Souls

The Crisis by Thomas Paine
December 23, 1776

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the…”

Fill in the blank.

The souls of Auburn men and women were tried, once again, this past Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. You know the result. You also know just how that result came down.

2015 has been a trying season, and that is putting it politely.

There are many positives (defense for one) and negatives (quarterback play for one) to be taken from the, 20-13, loss to the the Georgia Bulldogs. I am not going to expound on those here. If you are even a “summer soldier” or a “sunshine patriot”, you probably have seen or heard the takes on the defeat, ad infinitum.

But this is not 2012 (3-9).

This Auburn team has not quit and it has fought, tooth and nail, in EVERY game it has played, thus far, this season. I have every reason to think that that type of effort will continue in the final two games of the regular season and in the, highly probable, bowl game.

Birmingham in December. There’s the making of a poem in those three words, no?

The leaves, having fallen, are now crushed under foot, and pilgrims tread forth, approaching the Old Gray Lady…

Nah, not today. But MAYBE, if Auburn does play in the Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field.

My! How the mighty have fallen, just like the leaves of autumn here in the Deep South.

But our cause is not hopeless. Gus and company will continue to pour every ounce of their being into preparing this edition of the Auburn Tigers to compete in three more football games. And they will will scour the countryside to recruit young men to join them in this rebuilding effort.

I never, in my wildest nightmares, had any idea that 2015 would become a rebuilding job. But that, my friends, is exactly what this season has become. And I am of the opinion that our coaching staff needs at least two more years to rebuild the Gus Bus.

“Love is patient…” 1 Corinthians 13:4 begins. We, as Auburn fans, are going to have to practice that if we do love our Tigers as we say we do.

Auburn WILL be back. Patience Grasshopper.

Now, let us continue in 1 Corinthians 13:7. “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” This is the attitude that true Auburn fans will have to adopt to see this thing through.

And here, Auburn Family, is some inspiration. It is one of my favorite songs from my favorite band that is out there, playing live today, Gov’t Mule.

Soulshine

When you just can’t find the light
That guides you through your cloudy day
When the stars ain’t shining bright
And it feels like you lost your way
When the candle lights of home
Burn so very far away
Well you got to let your soul shine
Just like my daddy used to say

He used to say soul shine
It’s better than sunshine
Better than moonshine
Damn sure better than the rain
Hey now people don’t mind
We all feel this way sometimes
Got to let your soul shine
Shine till the break of day

Grew up thinking that I had it made
Gonna make it on my own
But life can take the strongest man
And make him feel so alone
But now and then I feel a cold wind
Blowing through my aching bones
I think back to what my daddy said
He said, “Boy, it’s darkest before the dawn”

Let your soul shine
Oh, it’s better than sunshine
Better than moonshine
Damn sure better than rain
Yeah now people don’t mind
We all feel this way sometimes
Got to let your soul shine
Shine till the break of day

Sometimes a man can feel this emptiness
Like a woman has robbed him of his very soul
Woman too, God knows, she can feel like this
And when your world seems cold
You got to let your spirit take control

Talking about the soul shine
Better than sunshine
Better than moonshine
Damn sure better than rain
Lord, now people don’t mind
We all feel this way sometimes
Got to let your soul shine
Yeah, shine on and on and on and on

Oh, it’s better than sunshine
Better than moonshine
Damn sure better than rain
Yeah, now people don’t mind
We all feel this way sometimes
Got to let your soul shine
Shine till the break of day

Songwriters
WARREN HAYNES

If THAT won’t get you fired up, then your wood’s wet!

Where Do We Go From here?

Auburn is also going to have to have another very strong recruiting class that is loaded with defensive linemen and linebackers.

Also, it appears that dual threat quarterbacks are the best option to make this, now toothless, offense click. Two have committed to the upcoming, 2016, recruiting class. They are Woody Barrett and John Franklin III.

http://www.al.com/auburnfootball/index.ssf/2015/09/tracking_auburns_commits_woody.html

And Franklin:

http://www.al.com/auburnfootball/index.ssf/2015/11/report_former_fsu_quarterback.html

There are some hard decisions Coach Malzahn will have to make in the off-season. They may involve making assistant coaching changes. I don’t know what those decisions will call for, but they, surely, will have to be made.

BUT… before that off-season arrives there are three football games to be played in the 2015 season.

The first game is this Saturday. The opponent is the Idaho Vandals. Their coach is Paul Petrino. Yes, THAT Petrino. He is Bobby’s brother. Auburn will win this game.

The last game will, likely, be played in late December in the aforementioned Birmingham Bowl or in Shreveport, LA in the Camping World Independence Bowl.

There is another game sandwiched between these two games. It is also a “bowl” game.

The Iron Bowl.

That little contest will be played in Jordan-Hare Stadium at 2:30 CT on CBS.

Yes, all you rabid fans of Verne and Gary, we will get to do it one more time.

And so, these ARE the times that are, most assuredly, trying our collective souls. But, NO, our cause is NOT hopeless. Three games remain to be played by the Auburn Tigers.

So let’s ALL do our part! And whether you are going to attend these games, watch them on television, or listen to them on the radio, you will get to do it thrice more…

WITH FEELING!!!

Snakebit: Remembering Kenny Stabler

It was Thanksgiving weekend of 1965. I was sitting low in the north end zone of Legion Field in Birmingham. The University of Alabama was drilling my beloved Auburn Tigers to the tune of 30-3.

The rout was getting on into the 4th quarter when Bear Bryant decided to pull starting quarterback, Steve Sloan, and allow his backup to play.

Sloan’s understudy was a skinny kid from LA (Lower Alabama). His name was Kenny Stabler, but his nickname was Snake.

Kenneth Michael Stabler was born on Christmas day, 1945, in Foley, AL. During his three years as QB at Foley High, he led his teams to a 29-1 record.

We are familiar with Snake’s formidable football skills, but he was a great all around athlete. He averaged 29 points a game in basketball and was an excellent southpaw pitcher in baseball, receiving offers from the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees.

Stabler, of course, signed a football scholarship to play for legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama. He did not play on the varsity his initial year on the Capstone, 1964, as freshmen were not eligible to play at that time.

In 1965 he played sparingly, completing 3 passes in 11 attempts, with 1 Touchdown and no interceptions.

Snake became the starting signal caller for the Crimson Tide in 1966 and held that position for the next two seasons.

Alabama went 11-0, behind Stabler, in his first season as the number one QB. The 1966 season, despite it’s unblemished record and number three ranking, remains, in some ways, a painful one for Bama fans as they finished behind Notre Dame and Michigan State in the AP and UPI polls. The Irish and Spartans played to a 10-10 tie on November 19th.

The poll results, during those years, were issued immediately after the regular season. This worked to Alabama’s favor after the 1964 season when they went 10-0 but lost to Texas in the Orange Bowl. They dominated Nebraska, 34-7, in the Sugar Bowl, following the ’66 campaign, which solidified their place atop the college football world in the minds of many. But it was not to be.

December 2, 1972 is a day that will live in the minds the Auburn faithful as one of, if not THE MOST, important wins in Tiger football history. That game has come to be known, simply, as “Punt Bama Punt.”

I don’t have to refresh anyone’s mind on what happened that day in Iron Bowl history.

December 2, 1967 belongs at the opposite end of the spectrum for those who proudly wear the burnt orange and navy blue. This game is now referred to as the “Run in the Mud” by crimson and white faithful.

I spent the bulk of the evening of December 1, 1967 at my brother Jerry’s in-law’s house in Canton Bend, AL, which is about five miles from where I grew up in Camden, which is the county seat of Wilcox County.

My brother was married to Nellie Autrey, and Nellie was one of my closest friends, at that time.

Nellie and I were listening to WLS “Music” Radio that night from the kitchen of the Autrey’s home. The only song I distinctly remember, that came emanating from the AM airwaves, was Kenny Rogers and the First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”. GREAT SONG!!!

I like this incarnation of Rogers more than his later solo work, but that is another story for another time.

The next morning my father and I climbed into our Dodge Cornet and headed for Birmingham and storied Legion Field. My record at the hallowed venue was a dismal 1-3 at this juncture of my life. The win was over Georgia Tech in 1962 and the losses were consecutive year defeats to Bama, 1964-66.

But I was feeling pretty good about Auburn’s chances on that rainy, blustery morning of December 2. The Tigers were having a very good season, at 6-2, before being beaten by the Georgia Bulldogs, 17-0, in their previous game.

Alabama came into the contest standing at 6-2-1. So, the records were strikingly similar and the stage was set for a classic Iron Bowl. It did not disappoint.

When daddy and I arrived at the “Old Grey Lady on Graymont”, the winds had picked up considerably as had the rain. We parked behind a Gulf Station and began our trek to Legion Field. Our umbrella, that we shared, was turned inside/out by the nasty elements. Tornado warnings had been issued. That did not deter us or tens of thousands of other football fanatics from witnessing this regular season finale.

This was, and remains, THE game of each and every season in the great state of Alabama.

We made or way to the west stands, where our seats were located, to a row which was not far from the top of our section. Our direct line of vision was somewhere around the goal line. Auburn was clad in blue jerseys and white pants with white helmets. Alabama wore all white with crimson helmets.

By game time the rain was coming down in sheets and the wind was whipping furiously.

Auburn took the opening kickoff. Freddie Hyatt burst through the first line of defense and was within a hair of taking it all the way before he was stopped. Auburn drove deep into Alabama territory and tuned the ball over on downs inside the ten yard line. The Tigers lived in the Tide’s red zone those first two quarters but they came away with no points. They had disdained field goals for an opportunity to go up by, at least, seven points. It was not to be.

Auburn 0, Alabama 0, at the half.

The concourses at Legion Field were packed during halftime. It was no small wonder as the weather was utterly miserable. Daddy and I ran into Mr. Nettles Ivey and, my dear friend, Tommy Ratcliffe at the break. Their seats, with Mr. Ivey’s father, were on the fifty yard-line. They invited us to sit with them. The stands were not full as a great number of people decided, probably wisely, to remain in the shelter of the stands. There was plenty of room.

But the view, here, was terrible. We could barely see as our seats, behind the Auburn sideline, were now on a very low row.

Auburn mounted a 60 yard drive, to the Alabama 21, in the third quarter. Coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan” finally opted for a field goal. Somehow John “Rat” Riley connected on the 38-yard attempt. The driving rain, coupled with the players cleats grinding up the turf, had made conditions almost unplayable.

The bulk of the field was not unlike a pig pen. The game was now being played entirely in the mud.

Auburn took their tenuous, 3-0, lead into the fourth quarter. The outlook was promising. How on earth could anyone score again in this slop? My hopes of witnessing, in-person, Auburn defeat Alabama, were rising by the minute.

As the game moved deep into the final stanza, the Tigers set up to punt near the fifty yard-line. The snap was fumbled and the Crimson Tide recovered at their own 48. They lost a yard on first down.

Quarterback Kenny Stabler took the second down snap and broke toward right end. It appeared to be an option. He kept the ball and neared the corner. The crowd rose to its feet. I could not see. What was going on?

Then there came a thunderous burst from the opposite “visitors” stands. That roar became deafening as the stomping in their upper deck, helped to create a deafening roar. I jumped up and down in a futile attempt to see what was taking place. I looked up at my father and queried, “What happened, daddy? What happened?” “He scored,” was the reply.

My heart sank to my toes. I was numb. The “Snake” had slithered to a 53-yard touchdown and, shortly, this play would be entered into football folklore as one of the most dramatic plays in Iron Bowl history.

As most people know by now, Kenneth Michael Stabler departed this world on July 8.

“Snake”, along with a legion of others, this Auburn fan salutes you. May you rest in peace.