Auburn: Road Trips, Part One – Austin

Road Trip! We’ve all been there. Whether it’s impromptu or somewhere in the more distant future when further planning is required, road trips are fun, a lot of fun.

Seeing as how spring football practice is in full swing, Auburn will have their first ‘for real’ scrimmage Saturday, our thoughts may be turning to the upcoming 2016 regular season and planning for any road trips we might take this fall.

The only visit to an opponent’s venue for the LeCroy’s, this autumn, will be Oxford, Mississippi for a game with the Ole Miss Rebels. This will be our ninth Auburn versus Ole Miss road test and one of those, 1990, was in Jackson. Auburn, as did many other SEC schools, used to play both Ole Miss and Mississippi State in Jackson’s Memorial Stadium. The facility held more people and was better suited for large crowds than either Starkville (Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium) or Oxford (Davis Wade Stadium). That has changed. The two rivalries are now played on the school’s campuses and have since 1992 when Auburn went into Oxford and got pummeled by the Black Bears, uhhhh Rebels.

It was my son, Luke, and I who attended that ’92 game as it was in 1990, ’96, ’98 and 2000. The remainder of the Ole Miss games were me and Paul (my nickname for my wife, Melodye) except for one. Her moniker stems from the Willie Nelson tune, Me and Paul.

Another note before we move on. Since 2002 our trips to Ole Miss games have landed us in Memphis and we commute to Oxford. Ah yes! The land of BBQ and blues, Elvis, Stax and Sun Records.

Ok, road trips. All this talk caused me to reflect on these excursions and I began to question myself as to which trips have been my favorites. Well, that’s tough because so many of them have been quite memorable. I tried to narrow it down to my three most enjoyable.

And here we go! In chronological order and this does not include bowl games. We’ve been down that road.

Texas 1991

We were living in Sumner County, Tennessee at the time and Austin was over 900 miles from our home which was about twenty minutes from NashVegas. It was, approximately, a fourteen-hour drive.

This was one of those father and son trips.

Luke and I left Tennessee on a Thursday night after school and work. We spent the night in West Memphis, Arkansas and West Memphis is not an overly desirable destination for travelers. Suffice it to say we were out of there early and headed for the Lone Star State. We ate lunch at a KFC and Luke squirted hot sauce, from one of those plastic packets you tear open, in his eye. So sorry, buddy. We did the best we could to flush his eye out and we pressed on down I-35 south which would take us on in to the state capital of Texas.

Just north of Waco lies the sleepy little community of Abbot, TX. Does anybody know the significance of Abbott? Raise your hands! I don’t see any hands so I’ll fill you in. It’s the place where the aforementioned Willie Nelson was raised by his grandparents. Abbott has a population of around three-hundred. Not a great deal to see there, but if you are a huge Willie fan, which I obviously am, then it warrants a run through.

Somewhere between Waco and Austin we began to see advertisements for what appeared to be an interesting little place. The key to getting us off the road and into their establishment was homemade beef jerky. I don’t remember the name of the place but I do remember sitting on their front porch with my, then, thirteen-year-old son and gnawing on the best jerky I had ever eaten. It was a warm and windy afternoon there among the mesquite and Texas live oaks. It also was one of those special times you look back on wistfully as a tear forms in your eye.

We finally arrived at the DoubleTree Hotel on the north side of Austin in the very late afternoon. If you’ve never been to Austin, and you should make a point to go there, everything is accessed by frontage roads. I blew by the DoubleTree, on first take, and had to navigate the frontage road on the east side of I-35, but we did it without much of a struggle.

As Luke and I stood there, waiting to check-in, we noticed some very large young men garbed in Texas Longhorn warm-up suits. It turns out that the Texas football team was lodging at the same hotel as we were. Well how about that? David McWilliams was the Longhorn coach in ’91. I spotted him, cigar in tow, as he exited his ride which dropped him off in the portico in front of the hotel.

My heart began to beat a bit more rapidly. Big time intersectional college football was only about twenty-four hours away. War Damn Eagle!

Pappdeaux Seafood Kitchen was next door to the hotel. Neither of us had ever eaten at one. The hotel staff gave it a strong recommendation and we had dessert there that evening after some BBQ brisket at The County Line restaurant. We went back to Pappadeaux’s the following night after the ball game. Great recommendation DoubleTree staff!

Saturday! It’s now countdown to kickoff!

After coffee and pastries, it’s off on a driving tour of the metro area, the mall, and some Tex-Mex fare. There were some really brightly-colored, interesting low rider trucks at the mall. The food was good and the ride around the outskirts of the city was a most pleasant one. We ran into some fellow Auburn fans at the Tex-Mex restaurant and one of them stated that he would become a Texas fan if he wasn’t committed to the Tigers. The hospitality was excellent out there.

Before long it was time to get back to the hotel for some “tailgating” at the outdoors bar and then catch a shuttle to Texas Memorial Stadium.

Fifteenth-ranked Auburn brought a 2-0 record into the game against a Texas team that was 0-1. A sellout crowd of 77,809 was in attendance and the game was televised by ESPN. Luke and I were seated with the Auburn contingent in the north end zone. We were set back a back a ways from the field as there was a large track that circled the artificial surface.

One of the highlights of the weekend was when the Texas fans and players stood and sang “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You”. Chills, even today. Wow! To say we were primed for the kickoff would be an understatement.

Auburn took the opening kickoff and almost ran it back all the way. Stan White hit Victor Hall on a 25-yard touchdown pass and the Tigers were up 7-0 with only 49 seconds elapsed on the clock. Corey Barlow returned a pass interception for a touchdown with 3:07 still remaining in the first quarter and AU fans were giddy. Unfortunately, that would be all the points the Tigers would score that evening. Fortunately, they hung on with some great defense, and won the game, 14-10.

The play that sticks out most to me was an absolutely brutal hit Auburn defensive back Fred Smith put on one of the Longhorns. Mercy!

Auburn was ranked number 13 after the game. They went to Knoxville the next week and were beaten by the Tennessee Vols, 30-21. It was the first of six losses and their nine-year steak of winning seasons came to a close. It was a disappointing year.

The one thing that stays with me from that night in Knoxville was a drunk Tennessee coed making a point to walk up to our post-game tailgate and telling a tired old joke. “What did the Auburn graduate say to the Tennessee graduate? Do you want fries with that?” The wound was quite fresh and I was not able to hold my tongue. I won’t repeat here what I said but I remain embarrassed by it to this day. Moral of the story? Watch your tongue. What’s said is said. You cannot take it back. Sigh.

Well folks, that is it for part one of this three-part series on road trips. Next up, in April, we’ll take a spin to Baton Rouge and the Auburn-LSU game of 1997.

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Auburn: Corso and Clemson

On College College GameDay, September 7, 1996, Lee Corso picked Fresno State to beat Auburn in an upset at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Anyone remember the final score on that one? Let me jog your memory. The Auburn Tigers defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs by a score of 62-0. There were signs at dining establishments around the Loveliest Village chiding Corso for his blunderous pick and rightly so.

Things have changed since that day, at least they have for me. I hope they have for the rest of the Auburn Family. Move on. I now find Corso to be a lovable figure. He brings some great humor to his job with his antics and, at times, some pretty good insight on the game of college football. He has become somewhat of a grandfatherly figure in his role.

In short, I like him.

I actually began to truly warm up to “Coach” back in 1995 when GameDay came to Auburn for the Iron Bowl. Our family went by the tent where their crew was stationed, it’s nothing like it is today, and we had a chance to shake Corso’s hand. He could not have been more gracious. He was very friendly and complimentary of Auburn. He mentioned how great the atmosphere was, as good as he’d ever seen. Hey, it’s the Iron Bowl. There is no atmosphere that beats that.

A few minutes after we left the GameDay tent we ran into Craig James on Donahue St. near the stadium. He also complimented Auburn on the atmosphere.

But back to Coach Corso. Last week he was a guest on a radio sports show in Mobile and he had high praise for Auburn and Gus Malzahn.

I tend to agree with Lee on most points but Gus is on the hot seat. I do agree with him in that he shouldn’t be. I think Gus is still learning to be a head coach and that he will learn from his mistakes of the past two years, well, since November of 2014. He had no control over the quarterback woes in 2015. He has taken a much more hands on approach in spring practice and with the offense. He has been seen personally coaching up JUCO quarterback transfer John Franklin III.

I love the fact that Gus is getting back in a more involved manner and, hopefully, that will pay great dividends.

Corso also makes a good point on being in the same state with Saban. Too many teams in the SEC, including Auburn, are measuring their success against Alabama and that is not a good thing. Look at Les Miles and LSU as a prime example. Don’t worry about Alabama. Sure, they are in the same division but you’ve just got to be the best you can be. The best LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss (two in a row versus Saban, by the way), Miss State, Arkansas or Auburn.

Corso thinks Auburn could make a lot of noise this year. They very well could. Auburn has been known to come off a bad year with a special season. The best examples of that would be the 2003-2004 and 2012-2013 seasons.

The 2003 team was thought of, by many, as a national championship contender with Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Jason Campbell and company. They promptly lost their first two games to Southern Cal and Georgia Tech and for all practical purposes, it was over. They finished 8-5 with a Music City Bowl win over Wisconsin.

The 2004 team with, essentially thew same cast of characters, went 13-0 and should have played Southern Cal for it all. The AP and Coaches Poll geniuses, of course, put Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game and they were drubbed. The 2004 unit is ,arguably, the best team in Auburn football history.

The 2012 aggregation was one of the worst in Auburn football history. They went 0-8 in the SEC, last in the West, en- route to a 3-9 season. Sheer and utter misery. Coach Gene Chizik was fired just two seasons removed from the BCS National Title.

Then the 2013 (12-2) squad came along, under new head coach and former offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, and came within thirteen seconds of winning it all. One of the greatest turn-arounds in college football history.

That could happen in 2016 but it is highly unlikely. Living in the SEC West is murderous, suicidal, brutal, or excruciating. Pick a word or come up with one yourself. It ain’t no place for sissies (drawing on my inner Coach Pat Dye).

Me? I’m taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude. I know by the time the 2016 campaign gets here I’ll be buzzing like a bee. It’s tough to contain oneself now. But I am definitely working on curbing my enthusiasm ($1 to Larry David).

The opening game with Clemson, pre-season number one?, was mentioned by Corso. You can look at that game a couple of ways. You can take the attitude of, “Hey, it’s a non-conference game and, whatever the outcome, if we play well then that’s a good start. Or you can say, “Beat Clemson and take a quantum leap in the eyes of the committee, pollsters, and the college football world in general.” If you know me, you know which course I’m plotting. 😉

But you know the good thing about all of this? We are talking college football! That is a good thing. The sun is shining. It feels like spring. And, yes, we are talking college football.

Bring it on!

Bowl Me Over!

I will jump right in with a keen grasp of the obvious. It’s BOWL season! Well, duh!

We’re surrounded by bowls and they’re closing in on us ($1 to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson for that bit of inspiration). If you substitute the word idiots, for bowls, then you have the good doctor’s quote exacto.

Much of our chatter about bowls comes in the form of criticism. How many times have you heard or spoke this phrase? Now, everybody together. Fill in the blank. “There are too (blank) bowls.” How did you complete that sentence? I’ll bet you didn’t use the word ‘few’. Who says there are too FEW bowls? No one. Who says there are too ‘many’ bowls? Almost everyone.

It’s true that there are a glut of bowls which now comprise our postseason. There are so many, in fact, that teams with a sterling record of 5-7 are now being invited to participate in these, often meaningless, exhibitions.

Bowl names are sometimes, at once, both puzzling and amusing. Case in point. here are the bowls that have already gone into the books as I write this column. The Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, AutoNation Cure Bowl, R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, and the Miami Beach Bowl.

That’s six down and thirty-five to go!

Bowls, bowls, bowls! Sponsors, sponsors, sponsors! And half-filled stadiums (which is being generous to a number of these contests). Or half-empty stadiums, huh? 😉

But you know what? I like bowls. Bring ’em on! Watch them or don’t watch them. Let the kids, their schools, and their fans have a big time. It’s fun! And bowl trips, themselves, are a lot of fun. That’s certainly the case as I have experienced it.

I have attended nineteen bowl games, in my lifetime, and the Auburn Tigers were participants in each and every one of them. Surprise!

Let’s take a look at two of the most memorable of these events.

Auburn vs. Michigan – 1984 Sugar BowlIMG_2569

There’s nothing like the first time. This holds true in many areas of life. This was the first bowl game I ever observed in person. And even though it was a low scoring game, Auburn won 9-7, it was very exciting. Michigan coach, Bo Schembechler, said Auburn wouldn’t be able to run the ball on the Wolverines. They did.

Bo Jackson ran for 130 yards on 22 carries and he was named the game’s most outstanding player. But, the Tigers were not able to punch the ball into the end zone. Al Del Greco kicked three field goals to account for all of the Tigers’ points. The last one came with 23 seconds left on the clock to seal it for Auburn.

As memorable as the game was, to me, it was the city of New Orleans that almost stole the show. My wife, Melodye, and I arrived on New Year’s Eve for the game which was to take place on Monday, January 2, as Sunday is pro football day and the Saints were playing at home.

Our hotel, a Days Inn in Kenner, LA, was in the grip of a most unusual cold snap that ‘The Big Easy’ was suffering through at that time. The pipes had burst in the modest facility and we were sent to the International Hotel on Canal Street. It was quite close to the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and it was a big step up from the little motel near the airport where we were scheduled to stay

To say a big time was had by all would be putting it mildly. We watched, in both awe and disbelief, at the proceedings which took place in the French Quarter, and, most popularly, on Bourbon Street. “Laissez les bon temps router!” Or, in English, “Let the good times roll!”

They did!

It seems as though we walked dozens of miles in ‘Nawlins’ those three days and nights in late 1983 and early 1984.IMG_2570

There were hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s and rum swizzles at the Seaport Cafe & Bar, but primarily there was beer at Molly’s Irish Pub on Toulouse Street. This was the first time we had ever run across those 24 ounce cans on Foster’s Beer, which is brewed in Australia.

As luck would have it, there was a group of Aussie sailors who were docked in New Orleans and we made their acquaintance through an Auburn student, from Baltimore, who was named Sarah. Sarah, and the sea faring lads from down under, combined with us to finish all of the Foster’s that Molly’s had in stock on the eve of the Sugar Bowl. Then it was into the Dixie beer, which was a step down.

There was also Shrimp Remoulade at Arnaud’s, this is where the dish was conceived, red beans and rice at Joe’s, and oysters at the Acme Oyster House.

We have since made several trips to New Orleans, including four more Sugar Bowls, but there will never be another like that first one.

“Laissez les bon temps router,” indeed!

Auburn vs. Texas A&M – 1986 Cotton Bowl

As luck would have it, this was the 50th anniversary of the classic from Dallas. Oddly enough, that 1983-84 jaunt to New Orleans was the 50th playing of the Sugar Bowl.

The Aggies, under the leadership of then extraordinarily highly paid coach, Jackie Sherrill, laid a whuppin’ on Heisman winner, Bo Jackson, and the Auburn Tigers. Bo DID win another MVP for this game, yet again.IMG_2568

But what a trip!

We were living in Albany, NY at the time and we were accompanied by our dear friends, Don and Linda Meagher. The Meaghers were New York natives. We were about to introduce them to the world of hospitality, Texas style.

Melodye and I spent the first three years of our marriage in Ft. Worth, so we were very excited to be headed back that way for the first time since we left Tejas. We stayed at a La Quinta Inn in Euless, which is located about half way between Dallas and Ft. Worth.

We gorged on Mexican food at Raphael’s in Dallas, twice, and BBQ at the Southfork Ranch near Plano. The four of us used to always watch Dallas together on Friday nights, so this was a big treat for us.

One night, after dinner at said Raphael’s, I coaxed the crew into stopping by Carter Country in Irving, TX, the then home of the Dallas Cowboys. Carter Country is a combination bowling alley and honky tonk.

Don, not being steeped in, or necessarily comfortable with Texas culture was a bit wide-eyed when we pulled into the parking lot. Don surveyed the situation and said, “I don’t know. There are an awful lot of pickup trucks here.” I assured him that the crowd here could add and subtract and that there would be no problem. There was not a problem. But, we were familiarized with a song that played on the jukebox between live music sets. It was/is entitled, ‘The Rodeo Song’. I’m not going fill you in on the lyrics to ‘The Rodeo Song’ as they are not fit for younger eyes and ears or those who are easily offended. Google it, if you so desire.

‘Well it’s forty below and I don’t give a…”

Take it from there!

The highlight of the Cotton Bowl trip was probably New Year’s Eve at Billy Bob’s Texas. Surely everyone of you good readers is up on this world renowned country and western palace. The mechanical bull and all that. I think Gilley’s was the first of these types of establishments. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Gary Morris and Reba McEntire brought in 1986 that evening. A good, no GREAT, time was had by all. Melodye truly enjoyed the champagne that was served up to us, in twelve ounce Billy Bob’s Texas plastic tumblers, at the stroke of midnight.

Ask her about it the next time you see her. Or, better yet, give her a shout on Facebook. She is such a good sport about my telling of our adventures together. There have been countless numbers of those and I look forward to many, many more with great anticipation.

The next one will take place in the great state of Alabama. The Birmingham Bowl. We’ll see you here, next week, with a preview of that bowl game, and hopefully, we will see some of you, who help to make up the Auburn Family, in Birmingham.

Peace on earth to one and all!

Top Ten Tuesday (With a Teaser or Two)

I was recently asked, by our Executive Editor here at Campus Pressbox, Damien Bowman, to select ten people for the Baseball Hall of Fame off the 2016 ballot. I did. And here they are:

Mike Piazza
Jeff Bagwell
Tim Raines
Larry Walker
Ken Griffey, Jr.
Nomar Garciaparra
Jeff Kent
Fred McGriff
Edgar Martinez
Alan Trammel

I attempted not to choose any known “juicers”. No Bonds, McGwire, etc. I don’t know if I succeeded in this, but I did my best, IMHO. That is another discussion for another day, and I’m sure we’ll take it up on a podcast in the not-too-distant-future.

I attempt to be a purist. No DH, Astro Turf, et al. That’s probably, at least, a little disingenuous, but one has to try.

Our SEC 411 podcast, which we are about to record, is not going to contain much discussion on football, the SEC, or sports in general. I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Stay tuned!

The ten Hall of Famers prompted me to come up with a column which contains no SEC football or sports, except for the above mentioned HOF nominees.

We’re going to go with a “Top Ten Tuesday” (I know this posts on Wednesday but I wrote it on Tuesday. So there!) which will be lists of my top ten in areas that are, pretty much, pop culture. And this is not scientific, in any particular order, or what I consider to be, technically the best. It’s just my favorites… today.

So here we go!

Top Ten Movies

The Godfather

The Godfather Part Two

Pulp Fiction

Blazing Saddles

Inglorious Basterds (yes, I do LOVE Quentin Tarantino)

Apocalypse Now (and Francis Ford Coppolla, evidently)

Vertigo

The Graduate

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Big Lebowski

Top Ten Country Songs

The Grand Tour – George Jones

I Don’t Wanna Play House – Tammy Wynette

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry – Hank Williams

The Pilgrim Chapter 33 – Kris Kristofferson

Whiskey River – Willie Nelson

Merry Christmas From The Family – Robert Earl Keen

Yard Sale – Sammy Kershaw

Sea Of Heartbreak – Don Gibson

Since You’ve Gone – Ferlin Husky

(Tie) Holding Things Together – Merle Haggard &
He’s Got You – Patsy Cline

Top Ten Rock/Pop Songs

Powderfinger – Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Revolution – The Beatles

Babelogue>Rock N Roll Nigger – Patti Smith

Red Red Wine – Neil Diamond

Goin’ Out West – Gov’t Mule (originally done by Tom Waits)

See Me, Feel Me – The Who

White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane

Crimson And Clover – Tommy James and the Shondells or Joan Jett, take your pick.

Green River – CCR

I Love You Period – Dan Baird

Top Ten TV Shows (Network TV including PBS. And I haven’t watched many network shows in a long time. PBS, yes.)

The Andy Griffith Show

Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Downton Abbey

Frasier

Saturday Night Live

Dallas

NYPD Blue

Seinfeld

Northern Exposure

M*A*S*H

Top Ten Cable TV Shows

Mad Men

Breaking Bad

Friday Night Lights

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

The Colbert Report

The Walking Dead

Damages

Better Call Saul

The Killing

Vikings

Top Ten Premium Cable TV Shows

Deadwood

The Sopranos

The Wire

Homeland

Game of Thrones

Masters of Sex

Californication

Ray Donovan

Nurse Jackie

The Larry Sanders Show

Top Ten Rock/Pop Albums

Live At The Fillmore East – The Allman Brothers Band

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek & The Dominos

Are You Experienced? – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Europe ’72 – The Grateful Dead

Aqualung – Jethro Tull

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Neil Young

Chicago Transit Authority – Chicago

Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin

Revolver – The Beatles

Woodstock – Various Artists

Top Ten Jazz Albums

Kind of Blue – Miles Davis

Bitches Brew – Miles Davis

A Love Supreme – John Coltrane

Giant Steps – John Coltrane

Bill Evans – Conversations With Myself

Duke Ellington – Money Jungle

Sonny Rollins – The Bridge

Charlie Parker – Yardbird Suite: The Ultimate Charlie Parker

Thelonious Himself – Thelonious Monk

The Best Of – Django Reinhardt

Ok ok! This is typically an Auburn column, so I won’t leave you without Tiger news, or info, altogether.

Top Ten Auburn Games (I have attended)

Alabama 1989 – Tide’s first game ever played on The Plains. 30-20

Alabama 2013 – Kick Six. 34-28

Alabama 1972 – Punt Bama Punt. 17-16

Alabama 1982 – Bo Over The Top. 23-22

Florida 1993 – Number one ranked Gators go down in Jordan-Hare. 38-35

Oregon 2011 – 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 BCS National Championship Game. We’re number one! 22-19

Texas A&M 2013 – Dee Ford sacks Johnny Football on the final play of the game and we begin to feel it. The march to Pasadena! 45-41

Georgia 2013 – The Miracle at Jordan-Hare, 43-38

LSU 1997 – Dameyune Craig leads a last minute comeback in Death Valley. Just me and Luke made this trip to the Red Stick. Magical night. 31-27

Michigan 1984 – Sugar Bowl. Al Del Greco splits the uprights with a last second field goal. Auburn wins the National Championship according to the New York Times. They won it on the field as well. You will never convince me otherwise. 9-7

Hey claim ’em! It’s been done before! 😉

So there you have it! A Top Ten Tuesday! This should prompt the opportunity for some great discussion, so fire away!

I will probably do some more of this type of thing during bowl season and the off-season.

Also, many of us here at Campus Pressbox will be bringing you bowl previews. My first one will take a look at the Cure Bowl, which is to be played Saturday, 12/19, in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. San Jose State vs. Georgia State. The Spartans and the Panthers!

And, naturally, I will preview the Birmingham Bowl.

Merry Happy!!!

To Be Or Not To Be… Consistent

The 2015 regular season is now in the books for the Auburn Tigers. It was a disappointing one, but the problems and inconsistencies did not begin on September 5, 2015, when Auburn played Louisville in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game. They began, at a minimum, on November 8, 2014, when Auburn played Texas A&M at home. At least that’s when the problems reared their ugly head.

Since that fateful afternoon on The Plains the Tigers’ record stands at 7-10. The SEC record is far, far worse. It stands at 2-9. 2-9!!! Chew on that for a moment. Two and NINE.

Prior to kickoff on January 6, 2014, when Auburn was about to play Florida State for the final BCS National Championship, everything appeared to be bright and “Rose-y”.

Since then, and in the aftermath of The Tigers’ gallant, but sobering, loss in the 2015 Iron Bowl… not so much.

Even the most pessimistic of Auburn fans could not see coming what has, since, transpired.

That would be a 14-11 overall record and 6-10 in the SEC.

I have mentioned before, in this slot, that the 2015 edition of the Auburn Tigers is not ‘2012 Deux’. Obviously. But let’s hope they respond to adversity as the 2012 team did in 2013.

The 2015 group that left EVERYTHING on the field this past Saturday is to be commended for a great effort against what appears to be the best team in the country. The “best team in the country?” did have able assistance from an acutely inept Tom Ritter SEC officiating crew. No holding calls? Seriously? Look at the tape.

That’s not the first time that Ritter and his gang of blind mice have been accused of being less than efficient. The groans and complaints on Mr. Magoo’s gang resonate loudly, from Columbia to Gainesville to Baton Rogue to Knoxville, each and EVERY autumn.

http://www.foxsports.com/college-football/story/alabama-tennessee-sec-officiating-replay-review-102514

But that is not the point. Alabama was the better team and they deserved to win. Good for them.

And Florida, don’t think that you have a snowball’s chance in the bowels of Hades in the SEC Championship Game, you don’t. Not that you haven’t overachieved and had an SEC East best season, you have.

But there is not a remote possibility the the SEC powers-that-be are going to stand by twiddling their thumbs and allow their best shot at a Natty go by the wayside. They won’t.

Alabama has a very, very good football team and has every opportunity to become a great one. They could. They should beat the Gators, handily, under any circumstances.

But you can bet that if, somehow, the SEC Championship Game turned out to be a nail-biter, that the crimson and white could very well get close, and/or, questionable calls.

No, this is not sour grapes. This is the reality in which Auburn and the other twelve SEC participants live. I have watched it with my own eyes for the past fifty-five years. “If you need a yard against Alabama, you’d better get three.” That, according to Pat Dye.

And, let me reiterate, The University of Alabama has an excellent football team and I consider them the premier program in the country. They have the most talent and the best head coach in college football today.

I congratulate them on that and I wish them good luck in the future.

I digress.

Let’s get back to the Auburn Tigers and the reality of the universe in which the Tiger faithful live here on December 1, 2015.

But first we will take a look at the Auburn program since Pat Dye retired in 1992. (And Dye’s record in HIS final two years were 5-5-1 in 1991 and 5-6 in 1992).

Terry Bowden

1993 11-0

1994 9-1-1

1995 8-4

1996 8-4

1997 9-3

1998 1-5

(Bill Oliver went 2-3 after Bowden’s departure in the ’98 season)

Tommy Tuberville

1999 5-6

2000 9-4

2001 7-5

2002 9-4

2003 8-5

2004 13-0

2005 9-3

2006 11-2

2007 9-4

2008 5-7

Gene Chizik

2009 8-5

2010 14-0

2011 8-5

2012 3-9

Gus Malzahn

2013 12-2

2014 8-5

2015 6-6 ( to this point)

So, what’s the take on all that?

There have been some good years, some very good years, some great years, and some phenomenal years (’93, ’04 & 2014). But the one thing that stands out to me is inconsistency. Auburn simply has not been able to put together consistent stretch runs as it did, however briefly, during the Pat Dye Era when they won 4 SEC Championships from 1983-1989. ’87-’89 saw them win three-in-a-row.

Up and down and mediocre has BEEN the consistent theme.

Auburn is going to have to somehow develop that consistency that has eluded them over the past twenty plus seasons. How do they do that?

Well, you start with recruiting. Recruiting has been quite good for the past five or six classes but it does appear that they have whiffed on a few prospects that were hoped to be dynamic and impactful players. And two of those players were quarterbacks, Kiehl Frazier and Jeremy Johnson.

That hurts. It really hurts.

Again, I’ve quoted this before, Pat Dye (yes, quoting him again and with good reason) once said that, “It all starts at quarterback.” It does. And missing, for whatever reason, on that critical position has been, IMHO, one of THE most damning issues Auburn has had in attempting to put together a great program that wins consistently.

Certainly there have been other issues such as developing players, injuries, and just plain bad luck, but much of the problem in 2011, 2012, and 2015 was the play at the quarterback position. And Auburn is, at some point, going to have to recruit AND develop quarterbacks and not keep bringing in JUCO talent. The best they have done, lately, is with Cam Newton and Nick Marshall… JUCO players.

So what about defense?

I think Auburn has their man in Will Muschamp. The defense has begun to really turn it around under his leadership. They are communicating much better. They are tackling much better. And they are playing with that ferocious intensity that you would have expected them to develop under Muschamp.

The defense really got after it in the Alabama game. The overall effort in the Iron Bowl was superb. I think the team really grew up this past Saturday. Now, going into bowl season, they truly have something to build on as they approach the 2016 season.

2016 will be a pivotal year. Make no mistake about it. Gus Malzahn, and his staff, might or might not be coaching for their jobs in the next campaign. I hope they are not. But if the team does not show marked improvement next season there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Of that, you can be sure.

6-6. 2-6 in conference play. Last place in the division. What team would you have attributed those stats to prior to the 2015 season? Vanderbilt? Kentucky? Mississippi State? It sure as hell would not have been the Auburn Tigers.

But, I have faith in Gus Malzahn. I have faith in Will Muschamp (No, I don’t believe he’s going anywhere). And, I have faith in the players that will return in 2016. They became men in the Iron Bowl.

Also, there is some great looking talent coming in the next recruiting class. That group may wind up as another top ten class.

I can see the pieces falling in place for Auburn, much as they did prior to the 1993 and 2004 seasons.

No, I’m not suggesting that the 2016 Auburn Tigers will go undefeated. But next season could go a long way in propelling the program toward consistency that is long, LONG overdue.

The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry

I have attended twenty-five Auburn-Georgia games. My record is 13-11-1. Saturday, good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise (well, the creek HAS risen, but that’s another story), will be number twenty-six for me. And I hope my record improves to 14-11-1. More on that later.

Here is a look back at some of those games I attended which were memorable and had a huge impact.

1968

The 1968 game was the first one I was privileged to view in-person. My father drove me, and my friends Frank McGraw and Mike Collins, to The Plains that rainy November morning. The weather cleared during the game.

Auburn was 6-2 with designs on an Orange Bowl invitation. Those dreams were squashed by a suffocating Bulldog defense which allowed only 3 first quarter points. The visitors scored all 17 of their points in stanza number two. The final tally was 17-3.

The Herschel Years

Herschel Walker, arguably college football’s greatest running back EVER, toted the rock at UGA for three seasons, 1980-82, and Georgia was the victor in all three. The respective scores were 31-21, 24-13, and 19-14.

I was there for all of those losses.
1982

Moral victories (is there really any such thing?) are ultimately hollow, but often provide a ray of hope. That was the case in 1982.

Georgia was undefeated and had their sights set on a second National Championship in a three-year span. They had beaten Notre Dame to accomplish this, behind the running of frosh phenom, Walker, following the 1980 season.

The Dawgs led 13-7 in the fourth quarter when Auburn’s Lionel “Little Train” James fielded a punt at his own 13-yard line and took it to the house. Tigers 14-13!

The number one team in the country responded like the champions they were with an 80-yard march that ended with Walker taking it in from the three. The two-point conversion attempt failed.

The Tigers countered with a desperation drive, engineered beautifully by quarterback Randy Campbell, that fell just short, as Campbell threw into the end zone on fourth down only to have the pass batted away with 47 ticks remaining on the clock. Game over. Georgia, 19-14.

This was the afternoon that legendary Bulldog broadcaster, Larry Munson, screamed, “Look at the sugar falling out of the sky! Look at the sugar falling out of the sky!” as the game concluded, and referencing the, now upcoming, trip to the Sugar Bowl for the SEC Champion Bulldogs.

But… BUT, also as the game concluded, Auburn fans, as often we do, chanted “It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger!” over and over and over. And the mood at our, and other’s tailgates, was not one of sadness or despair, but one of optimism and hope.

One game was yet to be played on that 1982 schedule, and the opponent was the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Auburn fans knew, in their heart of hearts, as one, that the nine-game winning streak that the Tide lorded over the Tigers could very well come to an end in two weeks at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

It did! Bo Jackson went “over the top” to give Auburn a 23-22 lead which they did not relinquish. That was Bear Bryant’s last regular season game as head coach at Alabama, and the balance of power, within the state, began to shift.
And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Another monster game in “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.”

1983

I was NOT in attendance. We were living in Albany, NY and didn’t make the game, but it’s tale is a must tell when one consider’s the enormity of the event.

Auburn had not won an SEC Championship since 1957. Third-year coach Pat Dye brought a determined group of Tigers to play “between the hedges”. They were 8-1 and number 3 in the country. Georgia was undefeated and ranked number 4.

Georgia was looking for its fourth straight league title. The winner of this one would decide who would represent the SEC in New Orleans.

Auburn would, absolutely, not be denied this time. They were in full control of the game, from the beginning, and the 13-7 triumph was not as close as the score indicated.

The twenty-six year conference championship drought came to an end in Athens.

Auburn went on to defeat the Michigan Wolverines, and Bo Schembechler, 9-7, in the Sugar Bowl. They would be crowned National Champions by the New York Times.

Schembechler said Auburn would not be able to run on Michigan. Auburn did, indeed, run on the Wolverines and Bo Jackson was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Fast forward to 2004. I’m back in attendance.

2004

Auburn… #3 and undefeated. Georgia… #5 with one loss.

ESPN College GameDay.

There is only one game in which the atmosphere was more electric on an Auburn football Saturday. That was in 1989 when Alabama came to town for the first time in the history of the series.

Auburn had already clinched a spot in the SEC Championship Game and was playing for a, potential, spot in the Orange Bowl in the BCS National Championship Game.

Auburn held Georgia scoreless for 57 minutes and wound up winning by a 24-6 count. It wasn’t that close. They dominated the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball.

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams carried the ball 19 times for 101 yards.

Ronnie Brown ran for 51 yards. He also caught 7 passes for 88 yards.

And how about Jason Campbell? 18 for 22 and 189 yards.

Most of us know the rest of the story.

Auburn went into Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama two weeks later. The Tigers should have played Southern Cal for it all. They did not, as the idiots in both the AP and USA Today Coaches Polls kept Oklahoma at number two, and college football fans were robbed of what would, most likely, have been a monumental ‘game for the ages’ in Miami.

Auburn WAS named National Champions by People’s National Champions and the GBE College Football Ratings, among others.
2013
‘Nuff said!!!

And that brings us to…

2015

It’s not 2004, or even 1982, but this year’s contest between Auburn and Georgia is very important. Without rehashing what is going on in Athens, with Mark Richt and his squad, Georgia needs this game… BADLY.

Auburn needs this game.

The Tigers went to to College Station and whipped the Texas A&M Aggies in a most impressive fashion.

The game plans for the offense and defense were excellent and they were well executed.

Jeremy Johnson returned as the starting signal caller and performed extremely well.

Jovon Robinson asserted himself as that ‘go to’ back that Auburn can give the ball to with complete confidence, and he will break a couple of long runs before the season is over.

The Auburn defense nabbed three picks off the arm of dynamic freshman quarterback, Kyler Murray and, very importantly, contained him in the pocket.

In short, the Tigers played Auburn Football, really, for the first time this year. Now it’s time for them to step up and do that consistently.

For the 119th time, Georgia awaits. The series stands at 55-55-8. Think it could get any closer?

There has been turmoil within the Bulldog program and Richt might be coaching for his job in these last two games, but you can believe that he will have his minions ready for Auburn. He always does. The Dawgs have won seven out of the last ten.

The stage is set.

I am of the opinion that Auburn will continue to build on what they have been doing for the past three weeks, the A&M game being their most complete one, and play their best game of the 2015 season. And I will run my record, in games I’ve attended versus Georgia, to 14-11-1.

Auburn 31, Georgia 20

Auburn vs. Ole Miss: Glancing Back and Peering Forward

My first recollection of an Auburn vs. Ole Miss game is the Liberty Bowl of 1965. The two teams had not met since 1953. This was the first time the Liberty Bowl was played in Memphis. It was held in Philadelphia from it’s inception in 1959 through the 1963 season. In 1964 the game was played in Atlantic City.

Ole Miss escaped that 1965 game with a 13-7 win. Tailback Tom Bryan scored Auburn’s only touchdown on a 44-yard scamper. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and its Outstanding Offensive Back. The Tigers’ Robert Fulghum was selected as the Outstanding Defensive Back.

IMG_23831973 was the season that I attended my initial Auburn-Ole Miss brawl. And that it was, a defensive battle.

The game took place on October 6th of that year. That was the day old Cliff Hare Stadium was dedicated as Jordan- Hare Stadium.

Coach Jordan was, of course, humble in his receiving this honor and his Tigers responded with a 14-7 victory.

Halfback Rick Neel broke a 7-7 tie with a 33-yard touchdown burst with just over one minute remaining in the game.

One of the most exciting games of the series occurred on January 2, 1971 in the Gator Bowl. Auburn was led by junior quarterback, Pat Sullivan. Ole Miss also had a decent signal caller heading up their offense that day. His name was Archie Manning.

Auburn broke out of the gates with a vengeance by rolling to a 21-0 lead before the Rebels roared back to cut the lead to 21-14 at halftime.

The teams battled fiercely for the remainder of the game, several Gator Bowl stats were broken, with Auburn finally securing a 35-28 win.

And, probably, THE most exciting game of the series took place in Oxford in 2014. Click below:
Now, for those of you who love numbers and history, here are some more. The last six Auburn coaches’ records versus Ole Miss:

Shug Jordan, 4-3

Doug Barfield, 2-0

Pat Dye, 4-1

Terry Bowden, 6-0

Tommy Tuberville, 7-3

Gene Chizik, 3-1

Gus Malzahn, 2-0

The meetings between the two schools had been sporadic until divisions were created in 1992. Auburn leads the series with a 29-10-0 record against the Rebels.

The first time the schools met on the gridiron was in Birmingham in 1928 with the Tigers taking the win, 19-0.

The largest margin of victory came in 1985 when Bo Jackson ran for 240 yards on 38 carries to lead Auburn to a 41-0 victory.

The longest winning streak stands at nine, with Auburn taking games interspersed between 1971-1991.

Auburn vs. Ole Miss 2015

Last year’s contest was an elimination game, of sorts, and the same holds true for Ole Miss this year. The Rebs control their own destiny but if they lose they can more-than-likely kiss any chance to win the SEC West goodbye.

The 2015 Auburn Tiger football season is at a critical juncture. The same could have been, and probably was, said about last Saturday’s tough loss in Fayetteville. It rings ever more true with each succeeding game.

If Auburn fails to win, then any chance of a very good bowl game will disappear with the breeze which will waft away from Jordan-Hare Stadium around mid-afternoon this coming Saturday.

IMG_2329The Rebels had an impressive, 23-3, win against Texas A&M last Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Quarterback Chad Kelly had a big night throwing for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Laquon Treadwell was on the receiving end of five of those passes. They totaled 102 yards.

Laremy Tunsil, star left tackle on the Ole Miss O line, returned to the lineup after completing a seven-game NCAA suspension for receiving illegal benefits. It appeared to have rejuvenated their ground attack as they rushed for 230 yards. They only ran for 40 yards the week before at Memphis.

I’m not going to rehash the details of Auburn’s excruciating loss, in four overtimes, at Arkansas last week. If the Tigers hadn’t dropped eight passes and two interceptions it would have been, truly, a different story. Hey! It would have been a different story if Tiger receivers had caught only HALF of those whiffs. SIGH.

But take heart Auburn fans! Redshirt freshman quarterback, Sean White, is getting better each week and it appears he could be a star for the Tigers sooner than later.

Here is a look at some of his numbers.

White completed 19 of 32 passes, in the Arkansas game, for 254 yards and zero interceptions. Add back only half of the eight drops and you have a completion percentage of .719, and many, many more yards. Probably well over 300 and, possibly near 400.

On the season he has thrown 97 passes and completed 62 for 805 yards. That’s over 200 yards per game. He has one interception. That came in the Miss State game.

And hopefully it’s going to get even better for the young QB.

Now, forget the numbers. The thing that impresses me most about Sean is his competitive spirit, his confidence, and his leadership. The kid LOVES to play and he gives it 110%.

He comin’!

Peyton Barber. Another baller. The guy really has a nose for the end zone. He found it four times against the Razorbacks. And he’s rushing for 110 yards per game.

And… AND… Carl Lawson practiced for the first time Tuesday! Will he play Saturday? We don’t know yet, but that is very encouraging!

Also, Auburn’s defense played better. After garnering 14 first quarter points, Arkansas scored only 10 points in the last three quarters of regulation play.

If defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, can get similar results as those this Saturday, the Tigers will have a solid chance at winning the football game.

So, Auburn is playing to get better. They’re playing for pride. They’re playing for the opportunity to continue toward a 9-3 regular season record and a very good bowl game.

Ole Miss is playing for an opportunity to continue toward an SEC West Championship and, potentially, a College Football Playoff berth.

This is a HUGE game for both teams. A loss, for either squad, effectively ends the realization of lofty post-season goals.

Auburn has not committed a turnover in its past three games. That is a very good thing. If the Tigers can again protect the football, improve on both offense and defense, and get its expected high level of play from special teams, they have a good chance to win.

This game should be a Battle Royale. I expect Auburn and Ole Miss to come out breathing fire and leave everything on the field.IMG_0546

It should come down to the fourth quarter and whoever wants it most should win.

Here’s how I see it.

Ole Miss, trailing 21-20 late, gets a long TD pass from Kelly to Treadwell. 27-21, Black Bears.

Auburn, in an effort to salvage its season, gets a kickoff return of 87 yards from Rudy Ford. This puts the ball at the Rebel 13.

White hits Kamryn Pettway, coming out of the backfield, for a 12-yard gain.

Peyton Barber hammers it in from the one. The PAT is good. Auburn up.

Blake Countess then intercepts a late pass from Kelly and Auburn holds on for a 28-27 win!

You heard it here first!

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!

Tiger Takes and Fowl Play

On September 27, 1969, Auburn sophomore quarterback, Pat Sullivan, led the Tigers into Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. The visitors slipped and slid all over the newly installed, artificial tartan surface of Shields-Watkins field that afternoon. They returned home, battered, with turf burns and bruised egos.

The Vols humbled the Tigers, 45-19, and intercepted young Sullivan FIVE times.

It was one of the future Heisman winner’s worst performances of an otherwise stellar career.

This scenario was one of the first things that crossed my mind, Sunday morning, following Auburn’s 31-24 win over Louisville the day before.

I left the Georgia Dome, Saturday night, far too focused on quarterback Jeremy Johnson’s 3 interceptions, which could have been FIVE, instead of the fact that Auburn had just beaten a very good football team. I was able to view the previous evening’s events with a much clearer perspective following a good night’s sleep and the memory of that debacle in Tennessee which occurred to me, soon after awakening, on Sunday morning.

We all know how things turned out for Pat Sullivan, and I don’t think things will turn out all too differently for Jeremy Johnson. He has the skills, and the surrounding cast of players and coaches, to evolve into one of the best signal callers to ever grace the grassy turf of Pat Dye Field.DSC02280

Auburn and Sullivan regrouped nicely in 1969 to go 8-2. They ended the regular season with a 49-26 shellacking of the Alabama Crimson Tide, and an invitation to play in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, TX.

My guess is that the 2015 edition of the Auburn Tigers will have success to a greater degree than that group who proudly wore the orange and blue 46 years ago. They came out victorious, and they did some impressive things in the process. Let’s take a gander at a few of those who stood out.

Daniel Carlson and Kevin Phillips – Special Teams

Louisville did not return one one kick the entire afternoon! That includes both kickoffs AND punts. Daniel Carlson was 100% on touchbacks, perfect on extra points, and nailed a 56-yard field goal. Kevin Phillips averaged 47 yards on two punts. BOOM, huh?

Peyton Barber and Ricardo Louis – Offense

Barber, the sophomore from Alpharetta, GA, rushed for 115 yards on 24 carries in relief of starter Roc Thomas. He also caught one pass for 15 yards. Barber was the trooper that many of us have been expecting him to be. Louis, he of ” The Miracle at Jordan-Hare” fame, had one of his best games as a Tiger. The senior receiver scored on a pass reception of 33 yards in the third quarter and a run of 8 yards in the fourth quarter. His three total receptions gained 54 yards and his four rushes netted 21 yards.

Tray Matthews and Montravius Adams – Defense

Matthews, a baller, picked off a pass on the initial offensive play from scrimmage for the Cardinals. He returned it for 35 yards. He also had eight tackles and was a man to be reckoned with before leaving the game with an injury.

Adams might have had his best game yet as an Auburn Tiger. He was a disruptive force throughout the entire game and it appears that he has gotten his game to the point where his coaches have been pushing him. This does not bode well for the remaining eleven teams on Auburn’s schedule.IMG_2272

Ok, that’s a brief look at the past, both distant and immediate, now how about the future?

The immediate future holds the 2015 season’s home opener. The opponent is the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. Auburn should be able to get people healthy and utilize the game just played as a great teaching tool. Mistakes were plentiful but correctable. If it’s true that a team’s biggest improvement typically occurs from game one to game two, then this should be a tremendous opportunity to really launch the Tigers forward toward a monstrous showdown with LSU the following week.

Beyond that, the schedule sets up about as well as one can hope for in the SEC West. You gotta play the other six. There is no way to avoid that, but Auburn gets Miss State, Ole Miss, and Alabama in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. SEC East rival, Georgia, also has to make the trip to the Plains as do San Jose State and Idaho.

Besides the trip to Baton Rouge, Auburn travels to Lexington, Fayetteville and College Station for games with Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas A&M. Those are some truly tough tests for these young Tigers but, again, it’s the SEC where there are NO easy schedules and there is nowhere to run and hide. Man up! Play ball!SEC logo2

So what does this mean for the remainder of the 2015 campaign and beyond?

Auburn now has a team with a lot of talent, the most in many years, but lacks experience in some areas. If they keep their nose to the grindstone and improve each week they could have a special season.

Also, if they continue to stockpile talent and keep their focus, they could be very, very good for years to come.

And that brings us back to the business at hand.

Auburn vs. Jacksonville State

Jax State is an D1 school and should be a strong contender for the FCS Championship. They made it to the playoffs last season. The Gamecocks defeated UT-Chattanooga on Saturday, by a score of 23-20. They rode a punishing ground attack to a net total of 298 yards rushing. Troymaine Pope, a senior, accounted for 173 of those yards on just 15 carries. The Moccasins only had 196 total yards, so the Gamecocks can play a little D, as well.

That’s all well and good. Jax State is no match for Auburn and will not beat them on Saturday.

I expect the Tigers to make great strides in practice this week and show up ready to play. Look for Jeremy Johnson to perform more like the all-star candidate that he is. I think Auburn will exhibit a balanced attack, on offense, and pile up a lot of yards, while limiting the Gamecocks’ rushing attack to far fewer yards than they ground out in their opener.

Auburn scores early and often before the starters give way to the reserves who will be anxious to show what they’ve got.

Auburn 49, Jacksonville State 10

Tailgating Tales

First of all, let me say this… I LOVE tailgating! Who doesn’t? And I truly love tailgating prior to home games in Auburn. It’s a great way to get “ready” for the game. It’s a time to eat, drink, and socialize. It’s a time to discuss your team’s game and also to watch other teams play, before and after, your game. In a nutshell, it’s a whole lot of fun!

With that in mind, let’s get right to it. I’m going to take a look back at three of my most memorable tailgating experiences that I’ve enjoyed on the road. I will do this chronologically.

Cal vs. Stanford – 1986

Aha! Fooled you didn’t I? If you know me at all, you were probably thinking, “Now which Auburn game is Bird going to mention first?”DSC02503

Well, we didn’t really begin getting into tailgating until the Pat Dye era on the Plains. And by the time this was in full swing our family had moved to the Bay Area of California where I was a seminary student and campus minister at The University of California at Berkeley.

The ‘Big Game’, as it is known, was played in Berkeley that year. Our whole family attended the game. That included my wife, Melodye, our son, Luke, and our daughter, Leah. Luke was eight and Leah was three. I won’t tell you how old I was. You can do the math.

As we strolled across the famed Berkeley campus, the thing that struck me was the elegance of the tailgates. There were beautiful flowers in lovely vases, linen tablecloths, china and flatware. Now this wasn’t the case at all the sites but there was an unusual amount of that sort of setup to my mind.

And, of course, we were just about a 35-45 minute drive from Napa Valley and there were some fine wines and champagnes being poured. Us? We ate Blondie’s pizza and drank draft beer. It’s a long way from Wilcox County, Alabama to Northern California folks. But we were eager to learn!

And, by the way, the once beaten Stanford Cardinal (I REALLY want to put an “s” at the end of their name) was upset by the ONE WIN Cal Bears.

Dartmouth vs. Fordham – 1994

I was in my second year as a AAA Inspector and had accepted an out-of-territory assignment to New England. I was to do some work in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. It was early the first day of October and I had been there for about a week.

After spending the night at The Inn on Golden Pond, yes THAT Golden Pond, on Wednesday 9/28, I found myself at a small motel somewhere in that area on Thursday night. Auburn was playing Kentucky that evening and I called a couple of places to make sure I located a spot that had ESPN.

Auburn whacked the Wildcats, 41-14, and I enjoyed a few Samuel Adams Honey Porters during the contest. I wasn’t in my best shape on Friday morning but it was time to knock out a handful of calls and settle in, somewhere in Western New Hampshire or Eastern Vermont, for the weekend.

I finished work just south of Hanover, NH which is the home of Dartmouth College. Dartmouth, as you may well know, is a member of the Ivy League.

Well, Dartmouth was playing Fordham the next day AND there was a balloon festival nearby in Vermont. The hotels in the area were full. Great planning, Bird!

I did manage to wrangle a room at a Howard Johnson, across the river from Hanover, in White River Junction, VT. Whew!

So, Saturday morning rolls around and I opt out of the balloon festival, which began at daylight, and chose to spend the bulk of my day at the football game between the Big Green of Dartmouth and the Rams of Fordham.

IMG_2254Do they tailgate in the Ivy League, I wondered? Yes they do! I arrived at the campus well before kickoff and began to circle a parking lot when I spotted a group of Dartmouth fans literally gathered around the rear of a very nice SUV. I rolled down the passenger window of my blue Saturn sedan and shouted greetings to the nattily-garbed crew.

They encouraged me to park and join them at their tailgate. I did.

Well folks, you have never met more hospitable group of fans in Athens, Oxford or Knoxville. They shared hors d’oeuvres, some of which their guest from Lower Alabama had never enjoyed previously, and wine with me. We also talked a little football and I was allowed to share with them a little about Auburn University, her family and our beloved Tigers.

What a beautiful day for football it was! Early October in New England is peak fall foiliage season and the reds, golds, oranges and purples were absolutely brilliant! I was actually able to stroll around the field! Try that in the SEC! I even gathered the Big Green cheerleaders together and they happily posed for a picture!IMG_2255

I don’t even remember who won the football game. But I do remember it as one of those days that you look back on and smile as you recall the special time you had, as well as the people and place that made it possible.

Go Big Green!

Auburn vs. Ole Miss – 2012

We rolled into Memphis late Friday afternoon before this game, which was scheduled to kickoff before noon on Saturday. To say Auburn was struggling in 2012 would be an understatement. But we were going to spend two nights in the land of Elvis, Sun and Stax records, and have a big time in The Grove.

After settling into our hotel we decided to walk down to The Peabody hotel, have a beverage and watch the famous ducks do their thing. The lobby was packed with tourists and football fans from both Auburn and Ole Miss. There were also a few other Tigers from Memphis enjoying the spectacle.

When the show was over there were two Rebel fans that grabbed us as we walked past them. They welcomed us warmly, gave us their contact information, and invited us to tailgate with them on Saturday.

Mercy! We had to get up early, after an evening of revelry on Beale St., to make the tailgate in plenty of time before this SEC early game. We left Tennessee and made our way toward the land of Faulkner and Vaught not too darn long after dawn. We even encountered two ‘working girls’ stumbling along right in the middle of Lamar Avenue. Mercy deux!

We found a parking slot within a stone’s throw of campus and headed for the famous Grove. As we made our way through the maze of tents, a kindly Southern Gentleman stepped from the cover of his group’s spot, shook my hand and said, “Y’all look thirsty.” I responded that indeed we were.

He pointed us in the direction of two lawn chairs and introduced us to the bartender of this aggregation. This gentleman inquired as to our drink of choice and I replied that I would let him surprise us.

While we watched this fellow ably concoct some cocktails, we marveled at the setup. There were sets of tents arranged three or four across and three or four deep, cases of liquor and beer stacked three or four high, and a buffet that would rival that of any good restaurant.

It wasn’t long before the couple we met at The Peabody, the night before, arrived, and we had no idea that this was also their tailgate and their friends. We were just taking up some kind Rebels on their offer of hospitality.

IMG_0571Very shortly, yet another Ole Miss gentleman came up to us and asked if we had tickets. We told him yes, but he asked again if we were sure and thrust two tickets toward me. I politely declined his generous offer and thanked him profusely.

It then occurred to me to get some pictures of this amazing gathering. Melodye asked me to corral the bartender and she would snap a photo of us.
We put our arms around each other, smiled, and just before my bride snapped the picture, our newly found friend shouted, “War Eagle!” I grinned broadly and responded with a resounding, “Hotty Toddy!”