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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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!