Not a lot of parallels between ’83 and this year’s edition, what with Auburn entering the game No. 3 in the nation and featuring arguably the greatest running back who ever lived, and Alabama team coming in ranked No. 19 after a loss the previous week to UT-Chattanooga Doug Flutie’s Boston College. But this was the game ESPN Classic showed earlier this fall as part of a “Bustin’ Loose” marathon, so that’s what you get. Enjoy.
— OK, so I don’t actually have anything from the pregame; I didn’t think to hit the record button until Auburn has at midfield on their first possession. But this seems like as good a place as any to mention that your announcers for this game are Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles, both of whom sound like twin spirits of SEC football somehow made incarnate and handed a microphone. Listening to them, you get the sense that this game is only properly watched inside a crumbling courthouse in the middle of a small Southern town’s downtown square. Man, remember when networks made decisions about their sports coverage based on things like “who will the fans watching this sporting event enjoy hearing the most?” and not “who do we happen to have under contract?” It’s such a shame–not only will there never be another Keith Jackson, the people who bring our games to us aren’t even bothering to look for him.
— We pick it up 2nd-and-6 for Auburn just this side of midfield on their opening possession, and I know this going to shock you, but Bo takes the pitch from Randy Campbell on the option left, gets a great block from Lionel James–who lining up alongside Bo makes a player like, say, Travante Stallworth look like, say, Bo–and … rumbles for 22 yards ? darts for? motors for? How do you describe a run that’s both that powerful and that fast? Anyways: 22 yards.
— ‘Bama true freshman Cornelius Bennett on the tackle for Alabama on the next play, and Jackson mentions he is “destined for stardom.” Goodcall there, Keith, though with players like Bennett it’s not too tough to tell.
— 3rd-and-long, Campbell drops back, misses Clayton Beauford on a deep out by about a foot. Campbell missed open receivers on both second and third down here, but Jackson’s blaming the wind … and, yeah, from what I’ve read, that’s probably a perfectly valid excuse.
— Al Del Greco lines up for a 44-yard field goal … and the snap is dropped. Backup QB Mike Mann takes off and throws to the ghost receiver standing beside the Alabama sideline, but what with the ghost receiver being made of air and desperation the ball is incomplete and ‘Bama takes over. Replay shows the snap is fine: Mann just flat drops it.
— ‘Bama takes over, and every member of their starting lineup–as Auburn’s did to start the game–gets a full-screen mug shot from the practice field and a mention from Jackson. Now, of course, the players are lucky if the announcers even manage to remind viewers their names are scrolling along the top of the screen when they, you know, scroll across the top of the screen as a way of “introductions.” Progress sucks.(In case you’re wondering: three mustaches out of the Alabama starting 11.)
— Roll call for Auburn’s defense, which lines up in a 5-2: DE John Dailey, DT Doug Smith, NG Dowe Aughtman, DT Donnie Humphrey, DE Gerald Robinson, LB Gregg Carr, LB Jeff Jackson, CB David King, CB Jimmie Warren, SAF (that’s how it’s listed) Vic Beasley, SAF Tommy Powell. (Speaking of Vic Beasley: his son is going to be on the Plains this Friday.) But it’s substitute DE Quincy Williams who gets the pressure on Tide QB Walter Lewis and forces a punt.
— There’s of course a hundred different things about the way the game is played in 1983 vs. the current version–the split ends putting a hand down before the snap, Auburn’s orange facemasks (there’s one thing that’s improved since then), the oversized jerseys even the players seem lost inside–but none immediately jump out at you the way this punt does. James fields the punt at his own 25 and the Tide gunners aren’t even in the frame. They’re not within 15 yards of him. I guess the spread piunt innovation was still a few years away, huh? James, for his part, duly returns the punt 20 yards.
— Randy Campbell on the Iron Bowl: “It means everything emotionally. We feel like if we were to lose this game it would destroy our whole season, even though we’re 9-1 and already going to the Sugar Bowl. It means everything as far as the state championship, and bragging rights, and it helps in recruiting (!!!–ed.). And you have to listen to it for a year!”
War Eagle, Randy.
— As is ESPN Classic’s wont, we’ve jumped ahead to the 2:53 mark of the first quarter, still scoreless, Alabama with the ball deep in their own territory. But tailback Perry Goode breaks free for a huge gain on the draw to midfield, and lumbering fullback Ricky Moore runs for 11 on 2nd-and-10 to give the Tide a first down at the Auburn 35. Jackson says of Moore “you’d better bring a big stick to knock him down,” but even that’s trumped on this play by an incredible effort from Auburn lineman Ben Thomas–he gets pancaked, flat on his back, then flips the Tide lineman off of him, gets up, runs back, and gets an assist on the tackle. If an Auburn player pulls that off Friday, you’ll see it on SportsCenter. And I’ll write a poem about it.
— Dailey gets a big sack of Lewis to force the Tide into a long field goal try; the wind pushes it well to the right. No one’s going to have much luck in the kicking game today, I’m thinking.
— In case you were wondering if the wonders of 1983 football broadcasting extended to a lack of technical screwups … no. Because as we hear Pat Dye discuss his time working for the Bear, what we see is Bo getting bottled up on the left side of the line, reversing field, finding a whole bunch of open turf on the other side of the line, getting a big blocks from Chris Woods and going 69 yards for the Auburn TOUCHDOWN! 7-0! Broyles is besides himself with glee at how freaking good Bo and Woods were on that play–“We’ve got to see that again!” he says–and I can’t even tell you how refreshing this kind of genuine, unscripted enthusiasm for a play as opposed to the entirely scripted slobbering over a player like the Verne-n’-Gary Tebow worship truly is. Bo statwatch: 5 carries, 109 yards.
–Big catch over the middle by ‘Bama’s Joey Jones–the former Birmingham-Southern head football coach and current head man at South Alabama–and yeah, I think it’s safe to say that another big difference between 1983 and 2009 is that you don’t see many 5’9″, 165-pound white guys at wide receiver in the SEC. Which is not to say that Jones isn’t a good receiver: three plays later he pops up in the back of the end zone and Lewis hits him for a 20-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7’s.
— Man, Campbell’s having a rough go of it: 3rd-and-3, Campbell runs a kind of play-action, Woods is wide open for a first (and nowhere near downfield enough for the wind to matter), and Campbell just misses him. Even the immortals have their off-halves.
— There’s a slogan painted across the Legion Field upper deck that reads “BIRMINGHAM: FOOTBALL CAPITAL OF THE SOUTH.” Sigh.
— Auburn takes over again and crosses midfield. Back-to-back plays: Bo for 12, then Bo for 20-plus quick as you blink. Statwatch: 8 rushes, 140 yards. He gets a breather as Tim Jessie comes into the game. How incredible was Auburn’s running back recruiting in the Dye years? Even Jessie–who has to be the fifth-most famous back on this team at best when you consider Bo, James, Fullwood, and Agee–still got drafted.
— Bennett is an absolute monster, flying in from everywhere, stuffing Campbell on 3rd-and-short to set up a 29-yard Del Greco attempt. Good! 10-7 Auburn.
— Ugh: ‘Bama starts really riding the option and picking up some big chunks of yardage. 3rd-and-4 on the Auburn 36, and Lewis escapes the rush and takes off on a mad scramble that picks up 22 yards for 1st-and-10 on the 14. The more things change …
— 1st-and-goal on the 4, less than a minute remaining. Auburn loads up the box … play-action, wide-open receiver, touchdown Tide. Not exactly the Cro-Magnon approach this era’s supposed to be famous for, right? Van “Guys Who Kicks Puppies In the Gonads For Fun” Tiffin hits the extra point, and it’s 14-10 Alabama.
And that’s your half. Back with the second tomorrow.
[UPDATE] The second half.