This week the Wishbone continues its lists of “greatests ever,” this time looking at the best games (“best” for a variety of reasons) Auburn has played in stadiums not called “Jordan-Hare.” One caveat: This list excludes bowl games. Those appeared in a previous column. [The Ten Best Auburn Games That Never Happened can be found here.]
The methodology was thus: John chose the ten numbered games and offers commentary, and then Van follows up with more discussion of John’s choice and (in some cases) suggests alternate games against that same opponent.
As usual with us, we draw the cutoff date at 1981, which we consider to be the beginning of the “modern era” of Auburn football—the first season led by Coach Pat Dye.
As could be expected, the 2010 season definitely caused us to rework this list pretty comprehensively. One could even argue that every away game from this past season should be included, as each one of them led us closer toward the national title. That wouldn’t make for a particularly interesting or entertaining list, though, so we’re going to limit the 2010 games as best we can.
Also as usual, we welcome suggestions of games we’ve overlooked and arguments about the ones we’ve included. A slight effort has been made to rank them in order of importance, but such measurements are extremely subjective and surely everyone who reads this will prefer a different order to the list.
John adds: I ranked these purely on the basis of “best games” rather than “most meaningful games.”
10. Georgia, Athens, 2005 season.
John: The improbable finish. Fourth and 11 at our 34. Brandon Cox to Devin Aromashodu for 63 yards—and then the ball is stripped and recovered in the end zone by Courtney Taylor. A gigantic play. Georgia went on to win the SEC Championship Game but experts were saying Auburn was probably the best team in the conference by the end of the year.
Van: I watched this game in a bar in Lawrenceville, not an hour away from Athens, surrounded by Dawgs fans. When Brandon completed that fourth down pass and Devin raced the length of the field, I was the only person in the room jumping up and down and screaming—and the only one probably in immediate danger of being stabbed to death by a hundred steak knives, now that I think about it.
The really remarkable thing about how this game ended was that what could have been an absolutely catastrophic mistake—Aromashodu fumbling as he neared the goal line—turned into the best possible scenario. If he had scored on the play, Georgia would have gotten the ball back with nearly a minute to go and only needing a field goal to win. Instead, Auburn got the ball on the one yard line, ran the clock down, kicked the field goal for the win, and walked off. The Dawgs offense never got back on the field.
9. Georgia Tech, Atlanta, 1987 season.
John: This will be forever remembered as the Aundray Bruce game. This is the game that convinced the Falcons to make him the first overall pick in the NFL Draft—much to their later dismay.
Van: Auburn had battled Tech in some memorable games over the years, and this was to be the final game of the series overall (Tech didn’t want to play us anymore), so it had special significance. Auburn had won quite a few in a row in the series and Tech’s coach, Bill Curry, had never beaten Auburn (and never would). The Yellowjackets desperately wanted to win, and for most of the game, it looked as if they would. Tech led Auburn 10-7 with only 24 seconds remaining in the game when Jeff Burger found Lawyer Tillman in the back of the end zone. Jim Fyffe said it best: “TILLMAN TILLMAN TILLMAN! TOUCHDOWN AUBURN! A BULLET BY BURGER!” And then, as Tech tried desperately to come back down the field in the closing seconds, OLB Aundray Bruce picked off a pass (his second of the day) and returned it for a touchdown, making the final score 20-10 Auburn after the Tigers had actually trailed only a few seconds earlier. Astonishingly, this remains Auburn’s last win over Georgia Tech.
8. LSU, Baton Rouge, 1997 season.
John: Was this Dameyune Craig’s finest hour? Auburn scores the winning touchdown on a Rusty Williams run with thirty seconds left after an eighty yard drive that started with just over three minutes left in the game. Craig’s passing carried Auburn against the strong running of LSU and Cecil Collins.
Van: This was one of those games where it simply didn’t look like Auburn was going to win. The trends were against them; LSU had won hard-fought victories in 1995 and 1996, and we all know what a miracle it took to beat them in 1994. Cecil “the Diesel” Collins ran wild on the Auburn defense, gaining 232 yards on 27 carries, yet Auburn somehow managed to limit them to “only” 28 points—and, at the end of the day, Rusty Williams (not exactly astride the top of the Auburn historical rushing charts) had scored just as many touchdowns as Collins, and Craig had thrown for 342 yards. This was a good win against a bitter foe that really needed its win string over us snapped, and the 1997 Tigers got it done.
Two other wins in Tiger Stadium deserve mention: 1993 and 1999. The 1993 LSU game was Terry Bowden’s first big road win and an early component of “the Streak,” the twenty straight wins he achieved in his first two seasons. It marked the moment that Stan White stepped up in his senior year and truly became the quarterback we had always hoped he could be. The 1999 LSU game is the one that Bayou Bengals fans still refer to as the “cigar game,” in which Tommy Tuberville’s first squad absolutely pounded LSU, 41-7, and probably got Gerry DiNardo fired. The highlight of the game was probably Auburn’s first touchdown, a fake field goal in which kicker Damon Duval caught a flip-pass from the holder and ran untouched into the end zone. After the game, Auburn players smoked cigars, somehow offending LSU fans, who have held this up as an egregious insult ever since. Whatever.
7. Florida State, Tallahassee, 1984 season.
John: This game was not on TV, so you had to be there in person or listen on radio. This was the game that started the Tomahawk chop and the most annoying chant in sports history. And that memorable score: 42-41.
Van: This was the game where I and a whole lot of other Auburn people truly fell in love with Jim Fyffe. As John notes, this one wasn’t televised, so we had to tune in to “the Auburn Football Network” and listen. I tracked the game on a piece of notebook paper and was totally absorbed in every play as Jim laid it out. And what a game to try to keep track of! Back and forth it went; FSU did not yet have Mickey Andrews assembling stout defenses and Auburn’s was victimized by a wild and crazy Seminole attack. At the start of the game, Chief Osceola threw the flaming spear at the feet of the Auburn captains, and quarterback Pat Washington later said that gesture ticked him and the other players off. They showed it! The game ended with FSU deep in Auburn territory; had it been played for another hour, the score might have been 100-99.
It’s interesting to consider that Florida State has three modern-era wins over Auburn, and each came in a different location: Auburn (1987), New Orleans (1988), and Tallahassee (1989). During that same run of games, Auburn won three over them in Jordan-Hare (1983, 1985, and 1990) along with the above-mentioned victory in Tallahassee.
6. Alabama; Iron Bowl, 1982 season.
John: After nine years of losing, Auburn needed to stand up and win a slugfest-type game with Bama.
Van: This might have been as high as #2 on my list. A win over Alabama for the first time in nine years. (In human terms, put it this way: Alabama started their 9-win streak when I was in first grade. I didn’t get to see Auburn win the Iron Bowl until I was in high school and nearly had a driver’s license!) A win over the Bear in his final Iron Bowl. The tables in the state turning, at long last. This was without question the key win in Pat Dye’s early career at Auburn. Bo over the top; Pat Dye’s tear for the Bear; the goalposts at Legion Field coming down; Jim Fyffe’s “monumental victory!” call, not to mention that this is possibly the game where he first began to say “Touchdown Auburn!” every time; Randy Campbell and Lionel James; 23-22 forever.
5. Tennessee, Knoxville, 2004 season.
John: This game marked the first moment in the 2004 season when we all realized how good that team could be. Ronnie Brown running over the defender at the UT goal line is a moment I will never forget.
Van: Happy to say this is one of many on this list that I was there to witness in person. It’s amazing how quiet the better part of 100,000-plus people can get, very quickly—and how quickly they can evaporate from the stands as things turn against them. The Auburn defense made both of Tennessee’s rookie quarterbacks look like middle-schoolers, while Jason Campbell, Ronnie Brown, and Cadillac Williams tore the Vols defense apart time and again. A beautiful game and a complete team effort. In pregame, Coach Tuberville told the players, “It’ll take a good one, but let’s make it a great one.” They did.
Speaking of Tennessee, let us not overlook the SEC Championship Game win over them, later in that 2004 season—our first-ever win in the title game, and wonderful revenge for UT’s defeat of the Tigers in the first AU appearance there, in 1997.
And of course one of Pat Dye’s major early road wins was at Tennessee in 1983. I still remember Trey Gainous catching a Vols punt and taking it back to the house. Any win in Knoxville should be savored, and this was a great one.
4. Georgia, Athens, 1999 season.
John: The Ronney Daniels game. All that needs to be said. Nothing is better than UGA fans leaving the stadium in droves while booing their own team.
Van: They did indeed leave—if not at halftime, then at the start of the third quarter, when the Tigers came out and stuck yet another touchdown on the board. Remember, this was not a great Auburn team by any means—they had virtually no running game. Most of the offense was Ben Leard throwing to Ronney Daniels. Yet they absolutely torched a decent Georgia team in Sanford Stadium. It was simply astonishing.
A much more historically significant Auburn win over Georgia in Athens came near the end of the 1983 season. Georgia had won the previous three SEC titles in a row, leaning heavily on Herschell Walker on offense and a stout defense. Auburn had narrowly lost at home to the Dawgs the previous year, in the only meeting of Bo Jackson and Herschell. With Walker gone to the USFL, Auburn won a game of steel from the Dawgs, 13-7, ending Georgia’s dominance of the league and placing the Tigers at the top for most of the rest of the decade.
Also, because it doesn’t really fit in anywhere else on this list: South Carolina, SEC Championship Game, 2010 season. A beat-down for the ages, setting all kinds of SEC title game records, giving us our second-ever win in this game and our seventh conference title overall, getting us to the National Championship Game, and doing it all against a Steve Spurrier team! What’s not to love?
3. Florida, Gainesville, 1994 season.
John: So many things jump out about this game. Steve Spurrier, that great offense, and another high scoring, exciting Auburn win. And it was Spurrier’s first SEC loss at home! Let’s relive the highlights, shall we?
Van: Lots of things do come to mind when I recall Florida ’94. Auburn was well into what would become a 20-game winning streak under second-year coach Terry Bowden, who preached to the players before the game that, since the Tigers were not bowl-eligible due to probation, this was their “Super Bowl.” Only folks actually inside Jordan-Hare had been able to witness Auburn’s shocking upset of the Gators the year before, thanks to those same probation penalties, but in ’94 the Tigers were back on the air and looking to impress poll voters.
I had just completed my Master’s degree and was still living near the campus, and somehow managed to talk my roommate into scrounging up tickets and riding down to Gainesville with me. Watching it in person, surrounded by shocked and stunned Gators fans, was fun enough; going back and seeing the broadcast with Brent Musberger’s shouted “They never quit!” as Frank Sanders catches the final touchdown was possibly even better.
This was also the game where poor Terry “I wore Auburn pajamas as a kid” Dean’s Heisman campaign ended, and Danny Wuerffel’s began.
Two other big Auburn road wins over Florida deserve mention here: 1988 and 2007. The 1988 Auburn team, one of the finest units in Auburn history, not only won in the Swamp, where the Tigers hadn’t won in a while; they not only exorcised demons from Kerwin Bell’s huge comeback win in 1986 that knocked us out of the Sugar Bowl; they not only did it during Florida’s “Gator Growl” Homecoming celebration; but they did it by shutting out Emmitt Smith’s Gators, 16-0. The 2007 team took down Urban Meyer’s and Tim Tebow’s defending national champions in the Swamp, with then-freshman Wes Byrum kicking the winning field goal a second time, after Meyer called a quick time-out just prior to the first kick. This win guaranteed that neither Meyer nor Tebow ever defeated Auburn in their Florida careers.
2. Alabama, Tuscaloosa, 2002 season.
John: I think of this as the Tre Smith game. With Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams both injured and unable to play, nobody gave Auburn much of a chance. But Tre had a big day at running back. There was a thread on an Alabama message board during the game, in which Tide fans are melting down as the little third string “midget” rips them for lots of yardage. Someone copied it and sent it around the Internet for a while. I have a copy and still enjoy reading it from time to time.
Van: I might not have put this game this high. It was good to win yet again in Tuscaloosa (this game marking the third different century in which Auburn had won—and not yet lost—in T-Town). It was great to win in a year we weren’t supposed to—nobody saw this win coming!—and to beat smug Dennis Franchione during his “school down the road” season and, in a year when he continuously preached to Bama fans that they should all “hold the rope,” leave him holding the bag. And this game did mark the first of the six consecutive Iron Bowl wins by Tommy Tuberville’s teams. I’m just not certain it was the second-best ever.
I might have swapped in the 2004 Iron Bowl, which otherwise doesn’t even make our top ten list. That game was important in that it finished off another undefeated regular season and kept Auburn in the hunt for the national championship. And like the 2010 edition, the first half was agony until the Tigers got things going just before halftime. And don’t forget 1986, when Lawyer Tillman did his famous “Reverse to Victory” after two earlier Brent Fullwood touchdowns. But, honestly, a win over Alabama is huge in any season. Which gets us to the biggest of all:
1. Alabama; Tuscaloosa, 2010 season.
John: This was the best road win in Auburn history. The comeback, the stakes—nothing else is close.
Van: I have to agree, this one is definitely the best.
It’s funny—I’ve had some conversations with Auburn friends in the days since the season ended about what we think was the best game of this past year. I tend to choose the Arkansas game, which was simply a track meet, back and forth, close all the way—until Auburn exploded on the Hogs and crushed them in the fourth quarter. Most of my friends unhesitatingly choose the Iron Bowl. My usual response has been, “It’s hard for me to pick as ‘best game of the year’ a contest in which I spent most of the first half wanting to slash my wrists.”
Despite how awful the first half looked and felt, however, it did turn into a huge, tremendous, gargantuan win—an almost unfathomable one; a comeback of nearly unthinkable proportions. Starting just before halftime, the Tiger offense outscored Alabama 28-3 in the Tide’s own stadium, in front of over a hundred thousand very loud and mostly crimson-clad partisans. The defense, meanwhile, went from making McElroy look like Joe Montana to making him look like Hannah Montana. The ticket to Atlanta might already have been punched, following the win over Georgia, but what a hollow trip to the SEC title game it would have been if Auburn had not come back to win this one—and all bets about Glendale would have been off.
Also, in recruiting news:
Athlon’s College Football magazine, now in stores, has Auburn and Alabama tied with at least one other school for the most commits on Athlon’s composite top 100 recruits list, with eight each.
But they still have running back Mike Blakely listed with Florida. His recent transfer to Auburn gives the Tigers nine players on their composite list, currently—which is more than anyone else in the country.
Note also that two of Alabama’s eight were players they swiped from Auburn at the last minute (or after the last minute!) in Cyrus Kouandjio and Brent Calloway. Had things worked out differently with them, the Tigers suddenly would have eleven of the top 100, while Alabama would be left with only six. It was that critical for the Tide to get those two players back in the fold.
So—what could have been is truly astounding, but what actually is is still pretty darned remarkable. At least one recruiting service has re-ranked teams following Blakely’s transfer, and now Auburn has the top-ranked class. The future looks bright!
Van Allen Plexico managed to attend Auburn (and score student football tickets) for some portion of every year between 1986 and 1996. He realizes that’s probably not something one should brag about, but hey. He teaches college near St Louis (because ten years as a student was somehow just not enough time to spend at school) and writes and edits for a variety of publishers. Find links to his various projects at www.plexico.net.
John Ringer graduated from Auburn in 1991 (which may be the greatest time ever to be an Auburn student – SEC titles in 1987, 88 and 89 and the 1989 Iron Bowl). His family has had season tickets every year since well before he was born and he grew up wandering around Jordan-Hare on game days. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia where he spends way too much time reading about college football on the internet and teaching his children to love Auburn football.
Previous Wishbone columns can be found here.
Order Season of Our Dreams — every “Wishbone” column from the 2010 preseason through the fabled Date in the Desert, plus a stadium full of extras.
* Auburn BCS Bus rescues youth group
* Lutzenkirchen knew something was wrong with the Iron Bowl playlist
* Did an Auburn fan contribute to the teenage delinquency of Courtney Love?
* The G.I. Joe from Auburn
* Two campy degrees of separation between Auburn and Swamp Thing
* I Survived the Kopper Kettle Explosion and all I got was this t-shirt
* “Alabama Polytechnic is the best…” for Eugene Sledge in HBO’s The Pacific
* The Ron Swanson Pyramid of Auburn
* The Auburn plaque in 1984′s Tank