One of the biggest laughs I ever got actually came at my grandparents’ 35th wedding anniversary celebration at the just completed Auburn Hotel and Conference Center when the black and white slide of my dad and uncle sitting on horses as toddlers was in the projector and 9-year-old me found the perfect pause in the dinner conversation to quip “Shoot low boys, they’re riding Shetland ponies!” Which is to say that growing up, the beloved cultural shadow of Lewis Grizzard loomed [insert Grizzardism for “very large”].
So if the page-view friendly thrill of Auburn references in pop-culture—the Sports Illustrated swimsuit model who wore an Auburn jersey, the Hollywood legend who discussed Auburn’s victory in a fictional 1960s Iron Bowl, the radio broadcast heard during the yard sale scene of a classic punxploitation film that was indeed of an Auburn game—comes (at least somewhat) from the confirmation that Auburn exists outside our own private Idahos, then for me this thrilled as if it was confirmation that nothing else exists outside of Auburn.
And not just any Auburn—Platonic Auburn, 1972.
I saw it while scrolling through The Plainsman microfiche several years back (they reprinted it a couple of weeks after it first appeared in the Atlanta Constitution). A lot of Auburn fans have probably had a transcript forwarded to them in an email. Today, TWER thrills at the opportunity to give it a permanent digital home.
Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Lewis Grizzard… on Auburn:
I must admit the fact an Auburn man once saved my life has something to do with all of this. And I must admit further what follows will be completely biased. I simply couldn’t allow the opportunity to pass without saying a few more words in behalf of the 1972 Auburn football team.
And in behalf of Auburn itself.
I got my first taste of sin at Auburn; 16, or close to it, with a bottle of Old Something an of-age friend had purchased at the state store up the road at Opelika. As I recall it now, I wound up in a lonely stall in the third-floor restroom of a fraternity house while the party roared onward downstairs. There, as my life flashed in front of me and, being grateful I had at least heeded my mother’s words not to smoke, a kind Auburn student, a veteran of such incidents, wet-toweled me back to health.
I never got his name, but I have been forever grateful, and I have held a warm place in my heart for Auburn ever since, although I sought higher education elsewhere.
It is with that preface I hereby state I do, indeed, hope Auburn wins its Gator Bowl game against Colorado, and that is the signal for all my poison pen pals from down the road in Tuscaloosa to start buying stamps.
I think of purity for some reason. Of nothing to do but go to Toomer’s and talk about what you talked about the day before and the day before that. Of a low hippie ratio on campus. Of real grass growing on the football field. Of grown men in sweaters and open-collared shirts with 50-yard line seats.
I think of Gerald Rutberg, a friend of mine, who edited the college newspaper at Auburn and used to ask me every day how I thought “The Big Blue” would do against whomever. Of Bottle, Ala., which is actually a suburb of Auburn. Of the Yearouts. Of Pat Sullivan, still the most exciting college football player I’ve ever seen.
Of Shug Jordan.
There are two remarks that still stand out in my mind concerning Shug Jordan, and those two lines say it all. I once asked Harry Mehre if he thought Shug would quit coaching amidst the illness and the rumors.
“Shug will coach as long as he can. He still loves the things most coaches don’t think about anymore. He still loves the rah-rah part of this thing. He walks onto the field and hears all that War Eagle business they do down there, and Shug knows it’s all worthwhile,” said the old coach.
The first time I went to Auburn on business, I asked former Journal colleague, Tom McCollister, what kind of interview was Shug Jordan.
“Talking to Shug,” Tom replied, “Is like talking to your daddy.”
I think of the basketball coach, Bill Lynn, who looks and sounds like a hard-shelled Baptist preacher. Of journalism professor David Housel saying, “Auburn is in the best interest of the American dream.” Of Buddy Davidson, who has never found either of the two topcoats I have left in the Auburn press box. Of Bill Beckwith, the worst golfer in history ever to score a hole-in-one. Of a golf tournament they had at Auburn once and the beer they carted to you on each tee, and of shooting 95 after being one-over through seven holes. That damn beer. Of Randy Walls.
Randy Walls was the quarterback in 1972, Sullivan’s successor. He was the number four quarterback at the end of spring practice. “It wasn’t what Randy did for us this year,” said an Auburn coach. “It’s what he didn’t do. He didn’t make mistakes.”
Actually, he did make one. So excited was he about starting Auburn’s first game, the young sophomore went out for the pre-game warm-up with his jersey on backwards. In the Georgia Tech game, Randy Walls didn’t do anything right but win the football game. “I didn’t know Walls could run like that,” somebody in the press box said after a 30-yard jaunt that resembled your grandmother going after the mail. “He can’t” was the reply. He can’t. But he did.
I think of the pasture land adjacent to the campus. Of my favorite Auburn line, “What do you get if you cross an Auburn man and a gorilla?”
“A hairy county agent.”
Of not being able to smoke in the Auburn Coliseum. Of the old Sports Arena and Layton Johns. Of Terry Henley. “Them FSU players bit me on the leg in the pile-ups,” said Terry Henley, college football’s answer to Will Rogers.”They must not have had their pre-game meal.”
Did Terry Henley get tired carrying the football 25 times a game? “Hell, no,” said Terry Henley. “I carried it 50 times a day in spring practice.”
I think of unlisting my telephone number after an irate Auburn fan, a woman, called my home and said she hoped poison darts rained down on my body and I died. Of a fellow from my hometown writing me and saying to never come back because “you stink, stink, stink.” And all because I wrote Pat Sullivan was bush for not talking to writers after losing to Alabama. Of picking against Auburn all year long, except once—the LSU game. Of Owen Davis’ line, “Jordan waved his hand, and the Red Shirts parted.” Of Auburn students covering the whole town in toilet paper after the Alabama victory and somebody saying, “You mean they used both rolls?”
It went 9-1 when it wasn’t supposed to win three, defeated three top 10 teams, stopped the nation’s longest winning streak three times, got a bowl bid, and did my heart a lot of good.
Click often, boys…
* LSU girls love Auburn men, says HBO’s Treme
* Auburn fan selling Toomer’s Corner toilet paper for Tuscaloosa relief
* Toomer’s Oaks sapling to be planted on Capitol lawn
* Coeds. Watermelons. 1973.
* How Bama remembers “Punt, Bama, Punt”
* Charles Barkley avoiding the Noid, 1981
* Nikki Cox, Auburn fan
* Rare candids of Pat Sullivan at the 1971 Heisman banquet
* My first meeting with Dean Foy
* Former Auburn cheerleader stars in ‘Best Worst Movie’
* Auburn’s Miss Universe contestant, Audrey Moore
* Auburn amputee has tiger-striped prosthetic legs
* Mates of State’s Jason Hammel talks football
* Pat Dye responds to ‘loudmouth’ allegations from 1959