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The Top Ten Games Played in Jordan-Hare, 1981-2000, Part 2

On Sept. 17, 1994, Curley Hallman's career was intercepted by horrible coaching decisions. Repeatedly.

This week the Wishbone returns with another installment of “greatests ever,” this time continuing our look at the best games Auburn has played in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium.

This column covers numbers 2-5 of the greatest home games from 1981-2000 (numbers 6-10 are here).  Things were running a bit long, so we’ve broken it off after No. 2; next week we will unveil the overall No. 1 home game from that era.  Two subsequent columns will cover the ten greatest home games from 2001-2010.

We welcome suggestions of games we’ve overlooked and arguments about the ones we’ve included.  We have attempted to rank them in what we feel is the most accurate order of importance, but such measurements are extremely subjective and surely everyone who reads this will prefer a different order to the list.

So, without further ado:

The Top Ten Game Played in Jordan-Hare, 1981-2000, Part 2

5.  LSU, 1994 season.

Hollywood couldn’t have written a script this bizarre and unbelievable.

Auburn had won thirteen games in a row coming into the 1994 contest at home against LSU.  In his second season as Tigers coach, Terry Bowden had yet to lose.  Before this game was over, most observers could be forgiven for concluding that they were about to see the fabled “Streak” come to an end—but it didn’t.  Remarkably, astonishingly, unbelievably—it didn’t.

For the entire game, Auburn’s offense proved wholly ineffectual against a stout LSU defense, converting only one of thirteen (!!) third-downs.  Dameyune Craig came on at quarterback in place of Patrick Nix but was unable to jumpstart the attack.  LSU, meanwhile, ran and passed with relative ease and held the blue-clad Tigers offense to only a 40 yard field goal early in the second quarter.

Prior to halftime, Auburn’s Chris Shelling leapt on an LSU fumble in the end zone.  The defense had done something the offense could not on this day—score a touchdown.  Little did anyone guess that they were only getting started.

Early in the fourth quarter, LSU kicked a field goal to increase their lead to 23-9. Auburn displayed virtually no signs of life at this point.  Then came one of the more shocking turns of events in college football history.

Attempting to convert a fourth down, LSU’s quarterback, Jamie Howard, threw downfield—into the arms of Auburn defensive back Ken Alvis, who returned the interception forty-two yards for a touchdown.  A few plays later, it was Fred Smith’s turn to pick Howard off and take it to the house.  As hard as it was to believe, the game was suddenly tied.

A field goal pushed LSU back out to a 26-23 lead, but then Coach Curly Hallman inexplicably called for another Howard pass on third down.  This one was snagged by Brian Robinson, who took it in for the decisive score.  The game ended with Chris Shelling grabbing his second of the game, this time in the Auburn end zone, to fend off a late LSU comeback attempt.

Auburn had pulled out the miraculous 30-26 win.  LSU, having outgained Auburn 407-163 in yardage, was defeated and demoralized.  They had turned the ball over a staggering eight times, with four of those resulting directly in touchdowns for Auburn.  The Streak lived on and would endure for another seven games.

LSU’s Curly Hallman was shown the exit at Baton Rouge at the end of the season.

This game is still the standard for coaching stupidity.  When coaches go boring on offense when they have a lead, this game is why.  Just Say No to throwing the ball into coverage when protecting a lead late.

(John points out—even on the first LSU touchdown pass, Howard does not throw a good, catchable pass.  Van counters that the Auburn secondary found his passes quite catchable…)

4.  Florida, 1993 season.

The 1993 Auburn-Florida game certainly gave those of us lucky enough to witness it firsthand our money’s worth—and a lot more.  It provided enough entertainment, enough action, enough scoring, enough back-and-forth lead changes, and enough drama for any three games.  And it ended with an Auburn victory.  The three games that finished ahead of it on this list had a little more going for them in terms of what was at stake—and of course they were all Iron Bowls, which really says it all—but none of them quite matched this one for sheer fireworks and “head on a swivel,” “don’t blink or you’ll miss something” action.

Auburn, of course, was serving the first of two years probation for violations during the previous regime, and the game was not allowed to be televised.  The Tigers were riding a six-game winning streak—the early stages of the famous twenty-game “Streak” of Terry Bowden—but #4 Florida was expected to bring that run to a quick end.

Florida got out to a quick lead at 10-0 and was threatening to go up by seventeen.  Such a lead might well have proven demoralizing and insurmountable.  Thankfully, we will never know.  As Danny Wuerffel zipped a pass toward the Auburn end zone, Calvin Jackson stepped in front of it and picked it off, returning it ninety-five yards for a touchdown.

From there the game went back and forth until finally, very late, Florida scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game at 35.  As the last seconds drained away, Auburn’s Scott Etheridge nailed a long field goal to secure the 38-35 win.

The game marked Auburn’s first win over a Steve Spurrier-coached Florida team—a team that would go on to win the SEC Championship Game.  Afterward, an obviously drained but still hyper Terry Bowden commented, “I never thought we could get into a scoring contest with Florida and win.”  Yet somehow the Tigers had done just that.

It was apparently very exciting even to non-Auburn fans in attendance: When a newly-hired professor handed Van back a research paper on the Monday after the game, “War Eagle!” was marked in red on the cover page!  “My parents from North Carolina were in town and they had a blast,” the Poly Sci prof reported.  Well, of course they did.

Sports Illustrated covered the game here.

3.  Alabama, 1997 season.

For this game, John was safely ensconced before his television in Jackson, Mississippi, along with his wife and his then-infant daughter, where he could scream at the screen to his heart’s content.  Van was actually in the stadium—but it was a very close-run thing, and he nearly didn’t get in!

In retrospect, of all the seasons during the second half of the 1990s that Van could have chosen to attempt the “don’t buy season tickets; try scalping them before each game” approach, 1997 was the worst option.  Yet that’s just what he did.  As a consequence, he nearly missed out seeing on the Florida game altogether, and had to haunt the alumni parking lot for an hour prior to kickoff, begging and pleading and digging deep into his wallet, in order to scrape up a pair of tickets for the Iron Bowl.  By the time he sat down in his precious and hard-won seat, his nerves were frazzled.  As it turned out, the game would do little to improve that mental state.  It was a doozy.

The Auburn Tigers had a lot on the line, heading into the 1997 Iron Bowl in Jordan-Hare, including a Western Division title and their first-ever trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.  Alabama, meanwhile, was suffering through one of their worst years in memory, having won only one game since September (!!) and even having fallen to Louisiana Tech.

This being the Iron Bowl, however, you just knew the Tide would rise up and give Auburn their best effort—and they certainly did.

After two early Jarret Holmes field goals, Auburn led 6-0.  But then Alabama stormed back to take a 17-6 lead deep into the second half.  Fred Beasley’s one-yard scoring dive brought Auburn to within five at 17-12, but the Tigers failed on a two-point conversion.  Another Holmes field goal closed the gap even more, to 17-15, but then Alabama got the ball back with less than three minutes to go.  Once the Tide converted a first down, the situation appeared dire indeed.

And then the almost unthinkable happened, as Alabama faced a third down on its own 36 with less than a minute to go.  Freddie Kitchens threw a screen pass to fullback Ed Scissum, who was immediately hit by Auburn’s Martavious Houston, knocking the ball loose.  Quinton Reese recovered at the 33, and Jaret Holmes knocked through his fourth field goal of the game to win the Iron Bowl for the Tigers.

Perhaps the only thing better than soundly thrashing the Tide is outright stealing a big win from them, and this game more than qualifies.  Alabama ended the season at 4-7 while Auburn went on to play in Atlanta twice in December—in the conference title game and then again in the Chik-Fil-A (Peach) Bowl.

And Jim Fyffe’s deliriously screamed, “It’s gooooood!  It’s goooood!  It’s gooooood!” still vibrates happily in the ears of Tigers faithful everywhere.

2.  Alabama, 1993 season.

It is an odd truism of the last few decades of Auburn and Alabama football that a strange symmetry seems to assert itself on occasion.  In 2009 Alabama won every game, the BCS title, and the Heisman Trophy; the next year, Auburn duplicated all of those feats.  In 1997, Alabama managed only four wins; the next season—only a year removed from losing the SEC Championship Game by a single point—Auburn utterly collapsed and finished with only three wins.  And in 1993, Auburn followed up an undefeated Crimson Tide season by racking up a very unexpected one of their own.  With the Tigers prohibited from postseason play, the game that clinched that perfect 1993 season was the Iron Bowl.

So many things stand out as noteworthy (if not downright unusual) about this game.  It was only the second Iron Bowl ever played at Jordan-Hare, though it had been four years since the previous (and first) occasion.  Auburn’s “Streak” was on the line.  The game wasn’t televised, so Alabama aired a closed-circuit broadcast in Bryant-Denny Stadium—and sold out every available seat, making it the first college football game to sell out two stadiums at once.  The game’s radio play-by-play was broadcast over telephone lines for those who wished to call in, and the phone interchange received so many calls that it actually melted.  (John called in from Virginia, got bumped off the connection—and then came the interchange meltdown, so he eventually had to call a friend in Alabama and have them set the phone down next to  the radio!)  It was Stan White’s final game as an Auburn Tiger, yet he didn’t get to finish it or throw the winning score.  And Auburn trailed for most of the game, yet ended up winning by eight.

As with the 1997 Iron Bowl, Auburn allowed the Tide to get out to an early lead before scratching and clawing their way back.  A field goal and a safety accounted for all of the Tigers’ points at halftime and they trailed, 14-5, to Gene Stallings’ defending national champions.  In the second half, the Tigers drove to Alabama’s 35 yard line where they faced a fourth-and-15.  Unfortunately, four-year starting quarterback Stan White was injured on the previous play and had to leave the game.  Even with White out, Terry Bowden decided the distance was too long for a field goal and too short for a punt, so he sent backup Patrick Nix onto the field.  What Nix did next will live forever in Iron Bowl lore: He lofted a pass to receiver Frank Sanders (not the last time we would cheer for that combination), who caught the ball on about the three yard line, spun around, and dived into the end zone for the touchdown.  Alabama’s best defensive back, Antonio Langham, had been shadowing Sanders previously but, for reasons never explained, he crossed over to the far side of the field on the play, leaving Sanders in single coverage.  Nix spotted the mismatch and put the ball where it needed to be.

During this play, because he was jumping up and down and screaming, Van’s trusty radio flew out of his jacket pocket and impacted the concrete steps of the stadium at his feet, exploding into pieces.  Thus he didn’t get to hear Jim Fyffe’s elated, perfect description of the play until much later: “Out of the shotgun, Patrick Nix. Alabama bringing everybody. Nix is gonna float one for Sanders, Sanders… OH HE CAUGHT IT AT THE TWO! AND HE DIVES IN! TOUCHDOWN AUBURN! TOUCHDOWN AUBURN! OH MY GOODNESS! SANDERS WENT UP OVER TOMMY JOHNSON OR ANTONIO LANGHAM, HE CAUGHT THE BALL AT THE TWO, HOW HE HELD IT I DON’T KNOW, BUT HE DIVED INTO THE ENDZONE, AND AUBURN’S RIGHT BACK IN THE THICK OF IT!”

Despite this spectacular play, Auburn still trailed by two, but Alabama was done with scoring and had been for some time.  Auburn would record a field goal to take the lead in the fourth quarter, 15-14, and then later faced a short-yardage third down situation deep in their own territory while trying to run the clock out.  As the Tide defense bunched up tight against the line of scrimmage, Tigers RB James Bostic burst through the line and rambled for the score that iced the game, 22-14.  The fact that Bostic wasn’t exactly a speed demon only added to the spectacle of the play. [Ed. note: Tony Richardson’s celebratory headbutt of Bostic in the end zone was the biggest hit of the game.]

Rarely has Toomer’s Corner been rolled as thoroughly or comprehensively as it was that night.  Van, a graduate student at Auburn at the time, supplied navy blue t-shirts to his friends that he had ordered printed up beforehand—so confident was he in victory—that read “11-0” in big orange numbers on the front, and “Oh Hell Yes!” on the back.  He and his roommate stood atop the metal fencing near the Oaks and exulted with the vast celebratory throngs in orange and blue long into the night.

The National Championship Foundation awarded the Tigers their title as the only major college program to finish the year undefeated; ironically, the AP winner, Florida State, was coached by Terry Bowden’s father.  Terry himself was named Coach of the Year by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association; in yet more irony, he and every Auburn head coach since has won this trophy, which was named the “Bear Bryant Award.”

Much of the disappointment of Auburn being denied a berth in the SEC Championship Game was assuaged by the exultation of such a satisfying victory over the arch-rival, and the successful completion of a perfect season on the Plains.

Only one game remains to be discussed—the greatest game played in Jordan-Hare, 1981-2000, and also the single greatest home game in Auburn football history.  You can surely guess what that will be.  Unfortunately, we’re out of room for now.  Join us next time for an entire column devoted just to that game.  In the meantime, as always, we welcome your comments, arguments, and corrections below.

Photo: Getty.

Related: The Top Ten Games NOT Played in Jordan-Hare, Auburn’s Ten Greatest Bowl Games, The Ten Best Auburn Games That Never Happened

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.

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About Van Allen Plexico and John Ringer

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