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The Legend of the Mattress Kid

Going to to the mattresses: Brent Heard says he didn't make the sign and doesn't know who did.

Maybe you saw the sign. Whoever made it probably had to explain it the GameDay censors—they were pretty sensitive last week—so they could hold it up: “No, it’s not a dirty inside joke, it’s a shout out to Clifford Grubbs, an old Auburn player with the coolest nickname of any old Auburn player ever.”

“The Mattress Kid?”

The Mattress Kid.

I first heard the name in a recent post on CranksMyTractor.com, a blog written by Brent Heard, one of Grubbs’ former players. Grubbs coached high school football for 40 years at Warrior High School, Randolph School in Huntsville, Ala. and the Donoho School in Anniston. Heard kept in touch with him. When he called him on November 8th, Heard learned that Grubbs had cancer.

Then he learned about the Mattress Kid:

It was around 1940; Clifford Grubbs was 14 years old and on his own. He had left home, we didn’t discuss why. People would see him in Chewacla State Park near Auburn, Alabama toting a mattress (his home). They called him “The Mattress Kid.” In the summer, he would lifeguard at the state park, sleeping in the park under the stars at night. Coach Grubbs noted, “There was shelter when it rained or got cold.”

In the summer before his senior season at Auburn High School, he was lifeguarding at the state park, living on his mattress. He was approached by the Auburn Police and folks from Auburn University. “I knew I was caught and in trouble,” Coach Grubbs remembered. “They were going to make me leave the park.”

Evidently, Clifford Grubbs was one of the best high school running backs in the south, playing for Auburn High School. He had been offered scholarships by many of the prominent football powers in the south. The policemen and the school officials had come to get him; they wanted him to play football at Auburn (a year early).

The university helped him finish out his high school credits that summer, and he entered as a 17 year-old freshman at Auburn University in 1943.

Grubbs played for the Tigers in 1944, joined the Army in 1945, then came back to Auburn in 1947. Football-wise, these were bad years on the Plains. Really bad years. Bad years. But not because of Clifford Grubbs.

If there's not a song called "The Mattress Kid" on the next Pine Hill Haints record, we'll be disappointed.

“With injuries still forcing men to remain on the bench, Auburn’s crippled team, led by sophomores Clifford Grubbs and Johnny Liptak, battled Mississippi State furiously before losing a 14-0 ball game,” reads the 1948 Glomerata. “The Tigers, who entered the game a four touchdown underdog, played gallantly to hold the score down. Grubbs looked terrific in the ground gaining department…”

Heard writes:

Clifford Grubbs came back to play for Auburn University in 1947 and on one cold and wet November 8th Saturday afternoon at historic Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, Clifford Grubbs and the outmatched Auburn Tigers battled Mississippi State furiously. It was a rough year for Auburn football, but that thought of my coach fighting and being a four touchdown underdog keeps me going.

An amoeba infection contracted while serving overseas and a bum knee slowed him down when he came back to play in 1947 – but he never quit.

I didn’t ask him what happened to the mattress.

I wish he had. Now we’ll probably never know—The Mattress Kid died the day before the Iron Bowl. He was 85.

Photos via CranksMyTractor, h/t John and Allen McBride, Eric Irvin.

For more stories, and more on the Mattress Kid, visit www.CranksMyTractor.com.

Related: Auburn student calls King of England with score of 1949 Iron Bowl.

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About Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the editor of The War Eagle Reader and co-host of Rich and Jeremy in the Mornings on Wings 94.3 FM in Auburn. Follow him on Twitter: @wareaglereader / @jerthoughts / @RichandJeremy

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