Originally published Nov. 11, 2011.
The Wall Street Journal recently named the Auburn-Georgia rivalry the “dirtiest” in college football. But on Saturday, November 15, 1986, the joke was that it was the cleanest.
“Coach Dye laughed about it, he said they needed a bath anyways,” retired Auburn engineering professor Paul Conner told me two years ago when I interviewed him after the “Wet Virginia” game for a feature on the amazing unsaturability of Pat Dye Field.
Conner is the man Pat Dye commissioned to redesign the field in the early 80s. He’s also the man who turned the stadium’s new, state-of-the-art water cannons on Georgia fans who’d stormed the field after the Bulldogs upset the Tigers in 1986. It was an act that sold a few shirts in Auburn — “We hose the best… and beat the rest”… “Nothing smells worse than a wet Dawg” — but that lives in infamy in Athens to this day.
So, what happened?
Conner: Well, we just turned the sprinklers on… and I’m the guy who opened the valve.
TWER: So, what was the thought process behind that decision?
Conner: Well, we discussed this at length before the game. We had made up our mind — when I redid the field and got it in good shape, we weren’t going to let the fans on it. They could destroy more grass than the players during the game. We told them (Georgia fans) ‘don’t go on the field, you’re not going to be allowed on the field.’ But they went on there and so we opened it up on them and got them a little wet. Coach Dye laughed about it, he said they needed a bath anyways.
TWER: What exactly were they doing?
Conner: They were grabbing at the turf. They wanted a piece of the grass. Only a few of them got out there, but some of them got real wet in the stands, some who weren’t leaving. They didn’t like that. It took a while to get them out of there. Some of them in the stands shook the rails loose on one end. They (the cannons) turn 360 degrees. You could turn them all the way around, you know. We didn’t have full pressure on them ‘cause there wasn’t enough pressure to run all of them.
TWER: Do you remember any immediate outrage over it?
Conner: Oh, I don’t think there was. I don’t remember anything. It turned into really more of a happening — more of a fun thing than anything. Georgia couldn’t be too upset — they won the game. And we were really favored to win. I think I remember Coach Dooley saying ‘we’ll probably have some dialogue about this.’ But the funny thing is that in some magazine there was an article about the 25 most memorable things that have happened in the SEC, and Bear Bryant winning 315 games was like, number 24 or something, but us wetting the Georgia Dawgs was number 11. They remembered that more than anything Bear Bryant did.