Home / Featured / Auburn students kind of didn’t want the ‘Third Choice’ Tigers to play in the 1938 Orange Bowl

Auburn students kind of didn’t want the ‘Third Choice’ Tigers to play in the 1938 Orange Bowl

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The first Toomer’s Corner “mass meeting” celebrating an Auburn bowl victory. Football Christmases ain’t so bad after all.

Nineteen thirty-seven. Auburn goes 5-2-3 in the regular season. It’s enough for a bowl bid, and not just any bowl—it’s the crazy new Orange Bowl, only in its fourth year. Cheer on the team in Miami on New Year’s Day? Against a top Midwest team in Michigan State? You would have thought Auburn students would have jumped at the chance. You would have been wrong.

In the starkest of contrasts to last week’s social media meltdown over BCS Championship Game ticket lottery, Auburn students—or at least those staffing the Plainsman—were pretty ambivalent about Auburn’s second ever opportunity to go bowling, and actually kind of thought the team should decline the invitation, if the SEC didn’t decline it for them.

In 1937, the conference had ruled that its teams could only play in the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl in order to, as the Plainsman put it, “carry out its formulated plans to do away with the superfluous bowls that are springing up all over the country”—and presumably out of the country, like the Bacardi Bowl, Auburn’s first post-season appearance, which was played in Havana, Cuba the previous New Year’s Day.

And hey—exactly. Did we really want to force the team into back-to-back “football Christmases”? Didn’t the boys deserve to be home for the holidays? The Plainsman thought so, and argued that the only perceivable benefit of playing the game was national publicity… but that it would actually end up being the bad kind. Because as it turned out, Auburn wasn’t exactly the bowl’s first choice.

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The SEC eventually gave the game the green light, making the decision to actually play it mostly the players’. The players wanted to play. And they played pretty well.

The Pickover Plainsmen beat heavily favored Michigan State (8-1) in front of 19,000 football fans, most them snowbirds who showed up to root for their fellow yankees.

The game was broadcast by CBS and called by legendary sportscaster “Colonel” Ted Husing, which was a pretty big deal. The score was 6-0, but it wasn’t that close. Auburn gained 278 yards to Michigan State’s 65. The Tigers had 16 first downs; the Spartans just two.

“According tot Ted Husing’s account of the game, the Auburnites did everything but push the Staters out of the bowl and if the game had been a few minutes longer they might have done that,” The Plainsman wrote.

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Legendary CBS radio announcer “Colonel” Ted Husing (left) being introduced to Orange Bowl attendees (the day before the game, according to the Glomerata… kinda weird) by the chairman of the Orange Bowl committee. “Althought the description was a strictly impartial one,” wrote the Glomerata, “we of the Plains like to feel that the New Year’s Day performance of the Tigers made the ‘Colonel’ a genuine Auburn follower.”

After soaking up the Miami sights for another day, the team returned to a hero’s welcome at Toomer’s Corner, banners high. Classes were cancelled. Traffic was stopped. The band was blaring.

By that point, “sour-puss” student opinion had come around.

“So Auburn comes back from the Orange Bowl with another victory salted away and a lot more national prestige,” wrote Plainsman columnist “Pinch Hitter” in the Jan. 5, 1938 issue. “No matter what the sour-pusses say, Auburn’s invitation to the Miami affair and her rout of Michigan State mean a boost in the national ranking of the Plainsmen.”

Related: The 1937 Bacardi Bowl: Auburn football’s first post-season appearance was the first, real bowl game played overseas.

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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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