I never thought I’d write this column. I never knew I’d feel this way. A teammate has passed on and I can’t stop thinking of him. Our journey together brought us a long way. Because we accomplished great things on the football field 40 years ago, the sports media named us, “The Amazins.” As we grew older, had families, and matured, learning to love each other along the way, we coined our own phrase, “Teammates for Life.”
That’s how I feel about David.
David Langner, died Saturday April 26, 2014. He was one helluva football player. A little guy, I often said he was crazy on the football field but if I had the first choice, I’d take David. I’d rather have him on my side than be against him.
David and I traveled a long way in our journey to friendship. I knew him before he knew me. We played against each other in High School. He was a star at Woodlawn High in Birmingham. They were very good. The night we played them they dressed nearly a hundred guys. They came out of their locker room, cocky and proud and ready to feast on the 40 or so players we had from the small Catholic school who had no business on the field with them. David, his brother, his cousin, and their teammates blanked us 39-0 and it wasn’t that close. David, a winner of all kinds of honors, became a highly touted signee of Auburn University.
I walked on at Auburn. One of three blacks on the practice fields of over a hundred players and the only black walk-on. David and I didn’t start out as friends.
Walk-ons have it tough. David didn’t care for the fact that I had dared to walk on to that hallowed ground that he had already earned a spot on. To further confuse things, we had both grown up in Birmingham in the 1960’s when legal segregation meant we could not play ball with or against each other. Friendship was out of the question.
We didn’t get along. David had further to go than I did. We fought often on the field. But we were ballplayers and together we won many games. I won a scholarship and in 1972, we shocked the Southeastern Conference by winning 10 games, losing only once and finishing #5 in the nation. David was a hero that year with his two touchdowns against Alabama in the now famous “Punt, Bama, Punt” game against Alabama. He also led us in interceptions, made All-SEC as a defensive back, and instigated many of the fights we had with other teams. He was a badass and we were glad we had him. We always knew he would make a big play.
As we won games, he and I tolerated each other the way teammates will do when they are not friends. Winning does that.
When we were done, he went his way and I went mine. Many years later in Nashville, while filming a Legends of Auburn video, we sat across from each other at dinner. We talked and laughed. He’d already had some health issues and discussed them freely with me. It was a great night for me and, I believe, for him. After those many years, we were learning to be friends.
Later, at the 30-year reunion of “The Amazins,” David came up and gave me a hug. Not one of those quick man hugs but a real hug. He wouldn’t let me go. I hugged him back. I remember standing there in the middle of the floor hugging. Hugging for what seemed like a very long time. That is my favorite memory of my friend David.
Since I heard of his death, I can’t stop thinking of him. I’m proud that we overcame society to be friends.
David will be celebrated for the touchdowns against Alabama, and the great career he had at Auburn. There’s talk that David belongs in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. You will get no argument from me on that. But most importantly, I will fondly remember the impact we had on each other’s lives. We are teammates for life, and now beyond.
Thom Gossom, Jr. is an actor, author and former #49. His memoir “Walk On: My Reluctant Journey to Integration at Auburn University” can be ordered at his website www.BestGurl.com and Amazon.com. You can read his previous TWER columns here.
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* David Langner drop kicks Florida State player in the face, gets ejected
* David Langner catches air in 1972 AP Sports Photo Of The Year
* David Langner, football fashionista
* Description of naked David Langner holding touchdown footballs in locker room after Punt, Bama, Punt may be best sports lede ever