Terry Bowden isn’t going to say whether or not Auburn should.
“I’ve learned to be the head coach of the team I’m working for, and I try not to get involved (in the current affairs of his past teams),” Bowden says.
But he is perfectly fine with saying that Auburn could. He was with the 1993 team everyday. He knows what they did in every game. He knows what they would have done in any game.
“I know for a fact that I was with a bunch of guys that could have beaten any team in America on any given day.”
In Bowden’s first year as Auburn’s head coach, the Tigers beat two Top Ten teams, including Alabama, the defending national champs (“and they went undefeated the next year during the regular season”), and wound up 11-0. It was the first time a head coach had gone undefeated in his first season at a Division I school.
Auburn won everything in 1993, everything except the hearts and minds of Associated Press voters not named Beano Cook, which is to say everything except the national championship.
Auburn did not win the national championship. Auburn did not win the national championship. Auburn did not win the national championship. Ask Dan Wolken, ask anyone–anyone except the National Championship Foundation (and the NCAA).
The 1993 Auburn Tigers won the National Championship Foundation national championship.
Auburn’s Athletic Department has, despite the claims of recent click bait, acknowledged the NCF championship for at least the past ten years, but only in the pages of the Auburn Football Media Guide, not with banners installed at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Signage equals claiming (which is somehow different from acknowledging), and for reasons rooted deep in the Auburn psyche, claiming championships awarded to Auburn by groups like the National Championship Foundation has been out of the question since Bama Got 12.
But a growing number of people, Bowden included, doesn’t necessarily think it should be.
“It seems to me that honoring the teams in the past is fairly important,” Bowden says. “To claim it (a national championship) using the exact same criteria other teams are.”
Other teams like, oh, Alabama, Bowden says. “Alabama is a perfect example.” And exact same criteria like, say, the National Championship Foundation.
Yep, the NCF is the organization that gave Alabama its first national championship all the way back in 1980, though the news took a little while to get to Tuscaloosa. Up until 1984 or so, everyone at the Capstone and across the universe thought the Crimson Tide won its first national championship in 1961, four years after Auburn won its first.
Nope, the NCF said, it was 1925.
Alabama popped the cork and printed the shirts.
If you’re going to go count him, then count Bowden in the “why shouldn’t Auburn?” camp.
“I think Auburn ought to have the right to recognize the exploits of its teams under the same rules, under the same guidelines that others do,” he says. “I think most people on that team would have no problem with it.”
Neither would Bowden. In fact, if Auburn did lay claim to the 1993 national championship with signs and shirts and pomp and circumstance, Bowden says he would love to be a part of it. He was invited to the event honoring the 1993 team on its 20th anniversary last year, but couldn’t make it.
“Every time they do that, I’m at a football game,” he says, “But you would love to come back and celebrate that team.”
But Bowden doesn’t think his 1993 team is the only undefeated, untied, uncrowned Auburn squad whose championship-worthy accomplishments warrant at least a discussion about further recognition.
“I don’t think 1993 is any more deserving than other teams,” he says. “The 2004 teams is one of the most talented teams I’d ever seen. I was doing the broadcast in their Sugar Bowl game against Virginia Tech. Those guys had four first round draft picks.”
Oc course, he doesn’t think the national championship debate—which he’s not sure can ever be resolved without a 16-team playoff—should be framed solely as a talent comparison.
“My father’s team that won the national championship in 1993, people will say ‘well, this (Auburn) team couldn’t have beaten that (Florida State) team that year.’ Well, great years are about chemistry as much as they are about the quality of players,” Bowden says.
“I happened to know the Florida State team pretty good, too. I’m not saying we had more talent than that team. But it’s not about who has the most talent, it’s about who’s the best.”
So who wins between Bobby Bowden’s 1993 Florida State Seminoles and Terry Bowden’s 1993 Auburn Tigers?
Terry Bowden answers the questions before I even finish asking it.
“We win that game because we know how to win ball games. That team knew how to win ball games. It was going to find a way to win no matter how talented the other team was.”
Bowden says the 1993 season was so amazing, so surreal, that the possibility of celebrating a mythical national championship outside the sanctity of the opinions of AP voters who, due to a one-year TV ban imposed on Auburn as part of the probation Bowden inherited, didn’t even see the Tigers play that year wasn’t even on his radar.
“You were so thankful for so many things that happened, so many great things to be proud of, you didn’t have to get into that argument to feel good about yourself,” he says.
But he does remember the icing-on-the-cake possibility that Auburn, as the only undefeated team in the country at the end of the season, could, like Auburn’s 1957 national championship team, still wind up number one, even without playing in a bowl game.
“I do remember some discussion, some of the debate,” he says. “There was interest in whether the AP would vote us number one. We weren’t allowed to be voted for in the other poll, the USA Today poll I guess. There was some debate about where they would put us.
“But this whole (retroactive national championship) argument wasn’t being had back then. That just wasn’t a discussion we were having at the moment. But since then, because of the way programs have been recognizing their national championships and choose to continue to, I think there are people at Auburn saying ‘why are we different? Why should we not recognize it?'”
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