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Few iterations of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry have kept Auburn players up at night more than the 1971 game.
Undefeated Auburn rode into Athens ranked 6th in the country. Undefeated Georgia was 7th. Shug and Dooley were calling it not just the biggest Auburn-Georgia game, but the biggest game period since they’d both been at their respective helms. In addition to national championship implications, everyone knew it would be the game that won or lost Pat Sullivan the Heisman Trophy.
But it wasn’t just the hype that had Auburn players and coaches literally wide awake the night before. It was the music. And the pranks. And God only knows what else.
“The hotel we stayed in was somewhat close to a lot of their fraternity houses,” says Bylsma, a senior defensive end for the Tigers that year. “They set up these speakers, probably four or five feet tall, and put them on top of the buildings and just blared them all night long.”
Then swarmed the hordes.
“There were people running up and down the outside walkways of the hotel,” Bylsma says. “They were banging on doors and just trying to do anything and everything to make things difficult for us.”
Bylsma recalls coaches actually distributing sleeping pills to players in order to salvage as much rest as possible.
The coaches probably needed some, too.
“I remember one time they were banging on the doors and I was on the second floor, and we were looking out the window to see what was going on with all this stuff,” Bylsma says. “On the first level across from us we saw several of them banging on a door and it was one of the coaches rooms.”
Bylsma says he thinks the coach was assistant was George Atkins, who starred on Shug’s first teams.
“Whoever it was, one of them gave them a little run for it and ran them off.”
The 35-20 win wound up being one of the best of Bylsma’s career. A lot of his teammates could probably say the same thing, including the guy whose performance against the Bulldogs did indeed win him the Heisman.
Thank you, Athens.
“Yeah,” Bylsma says, “the night before kind of ticked everybody off.”
So did the property damage.
“We always had a state trooper Javelin that escorted us. We had the trooper and the band buses, and they all parked over there next to that railroad track next to the end of that stadium.”
Trying to meet ticket demand, Georgia officials had actually sold 400 spots to folks willing to watch from the tracks. It may not have been the wisest idea.
“They beat in the hood and beat into the top of that Javelin and tore the lights out of it, and they busted every one of the windows out in every one of the band buses with rocks. Georgia ended up paying for it and apologizing, but you had to ride home with that.”