It was Saturday, Dec. 8, 2007, the millionth day of a 100-year, shadow-of-death drought that the Associated Press voted the state of Alabama’s top news story that year, bigger than that horrible tornado in Enterprise, bigger than the governor going to federal prison for bribery. Nearly 2 million residents were living under water restrictions, including folks in Tallapoosa County who wondered if they’d even be able to take baths by the end of the year. In August, Lake Martin was already at winter levels. The thing was a puddle. Alexander City and Dadeville started showing up on the date lines for national stories about how God had given up on the south. Islands were turning into peninsulas, people were planting peas and okra where they used to dock their jet skis, black widows were mysteriously swarming swimming pools. And yet in the midst of despair… a miracle.
Saint Shannon McDuffie and I are at the Chappy’s Deli in Auburn. It’s April. Shannon’s from Dadeville. We’re about the same age. One of the houses she cleans on Fridays is in Auburn. I wrote and told her if she could spare an hour I’d buy her lunch. So I’m buying her lunch—chicken salad and anything else she wants. Coffee? Desert? Anything to keep her talking about it. She seems cool with it. Smiling. Laughing. Great laugh. Great accent. And she’s a Bama fan! She brought all the magazines and stuff that had been written about it and there’s nothing about how it happened to a Bama fan, even though it might obviously explain why, of the two faces she saw in the wallet, she only recognized Christ’s, staring out from a copy of what looked to be the Lord’s Prayer that somehow hadn’t disintegrated.
“So, like, you had no idea who he was?”
Shannon shakes her head. It’s emphatic.
“It did not register to me at all who that was. Because everything had, like, 80s (dates) on it. I didn’t know. I’m like, ‘who is Patrick Fain Dye?’”
Her chocolate Labs sat and waited as she dug through it. Once upon a time, Patrick Fain Dye, of Graystone Ave. in Auburn, born Nov. 6, 1939, was an honorary Alabama state trooper. He was 5’11, 195 pounds, an Auburn University employee and a Delta Frequent Flyer. He got a government employee discount on Chevron gas, and he could use either an American Express or Visa to reserve a room for half-price at the Terrace Garden Inn.
She put the cards back in the wallet. It was nice—alligator. The expiration date on the driver’s license was August 4, 1985. So it’d been down there, what, at least 20 years? More? She could still smell the leather.
“It was in Emerald Shores. It’s across from Stillwaters. The water was real low and I was back there taking my dogs and looking for old bottles in the lake and I found this bulge.”
The bulge was a pair of green and blue Madras golf pants.
“They were actually folded with the crease and all still in them.”
But of course they were just pants, old muddy pants; the wallet she fished out was what mattered. So she dropped them. She left them. Repeat—she left the pants! Just left them there in the muck and started the hot walk back to the house in Holiday Shores. Her in-laws were over. They’d get a kick out of it. It was the only thing she’d found out there, but an old wallet belonging to some old man named Patrick Fain Dye… the name was starting to sound familiar… was obviously better than some old Coke bottle. She called for the dogs.
“I walked back and I was telling my husband and his parents about it, and they’re like ‘that’s Pat Dye from Auburn! You better go back and get them pants!'”
Pat Dye! Duh!
She hopped on the golf cart and floored it. She picked up the pants and heard a jingle. Inside the other pocket were keys to a Toyota latched to an Auburn football helmet keychain. And a handkerchief.
People had been finding all kinds of things that fall. Old coins. Lost rings. So one of the local magazines, Lake Martin Living, had the idea to compile a list of the coolest, weirdest treasure for one of their drought stories. The Woman Who Found Pat Dye’s Pants heard about it and was like, ‘oh man, do I have something.’” She wasn’t super into football or anything, but she knew the pants of Auburn’s former football coach would have to be hard to top. Better than a Bicentennial license plate. Better than an old buck knife. Totally unique, right? Totally perfect. So she called Lake Martin Living… and they go “nah.” She picked up the phone… with Pat Dye’s golf pants from the 1980s and his wallet and credit cards and handkerchief and Toyota keys next to her, all of which she’d found in Lake Martin’s corpse… and they told her thanks, but no thanks.
The rejection understandably weirded her out. Ditto the few folks she’d told. How do you pass on that? How do you not include Pat Dye’s Pants in the list of cool things your readers have found in the amazing, disappearing lake? How do you not top the list with that? How do you not make it your cover? How do you not call the Smithsonian?
Gail, the wife of the man who owned the Piggly Wiggly where Shannon worked, wasn’t giving up on getting it out there. She called Auburn.
Um, yeah, hi… this girl Shannon McDuffie who works at the deli inside Piggly Wiggly found Pat Dye’s wallet, looks like he lost it or something… and the woman who picked up just kind of laughed: “Oh, again?”
And so The Pants (and everything that came with them) just sat there. They just sat there. Months went by, and hardly anyone outside of Clan McDuffie and some friends and Gail knew about the pants. Shannon would come home from Piggly Wiggly everyday and heat something up in the microwave and turn on the TV and they would just be there, maybe in a box, maybe in her closet: Pat Dye’s Pants. She and husband Derrick would go to sleep at night with Pat Dye’s Pants sitting there. She’d head out in the morning and they’d just be sitting there, Pat Dye’s Pants, home alone. She’d leave Pat Dye’s Pants to go to work, to go to the movies, and—praise the Lord— to go take a photography class at Central Alabama Community College taught by Kenneth Boone.
Boone owned the other local magazine, “Lake Magazine,” plus a few local papers. And he was a photographer. Shannon was working on becoming a bit of a shutterbug herself.
“He was teaching a photography class in April 2008. It was a beginners class, anybody could go. I told him about it at class. I said ‘guess what I found in the lake.’ He said ‘wow, we need to do a story on that.’ So that’s how this all came about.”
The photo on the cover of the July 2008 Lake Martin Alabama edition of Lake Magazine is perfect.
“I went a bought a new outfit for it,” Shannon says.
Here it is.
Boone took it. He set the whole thing up. Thankfully, he had some connections. After Shannon shared her secret, he made some calls. A few weeks later, he and Shannon and Pat Dye’s Pants hit the road for the most famous Japanese maple farm in Notasulga. And it was great.
Shannon showed the Pants to Coach. He remembered them. She showed him the wallet.
“Was there any money in there?”
“I don’t have any idea how I lost’em,” he told Shannon. “But we’ll make up a good story.”
They walked around for an hour. Coach gave her the tour. Then he made a deal with her: Let him have his pants back, let him auction them off at the Blue Jean Ball, the annual charity thing he hosts every year for Auburn’s nursing school—it was coming up in September—and he’d have her and Derrick down as his special guests.
Kenneth Boone told them to stand next to each other. They stretched the pants out between them and said “cheese.”
Click, click, click.
Clicks, clicks, clicks.
It went viral, obviously. ESPN. The Washington Post. EDSBS. Rick and Bubba. Some old WordPress.com blog called The War Eagle Reader.
I thought it was the greatest story I’d ever heard. I wasn’t alone.
“Yessir, this is Matt McDonald, you had contacted my office this morning about Coach Dye’s pants.”
Matt McDonald is a big Auburn fan. Huge. He attended AU for a few years in the mid-90s and owns some pharmaceutical industry companies down in Fairhope, which is how he developed friend-of-a-friend connections with the nursing school years back… which is how he found himself at Pat Dye’s Blue Jean Ball in 2008. The theme? Blue Hawaii. Hula dancers. Tiki torches. An Elvis impersonator. The eagle. And Pat Dye’s Pants, mounted in a custom-made shadow box alongside their former contents, ready to fund some nursing scholarships.
Dye called Shannon up in front of everyone.
“I’d been partying with him and dancing,” she says, flipping through the photo album.
They stood next to the shadow box, leis around both of their necks. He introduced her as the woman who’d found his pants. People howled. Matt got ready.
“I was like, holy crap, that’s cool,” Matt says. “I didn’t even know the story about the pants.”
Several big bids later—they started off at $5,000—he became a part of it.
Shannon captioned the picture she took with Matt: “Matt McDonald bought them 4 $8,000! Wow! Who knew, right!”
The night he paid $8,000 for Pat Dye’s Pants was actually the first time Matt met the man. They’ve since become pretty tight. They hunt together. Dye will have Matt’s family up to the house some during football season. Matt’s actually been one of the sponsors of the Blue Jean Ball since 2013 or so. He bids on stuff every year. He usually wins. He’s got a Toomer’s Oak clone (that Dye himself actually came down and planted in Matt’s yard). He’s got a cool hand-carved eagle Dye used to own. He’s got one of Dye’s shotguns. He’s got one of Bo’s shotguns, autographed of course. But when people step into his home office, nothing gets them talking more than the $8,000 pair of muddy pants
“So you’re writing about them or something,” he asks.
“Yeah. I mean, kind of like you, I just thought it was the greatest story ever. Had I found those things, I think I probably would have passed out. It would have been such a shock. It was such a hilarious story, but such a cool thing at the same time, at least to me. Because the 80s were such a ripe time for college football lore, and Auburn at the time was right there in the middle of it. I’m just like, what was happening when he lost them? What was going on? It’s like something out of a movie. I mean, we’d just won the Sugar Bowl and should have been national champs and we’re gearing up to play Miami to start the season. Because best I can tell from everything that was in his wallet, it had to have happened in either 1983, but probably 1984.”
“Yeah,” Matt says, “I’m pretty sure you’re right.”
The 1984 Pat Dye Invitational Golf Tournament, held Sunday and Monday, July 15 and 16, was probably the biggest they’d had since Dye arrived, the most attended. Who’s going to turn down two paid days at Stillwaters skiing and playing golf and stuffing yourself with barbecue chicken in the name of covering college football’s preseason No. 1, interviewing (via teleconference, but still) that year’s Heisman frontrunner? No one. Definitely not Jon Johnson, that’s for sure. Jon has been the Dothan Eagle’s sports editor for the past 22 years. In 1984, he was the Plainsman’s, and one of probably 200 or so media members who absolutely took Auburn up on the offer.
“Auburn would have sports writers from around the state come up there (to Stillwaters) and just entertain them for the weekend,” Jon says. “Alabama did the same thing when Perkins was there and Curry was there— invite them and treat them to dinner and lunch, and you played golf, and then at night they’d sit around and tell stories and have all the assistant coaches there, too. And, of course, something like that you never see these days. You can’t do it anymore. Basically it was a big socializing event for a couple of days for sports writers and coaches.”
And that year, as fate would have it, for Joe freakin’ DiMaggio.
“Everyone got word (DiMaggio) was down there, and the most unique thing that I remember about it was… well, it’s kind of taboo to ask for autographs. That’s just not something you do (as a journalist). But this was different. I remember vividly people getting in a line to shake his hand. Guys who were with television stations, sportscasters…”
Guys like Jim Fyffe…
And sure, Jon, too.
“I got his autograph on just a piece of notebook paper. I kept it in my wallet for years and years.”
But beyond Joltin’ Joe being there, and the guy who hosted the Ray Perkins Show being photographed in an Auburn hat and a Bo jersey—David Housel threatened to send a print to Perkins—Jon doesn’t remember anything wacky happening. No skinny dipping. No rumors about Coach Dye dropping trou or anything. Just fun.
After finishing 18 holes on Monday afternoon, Jon hopped in the car a happy camper. He got back to Auburn and wrote his weekly column. Here’s how he ended it:
“Dye had said at his press conference he didn’t want anyone to leave on Monday without being able to say they had a good time. He didn’t have anything to worry about.”
Shannon took a copy of the magazine with her to the Blue Jean Ball. Coach signed it for her.
She slides it across the table.
To Shannon, thank you for finding my pant! War Eagle, Pat Dye
“Wait, he just wrote ‘pant’ — not ‘pants,’”I tell her. “There’s no ‘s’ on there.”
We laugh. She’d never noticed.
Not long after the magazine came out, Shannon opened up her mailbox to something from Brad Cotter, the country singer who won “Nashville Star” in 2004.
“His cousin or aunt or something, I know her, and they’re big Auburn fans, and she just thought it was amazing and she told him about it, and he sent me an autographed photo that said ‘If you find my pants, please don’t tell anyone.’”
Since then, it’s mostly died down. But every now and then, someone will still say something.
“Yeah, I was known for a little while around my little town as the girl who found Pat Dye’s pants. They’d keep coming and asking me ‘did you find any pants lately?’ They just kept asking me ‘did he say why he lost them?’ Somebody said that somebody might have gotten mad at him and thrown them into the lake while they were out on a boat.’”
I tell her if we’d gotten there a little earlier, we could have slid into the back booth and asked David Housel. He always does Chappy’s for breakfast. He has to know.
“I have my own theory, though,” I tell her.
She nods along.
“Yeah, if it’s what I’m thinking, Joe DiMaggio was actually there. I’m thinking of starting the story with ‘while Pat Dye was on top of the world, his pants were at the bottom the lake.’”
The check finally comes.
“Well, if you talk to him, tell him I said ‘hi.’ I’d actually like to get back in touch with him and see what he says now. ‘Hey, it’s been 10 years, remember me?’”
I work mornings in the same building where Pat Dye records his weekly radio show. I’ve heard the man recount entire touchdown drives, down by down, from games played before half of us were born, games played in forgettable seasons.
But in 1984? It was great to be an Auburn Tiger going into 1984. It was great to be Pat Dye.
He was coming off what should have been a national championship season. He had at least another year and maybe two with the best player in the country. He was gearing up to open the season against defending national champs Miami in the Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands, then take on No. 4 Texas at Austin, back to back. He was telling reporters waiting to play golf at Stillwaters that Auburn had a “legitimate chance at the national title.”
Sure, he’s 79. But feeling a breeze, losing your keys, losing your wallet, asking for a ride home, canceling credit cards… all at the same time, all during what is arguably the peak of your coaching career?
I’ve talked with him before. Been out to his house. Called him on the phone. But for a kid who in, say, 1984 thought Pat Dye was a god, it’s always pretty nerve wracking.
I took a deep breath. I caught him in the hall. He was wearing khaki pants.
“Hey Coach, remember your golf tournament at Lake Martin in 1984? Joe DiMaggio was there?”
“Yeah, yeah… Joe came down and was there at the press conference we did at Stillwaters.”
“Coach, I’ve been doing a little research… do you think that could have been when you lost your pants?”
He stops, turns around, looks at me.
“Well… it had to have been somewhere around then.”
“So that sounds right? It could have been?”
“Coach, I actually talked with Shannon McDuffie the other day, remember her? She’s the one who…”
“Yeah, yeah… from Dadeville? She didn’t even know who I was. Her husband had to tell her.”
“Did you know she was an Alabama fan?”
“Well that don’t make no difference.”
Related: Pat’s Dry Field.