Pop has what he calls seasoned tickets for football games up where he went to college a long time ago. (I just finished up my second go-around of puppy school and am feelin’ pretty smart myself.)
Anyway, Pop and the missus went up to Auburn on Saturday for a reunion with his old teammates from 1972. He said it was really great to see so many guys there and even more special to be honored by the university. Before the game they had the old team all sitting at tables lined up end to end where folks could stop by, shake their hands, say howdy-do and get autographs. Pop said they signed footballs, prints, shirts, hats and photos for almost an hour before they were ushered into the stadium to be introduced before kickoff. He said it was especially humbling to sit at the autograph table next to James Owens, a running back who was the first black football player at Auburn. They called him Big O.
As for taking it all in, Pop said he felt like he was a freshman again being around older teammates that he admired and held in such high regard. He was 17 back then and just trying to stay alive around grown men who were, in some cases, 4 and 5 years older.
All the guys were introduced by name at mid-field after a brief documentary of the ’72 season was shown on the jumbotron. The fans cheered and the players doffed their caps, soaking up the long since faded glory which, for most – now in their sixties, they would probably experience for the last time.
The reason this particular team was honored was because they’ve held a special place in the hearts of Auburn football fans for 40 years. After the departure of a couple of super stars (Heisman trophy winner Pat Sullivan and his favorite receiver Terry Beasley) the year before, the ’72 team wasn’t expected to have a stellar season. Their head coach, Shug Jordan, wasn’t about to let that happen, though, so he made sure the assistant coaches busted their butts and had them in the best physical condition of their lives. They were mentally tough, too, never willing to accept defeat as an option and with the exception of one game, they bested everybody they played. It wasn’t always pretty but they found a way to win and by the last regular game of the season they were ranked 9th in the nation.
The most remarkable game occurred at the end of the season when they played Alabama; coached by the legendary Bear Bryant and the number 2 ranked team. The “Iron Bowl” was played at a supposedly neutral site (Legion Field in Birmingham – a hop, skip and a jump from Tuscaloosa) and at 10-0, the Crimson Tide was a substantial favorite to win the game. But the Auburn Tigers defense blocked two punts and returned them for touchdowns in the fourth quarter, leaving a final score of 17-16 and to this day folks are heard cheering “Punt Bama, Punt!”
They finished the season 10-1 (only the second team in Auburn football history to win that many games, following the 1957 national championship team) with a Gator Bowl victory over Colorado. Although reluctant to ever do so previously, Coach Jordan referred to this team as his “Amazin’s” and declared them his favorite all-time team. Pop was in his last senior class.
Pop said there were a little more than 70 of the old guys there of the more than 100 who sacrificed in some way or another as members of this elite group. And even though they now have conference championships and another national championship in the trophy case, there has never been a group of young men that worked harder to bring gridiron glory to the plains of Auburn.
He said that Saturday was truly an Amazin’ day.