Greetings, fellow football-starved sons and daughters of the Burnt Orange and Navy Blue! Once again I have crawled out from my rock to share a few memories of one of the first significant games I ever saw as a student at Auburn- the 1983 Florida game, which ended up a hard-fought 28-21 win for the Tigers.
The game itself was just another brutal SEC contest featuring the wishbone offense of Auburn against a particularly nasty defense by the Gators (featuring Wilbur Marshall and Alonzo Johnson, among others). In fact, the game program from the 1990 AU-FL game noted that there were more NFL stars (draft picks or starters, I can’t remember the criteria) on the starting line-ups of the two teams together than in any other college football game at any time.
On a personal note, I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, which was brutal territory for any Auburn fan, especially a young one during the Barfield years. Bulldogs and Seminoles (and a few proto-Hurricanes) were rife of course, but for absolute fan rivalry annoyance no one can beat Gator fans. AU’s yearly rivalry with the Gators, now a sad casualty of SEC divisional realignment, gave me an annual opportunity for the pain of dealing with these Gators. I think I am a Gator Hater more than any Bulldog that walks the earth. When it was annual, this was ‘The Game’ I cared about, even more than Georgia or Alabama.
To complete the scene, my folks were visiting me at college for the first time, and I was looking forward to seeing them. We had three seats in the regular fan section of the North end zone (back in the day when regular-dues-paying alumni like my Dad- and now me – could get single-game tickets to decent games). We settled in on a beautiful day at Jordan-Hare for what promised to be a great matchup.
After the jump, I’ll describe a few plays from that game that still stand out in my mind even after all these years (and provide some video clips):
The (Little) Train Goes down the (Side) Track
Bo Jackson ran an amazing 55-yard TD on AU’s opening drive. After an exchange of touchdowns made the score 14-7, Auburn got the ball on their own 20 yard-line late in the second quarter. As Pat Dye often did, he substituted the whole offensive line (without much drop off in quality) as well as much of the wishbone backfield. The second team drove the ball pretty much the length of the field, down to the Florida 17, coming straight towards Mom, Dad, and me in the stands.
At that point, the first team came back in, with the crowd cheering the second team for their work on that drive. Bo had been baffling the Gators all game, and UF was apparently keying on him a little too much, as the next play showed. The ball was snapped, then Randy Campbell went right, Bo Jackson went right, and eleven Florida Gators went right (well, to their left). Meanwhile, Lionel “Little Train” James went left, as Campbell had surreptitiously slipped him the football, and ran against the grain of the entire Gator defense, who had nothing but a few hand-tackle attempts looking back over their shoulders as their momentum-filled bodies moved the wrong way. Result: a 17-yard touchdown, a 21-7 halftime score, and all of it played out in front of me in the best seats in the house for that play!
In the Jordan-Hare concourse at halftime, we heard an enthusiastic Auburn fan holler, “Gator tails will be sold in the parking lot at the conclusion of today’s game!” Dad and I both winced, as we knew that you could not count out UF at any time, even with a hefty (by eighties football standards) two-touchdown lead. Although the next two plays I remember had us thinking that fellow was right….
From Touchdown to Touchback
A few months earlier, I had just asked my brother-in-law what the call would be if a team fumbled out of the opponent’s end zone before crossing the goal line for a touchdown. Well, his answer was proved correct, when it happened in this game (again right in front of me and my folks).
As I noted above, the Gators were not going to surrender their tails that easily, and to open the third quarter, Florida had relentlessly driven the ball down inside the Auburn 10. UF’s own lightning-fast running back, Neal Anderson, took the handoff and darted into open space with nothing but the cool October air between him and the goal-line. I saw a Tiger defender running after him and thought, “What’s the point, he’s already scored.” Well, I am glad Auburn DB Tommy Powell didn’t read my mind, because just like Antoine Carter did to Mark Ingram, he punched the ball out of Neal’s arms, just before he crossed the goal line, with the ball rolling out the side of the end zone for an Auburn touchback (FYI, under today’s rules, the ball in this situation would have been awarded to Auburn at the point of the fumble).
This was an amazing play on its own, but what really made this play memorable was what happened next….
From Touchback to Touchdown
On Auburn’s first play from the 20, Bo Jackson just blows through the Gator defensive line and seriously outraces all the UF defensive backs. “That’s a 14-point swing!” I said to Dad as we watched Jackson’s “tail lights” recede toward the far goal line, on just another day at the office for Bo. But even at 28-7, the Gators weren’t finished, as Pat Dye had the tendency to take his foot off the gas pedal after building a lead. As a result, UF scored twice in the fourth quarter and even recovered an onside kick to make the game more “interesting” than I would have liked. Nonetheless, in the end the defense held, as also shown earlier in the game….
Here is where my memory is fuzzy. I do remember that the Gators had several first-and-goals during the game, and they did score one short-yardage touchdown late in the game. However, at least once and maybe even twice, Auburn’s defense responded like the fence in the old Osmose (now Yella-Wood) lumber ad, and turned the Gators away on four straight downs inside the two yard-line. Oh, nothing could make an Auburn fan feel proud like a great goal-line stand by the Men in Blue, back when real men went for it on fourth-and-goal from inches out.
Here is a clip of Bo’s two touchdowns (as the kids say these days, they are both just sick), sandwiching that great defensive play by Tommy Powell:
Here are two more clips from the AU locker room after this game, featuring Randy Campbell and the original Great One, both clips being nabbed from our fellow Auburn blog, The War Eagle Reader:
And just for giggles, here is Pat Dye’s Osmose lumber commercial, to which I alluded above:
I really need to do more complete, source-document research like the other folks here at TET, instead of relying on my memory and pieces of information from Google (since both are not what they used to be). Nonetheless, these particular plays still stand out clearly through the fog of time, and are now part of our great Auburn lore – and I’m glad I was there!
(who wouldn’t mind anyone correcting anything that I got wrong above)
Tags: 1983, Auburn, auburn blog, Auburn Football, auburn Tigers, Auburn vs. Florida, Bo Jackson, Florida, florida football, Florida Gators, Jordan-Hare, Lionel James, Michael Val, mvhcpa, Neal Anderson, Osmose, pat dye, SEC blog, Tommy Powell