One of Shug Jordan’s best players, All American End Jim Pyburn.
I never got to see Jim play ball but I grew up during the fifties in an Auburn environment hearing of the exploits of the great Jim Pyburn. Today’s young Auburn fans hear about Bo Jackson, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, and Cam Newton.
As a child I grew up hearing about Ed Dyas, Billy ‘Ace’ Atkins, Tommy Lorino, and Jim Pyburn. I was fortunate enough to have known Billy Atkins and was able to watch Dyas and Lorino play. But I never had the opportunity to watch the man that some believe was the greatest athlete of that decade.
Jim was not a sought after high school athlete coming out of Ensley High in Birmingham but the Auburn staff was familiar with him since his older brother Ralph had played at Auburn.
If the recruiting services that we have today were active in Pyburn’s day, he may not have been listed. But if he was on somebody’s radar, he would have been listed as an athlete because that’s what Jim was – an athlete.
Jim loved to play ball. Growing up in Ensley, he was what some would call a gym rat. Everyday when he wasn’t in school he would join dozens of other youth in Birmingham’s Central Park to play whatever sport was in season at the time. He loved to play ball and he was good at it. Ball was his life as a child and ball was his life as an adult.
Jim went on to be a two-time All-SEC selection in football, All-SEC in baseball, and a football All-American End. He was voted the best end in the SEC by the leagues coaches and earned the UPI Player of the Year Award his second season. For a number of years he held the Auburn record for yards by a receiver in a season. Coach Jordan said if he wanted a passing attack that all he had to do was have the ball thrown in Jim’s direction.
Along with quarterback Bobby Freeman he led Auburn to a 28-0 win over Alabama his junior year and a 33-13 victory over Baylor in the 1955 Gator Bowl.
In baseball Jim led the Southeastern Conference with a .455 batting average and was signed after his junior year to play for the Baltimore Orioles for $48,000.00 .
Depending on the conversion table one uses, that amount would be worth between $400,000.00 and $1.8 million in today’s dollars. Regardless it showed what the pro scouts thought of Jim Pyburn’s athletic ability.
After his pro career was over he spent his life coaching high school and college football, including 16 years as a defensive assistant with Dooley at Georgia. In the year 2000 he was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Jim passed away Saturday in Jasper, Ala. following a long illness. He was 78. His funeral will be held today at 3:00 p.m. in Birmingham.
Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said “Jim Pyburn was one of the greatest two-sport athletes in Auburn history and his passing is a sad day for the Auburn family. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Pyburn family during their time of grief.”
I never got to watch Jim play but in my mind’s eye, I can see him now – playing ball in heaven. His old quarterback Bobby Freeman passed away in 2003. I can almost see the two of them young and strong again, passing the ball back and forth, laughing and having a good time, just like they did in the days of their youth.
Good by Jim and thanks for your inspiration to a little boy from Columbus, Georgia.