This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011
Years ago, I was writing for The Auburn Plainsman and sat down with David Housel who at the time was Auburn’s Sports Information Director. We were a year or so removed from Alabama’s first visit to Auburn in 1989. With Bama not set to return to Jordan-Hare for three more years, I asked Housel if the Tide’s return visit would be anywhere near as big as the first.
In true Housel fashion, he shot back, “Let me ask you, was your second time as good as your first?” I’ll let you infer what he was referencing. For many, picking an all-time favorite Auburn team has a lot to do with when you grew up and your first brush with greatness.
That’s certainly the case for me. Like I said yesterday, I was a teenager before Auburn began fielding competitive, let alone great, football teams. To do this day, I look back on the 1983 season as the most magical in my lifetime. A lot of you will take exception and point to the 1993 team or 2004 unit. You would have a valid argument. But the debate is not about the best team, but rather my favorite team and your favorite team. We all have different Auburn experiences.
For context, you have to look at Auburn before 1983. Fans had endured one of the worst stretches of Auburn football in the modern era. Until the prior season, the Tigers had not been to a bowl game in nine years. They had defeated Alabama only once in 10 years. They had finished in the top 20 only two times in the past eight seasons. Legendary coach Shug Jordan had recently passed away and the Doug Barfield era was less than stellar. Prior to Pat Dye’s arrival, Auburn was as low as it could go.
The start of the ’83 campaign had a feeling unlike any other in my lifetime. Auburn was not only expected to compete, but was favored to win the SEC – something it hadn’t done since 1957. They started the campaign ranked fourth nationally and had a rising star in a kid named Vincent Jackson.
After a convincing 24-3 win over Southern Miss in the opener, Auburn was suddenly thrown into the center of the college football world when it welcomed Texas the following Saturday in what was deemed at the time, the biggest game of the year in all of football. After giving up 20 first half points, Auburn outscored the Longhorns 7-0 in the second half and lost. It was the last taste of defeat for this Pat Dye team.
This talented team went on to win 10 straight including victories over Florida State, Florida, Maryland (led by Boomer Esiason), Georgia and Alabama. In the process stars were born including Jackson, Randy Campbell, Lionel James, Greg Carr, Donny Humphrey, Doug Smith, David King, Ben Tamburello and Tommy Agee. I could literally go on and on.
Auburn returned to the Sugar Bowl for the first since 1971 and defeated Michigan 9-7 with three field goals by Al Del Greco. I literally had to pinch myself each week. Was this my Auburn? It was the greatest football fall of my life.
This season is one of the reasons Pat Dye remains my all-time favorite coach. He gave people of my generation something to cheer about. He changed the way we thought of Auburn. Suddenly, for the first time, I had my own stories that I could one day tell my kids.
Like so many great Auburn teams, the ’83 squad became victim of circumstances it had no control over. Entering New Year’s Day, Auburn was ranked third nationally in both polls behind Nebraska and Texas. Georgia took care of the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl and Miami upset what the media was calling the greatest college football team of all time in Nebraska. Because of the hype, the Hurricanes jumped from fifth to first to claim the national title. To make matters worse, voters in both polls placed Nebraska second. A win over Bo Schembechler’s Wolverines was not enough. It was every bit as big a travesty as what happened to the 2004 team.
Though it has been 27 years since that magical season, it still seems like yesterday. I remember exactly where I sat with my father through every home game – Section 43 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. There have been so mighty good teams come through since and maybe even some better ones, but for me, there will never be another 1983.
Who’s your favorite Auburn team?