Saying Goodbye To A Hero…
(photo: Auburn Media)
It’s an amazing thing when you think about it – touching other people in a way that changes their lives forever, hopefully in a positive way. If you are of the Christian faith touching people and influencing them to walk the path you are walking… that’s the mark we are all suppose to strive for. Some of us fall short. Some of us do well. But I believe this concept of touching others can transcend or go beyond our faith. Personal actions I think can directly affect or influence others. And I am here to suggest that such an argument could be made for Mr. David Langner.
In case you didn’t know David Langer passed away this Saturday after losing his fight with cancer. I am not sure of his religious convictions. That is between him and God. David Langner was a football player that played on the Auburn Tiger’s “the Amazin’s”. What I do know is the results of his personal actions on the football field in 1972 and the importance they played for a seven year old boy.
I am not sure that every reader will understand the importance of this team and it is important that they do. This was the first team after the legendary Pat Sullivan (Heisman Trophy Winner) and Terry Beasley had graduated. Auburn football was in the process in searching for an identity. Nobody thought Auburn had a chance that year. In fact, this team was picked by Southern sportswriters to be dead last in the SEC. The good news is that Auburn did find its identity. In fact, they found something that will forever transcend time – if you love all things in Orange and Blue.
It’s funny in looking back on it. I don’t even remember following the football team that year at all. There are reasons for that, and I will try to explain. Even so, I guess one could make a comparison to the most recent Auburn teams for some fans. I bet that if you asked any one that witnessed the 2013 Iron Bowl or the game in 2010 that thought they were the pinnacle of David and Goliath match ups, well … they obviously never saw or heard about the 1972 “punt bama punt” game.
This game, in my humble opinion, is what forever set Auburn up to be the perennial under dog when it comes to playing Bama. Because football is so important in the state of Alabama; it is the game to which all other games are measured. Unlike recent games, the outcome of the 1972 Iron Bowl wasn’t due to an unbelievable quarterback, or an all SEC halfback, or any one person in particular. No, it was due to a team effort. And it demonstrated the human condition and fight when going against unwinnable odds.
1972 was a tough year for the WDE1988 family. My life had changed drastically in June of that year.
So much so that I wasn’t focused on the game. I wasn’t throwing the football with my Dad or my friends. The fact is that during the time of the Iron Bowl in 1972 my family was looking at the possibility of moving to the South side of Birmingham. The reason why was due to my Father being killed un-expectantly in Gardendale. He had been a steel worker at ACIPCO.
He never got the opportunity to go to college. To my knowledge he never even saw the Auburn campus but he was a dye-hard fan. By thirty-three years of age he had two kids and was about to embark on fulfilling the American dream and buy a new home that was in an area that he and my mother loved – Smoke Rise. He served his country by being a member of the Alabama National Guard. He was the lone Auburn fan in a sea of Bama fans in a large family that hailed from Marion County. Obviously, he marched to a different drum.
I was seven years old. My brother was four. Football was the last thing on our minds that season. With his death still on our minds – my family was still struggling trying to come to grips with the unexpected loss. If you have never experienced this kind of loss all I can tell you is that it’s a traumatic experience.
And on the day of the 1972 Iron Bowl we were traveling across town to visit my Aunt who lived in Hoover, in an effort to try and find some way of comfort.
Unbelievably, this was important because it’s how I got to experience the game. It was a long trip. Most folks today would say how so – it couldn’t take more than 20-30 minutes by interstate? But in 1972 I-65 wasn’t completed yet so taking lesser US highways and state roads was the only direct way to go from North Birmingham to South Birmingham. It took some time to complete. I guess it was too quiet in the car. I am sure you can imagine a single mother trying to find answers to the unanswerable for her sons… so she began to flip the radio stations in the car. That’s when we heard it.
I remember my Mom asking if Auburn was playing when she heard the announcer Gary Sanders. She reminded us that our Dad loved Auburn football. I remember that even on the radio the crowd was incredibly loud – Legion Field sounded crazy. But I will never forget when they said the score – it was the 4th quarter already and Auburn was losing 16-3.
My mom started trying to explain what was going on. She understood football. She told us Auburn was playing Bama at Legion field. She told me that we weren’t that far away from where the game was being played – that it was happening in the city we lived in. My brother and I were sitting in the back seat of my Mother’s 1970 Chevy Impala suddenly glued to everything Auburn. I can still remember my mother saying… “if your Dad was here… he would be sick to his stomach listening to this game – but he wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I guess that’s what caught my attention the most. And that’s when it started… miracle after miracle.
At first I didn’t understand what was going on… but I could see it happening in my head as the announcer gave the play by play. Bama’s offense had stalled and they were going to punt the ball back to Auburn again. The announcer said Auburn’s offense hadn’t done anything all day so it was unclear if anything would change the outcome of the inevitable Bama victory. The Bama squad was looking for a national title that year. That’s when time stood still.
The announcer said Bama’s punt had been blocked and David Langner picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone for the touchdown. I can remember telling my mom,”I wonder if Dad would be excited now?” She smiled and cautiously said the game wasn’t over and Bama was still winning. The score was 16-10. Bama got the ball back but couldn’t do anything with it. Ultimately they had to punt again. By this time they knew Auburn was going to try to block and … dang if Auburn did it again! And dang if it wasn’t David Langner that ran it back again!!! So almost in the blink of an eye, with the extra point complete Auburn now led the game 17-16.
At this point I was so excited! But I was happiest for my dad… who wasn’t there to enjoy it. Still, it was like a breath of fresh air had filled the car. But the game wasn’t over yet. Bama got the ball back and was moving the ball as time was running out. The Bama quarterback over threw his receiver and the ball was intercepted by David Langner to seal the victory for Auburn.
An amazing game; an amazing team; and an amazing coach. But up until that point they were my dad’s team. It’s incredible to say that I can remember vaguely watching Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley play for Auburn with my dad. Those two were my first Auburn heroes. But in 1972, after a traumatic experience changed my world at the ripe age of seven I had learned that we were not promised anything in life. It’s a terrible lesson to learn regardless of your age. But it soon becomes one of life’s maxims regardless when it occurs: anything can change – nothing is permanent.
But in a funny way, life didn’t just change for me. Life had changed for Auburn too. Whenever a team loses a star player or players it has to find its new identity. Maybe this isn’t on the same level as losing a parent but the idea of change is still the same. The question that had to be answered was how would Auburn compete?
Auburn competed alright. It only had one loss that season… to LSU. Ultimately Auburn went on to beat Colorado in the Gator Bowl. Amazing how much this season echoed in the 2013 season! And for me? I served in my Nation’s Armed Forces and finally retired. I am still working for my service… only now in a different capacity and I have kids with Auburn stories of their own to tell.
Yet when I heard the news on Saturday morning it was like the end of an era. Nostalgic. Sad. All at the same time. Ultimately, I want the Langner family to know that prayers are being sent on your behalf and we ask that God heal your loss. David Langner will be forever missed by the Auburn family. Due to his efforts during the Iron bowl in 1972 he became one of my favorite Auburn heroes.
Reading the posts made by some of you who knew him… it’s obvious he was a great athlete. And he was a productive member of our society. As a high school coach he touched so many lives. But this event is the only interaction we ever really shared. I never played football for him. I never really got to know him at all and he certainly didn’t know me. But by his actions – and as only this game could do – it changed me forever. No telling who else his effort on the field that day touched. For me… spending the rest of the days of my youth playing back yard football and for many years to follow, all I needed was a tear away jersey with #28 on my back … and anything was possible.
It was sometime later that I finally understood the importance of that game on December 2, 1972. I guess I didn’t completely figure it out until the writing of this article. Ultimately, that game is what made Auburn become my team instead of just my “Dad’s team.” Was it because of David Langner? I don’t know. But it’s a good of a reason as any. My Dad introduced me to Auburn footbal, but because of the actions of David Langner and the other Amazins on that fateful day in 1972 … it’s the day when I can say I became an Auburn Tiger on my own accord.
We will miss you David Langner.