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A 'loss' worth celebrating

DOTHAN – Auburn’s national championship football team finally lost a game Thursday night. And when it was over, there were only smiles.

Running back Mike Dyer signs a football at "Champions Helping Champions' event Wednesday/Phillip Marshall photo

Dothan’s Special Olympics entry won the volleyball national championship. Generations of Auburn players came to town to help raise money to send what is now known as Team USA to Athens, Greece, to compete for the world championship.

Current Auburn players Mike Dyer, Eric Mack, T’Sharvan Bell, Cameron Groce and Sam Brown lost to Team USA in two close and spirited matches. But before they did, they posed pictures, signed autographs and interacted with children at Northview High School. The event was billed as “Champions Helping Champions.”

Tom Bryan, a quarterback who became a hard-nosed fullback from 1963-65, led the Auburn Football Letterman’s Club effort to support the cause. When five seniors from last season’s national champions had to cancel, the current players took their places.

“Everybody won,” said Bryan, a State Farm agent in Opelika. “To see the way those kids conducted themselves and the way they reached out to the kids made me proud.”

Four members of the 1957 national championship team – Lloyd Nix, Jackie Burkett, Tommy Lorino and Dan Pressley were on hand. The unbeaten 2004 team and the Amazin’s of 1972 were well-represented. And they were joined by players from numerous teams in between.

Nix, who never lost a game, said the players of 2010 will find the national championship to be one of the highlights of their lives.

“Over the last 50-something years, we have kept close,” Nix said. It was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. It afforded me the opportunity to do things I never would have done if I hadn’t been part of that team.”

Burkett, an All-American center and linebacker who went to successful NFL career, said there were no bigger supporters of Auburn’s 2010 drive to the national championship than the men who did it 53 years earlier. He welcomed the opportunity to tell them.

“It’s amazing when you get all these guys together,” Burkett said. “How could you not have a good time when you get together with all these Auburn people?

"It’s just a great occasion. I’m glad I was invited to it."

Bell had arrived at Auburn’s football complex to get into the cold tub in the training room Wednesday, when Ben Thomas, director of player development, asked him if we wanted to join the group going to Dothan.

“They asked me if I wanted to go to be with the kids,” Bell said. “I had nothing to do the rest of the day. Why not spend it with the kids? It’s just a blessing. Waking up this morning, you don’t know where you are going to be.”

Dyer said it was an opportunity to show off the real Auburn football team.

“There have been a couple of incidents that have kind of gotten us down,” Dyer said. “We want to show the people on our football team we have good hearts.”

Randy Walls, the 1972 quarterback, said he knew he arrived the event was something special.

“I’m glad to be here with those guys,” Walls said. “When I got out of the van, all those kids came up to me and every one of them hugged my neck. It made me proud to be an Auburn person.”

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