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1971 Revisited?

  • There's a lot of football to be played, but after last Saturday I think folks have begun to believe it's a remote but realistic possibility that Auburn and Alabama could play undefeated. While that situation has come close to happening several times (most recently 1989 and 1993-94), it's only happened once in the series. Auburn had to play undefeated UGA and undefeated Alabama in back-to-back games to finish the season.

    That won't happen this year, but both teams were lead by Heisman candidates on offense. Alabama was led by RB Johnny Musso and Auburn by QB Pat Sullivan. Sullivan would win the Heisman trophy and Musso would finish fourth. That was the first season in which Bryant ran the wishbone. Alabama would win the Iron Bowl before losing to Nebraska for the national title in the Orange Bowl. Auburn lost to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

    Through 4 weeks, Cameron Newton, Mark Ingram, and Greg McElroy are all legitimate Heisman contenders. Alabama is 4-0 and ranked #1; Auburn 4-0 and ranked #10.

    What I'd like to ask to some of you guys that were around back then ... what was that season like for football fans in the State of Alabama? At what point did folks realize that a showdown of undefeated teams was likely? How did the game go? What could Auburn have done differently to have come out on top? How did both teams managed to get destroyed by the Big 8 powers in bowl games? What about the two teams today remind you of the teams in 1971?

  • News was not instant like it is today in 1971. I don't really remember hearing anything about both teams meeting undefeated until 2 weeks before the game. Oklahoma and Nebraska were easily the 2 best teams in the country that year. They played a #1 vs #2 matchup in November that year that was billed the "game of the century" which was won by Nebraska 35-31 in a thriller. Those two teams combined for 17 of the 22 All Big 8 spots that season. Nebraska was on a 30 game unbeaten streak when they played bammer in the Orange Bowl in a driving rainstorm. I still get chills thinking about that game. They absolutely destroyed bammer. To this day I have not seen them beat worse than that. Nebraska featured future Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers at wingback and he ran wild. The bad news is bammer throttled us that year. We went 3 and out and they drove for a TD on their first possession. We were really never in the game, but the Amazins sure nailed them in '72. The Sooners were just a lot better than us too that year and they beat us 40-22 in another game we were really never in.

  • In 1971 Auburn was having an outstanding season as expected with Sullivan and Beasley as seniors. It was an unexpected revival season for Bama. 1969 and 1970 were probably Bryant's worst years among his 25 at Bama and many alumni were ready to fire him after he lost two straight to Auburn.

    With two weeks to go in the 1971 season there were five undefeated teams left and they had what amounted to a playoff. The first match was Auburn-Georgia while Bama, Nebraska, and Oklahoma had byes. Auburn beat Georgia 35-20 at Athens. Sullivan had four TD passes.

    The "semifinals" were Thanksgiving weekend. Nebraska beat Oklahoma 35-31 and Bama beat Auburn 31-7. Sullivan had won the Heisman on Thursday night before the game on Saturday and I believe the Auburn team peaked two days early. I was at Sewell Hall on Friday when the team boarded buses for Birmingham. I said to Coach Jordan, "Give 'em hell" and he replied "I believe we will." Another factor in Auburn's loss was the move from Auburn to Tuscaloosa after the 1970 season by Assistant coach Bill "Brother" Oliver.

    Bama and Nebraska met in the "finals" in the Orange Bowl a few hours after Auburn and Oklahoma played the "consolation" game in the Sugar Bowl. Both Big 8 teams won easily. It was simply their year.

    W-L records for the five-team "playoff" were Nebraska 2-0, Oklahoma 1-1, Alabama 1-1, Auburn 1-2, Georgia 0-1.

    This post was edited by LunaTick 4 years ago

  • Good question and good responses. The 1971 AU team was similar to this one in a way. It was a fairly average team with a few superstars mixed in. We played our best game of the season against GA and won 35-20 and that performance won the Heisman for Sully. The team came out very flat in the IB and never had a chance. AL's wishbone just moved the ball against our defense and there was nothing we could do about it. They used a safety blitz several times with success and our offense never got going. The whole game was much like the first 20 minutes of the Clemson game. 3 and out for us, and then AL would have a 14 play drive.

    The Sugar Bowl was even worse. OK also used a wishbone and just methodically moved the ball on our D and we could not stop them. It was 34-0 at halftime, and final score was in no way indicative of how bad it really was.

    I have the feeling that this edition of the Auburn Tigers is capable of beating anyone on a given night, but I'm also afraid that there are a number of teams that could abuse our D the way OK and AL did in 71 and really embarrass us. It will be exciting to see what happens. War Eagle!

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  • First let me say there was no one in the country as good as Nebraska that year (or a lot of years since). That was a great team. As far as Bama and Oklahoma goes, both had just converted to the wishbone, which was still a novelty offense at the time. It had only been in use, primarily by Texas (they won the MNC in 1970 running that offense), for a couple of years. As with most fad offenses, it takes the defenses a few years to catch up. Both Auburn and bama were loaded with good solid players, but few real big name players. We had Beasley and Sullivan and they had Musso. I think the teams matched up pretty well, but the difficulty in trying to defense a new triple option offense like the wishbone, playing two huge games a week apart, and the distraction of the Heisman award was just to much for us.

    People just didn't follow it back then as closely as they do now. You didn't have nearly as many TV games and virtually no radio or TV sports talk shows. Most of the information came from the newspaper. That's not to say people weren't passionate about their teams, they just weren't as 24/7 (take it as a pun if you want to) about it.

    This post has been edited 2 times, most recently by pwrx75 4 years ago

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  • >>>Of course, another favorite of mine was the time (during the height of the Cold War) I pulled for the Soviets to beat 'em in b'ball<<<

    LOL - I remember that game, and I've told that story of pulling for the Commies instead of uat many times. But that Orange Bowl was definitely NOT the first time I ever pulled against bammer.

  • I was 15, but my memories are of the Georgia game being as big as the Alabama game. It effectively won the Heisman for Sullivan. I was fortunate enough to be at that game, thanks to my father. It was a heckuva game. Roger Mitchell actually did block a kick that day, a PAT by Georgia that kept us ahead 21-20. Sullivan and Beasley then shut the door. I remember David Housel getting my father and me into the press box in Athens after that game and I got to meet Furman Bisher. I also attended the Alabama game. We only trailed 14-7 at the half, but Alabama completely outplayed us that day. Oklahoma and Nebraska were in a league of their own that year and neither Auburn nor Alabama were a match for them in the bowls. In the climate of 1971, schools such as Nebraska, Oklahoma and Alabama could stockpile talent without the scholarship restrictions of today. For Auburn to have been in a that heady company was certainly reason for pride. And to this day, I get goose bumps just remembering watching Pat Sullivan play.

  • LunaTick said:
    "Sullivan had won the Heisman on Thursday night before the game on Saturday and I believe the Auburn team peaked two days early. I was at Sewell Hall on Friday when the team boarded buses for Birmingham. I said to Coach Jordan, "Give 'em hell" and he replied "I believe we will." Another factor in Auburn's loss was the move from Auburn to Tuscaloosa after the 1970 season by Assistant coach Bill "Brother" Oliver."

    I agree completely with what LunaTick said. I was a student at Auburn then and remember things unfolding exactly like that. The AU/UGa game the week before in Athens is my third most memorable Auburn game. Yes, we were excited about being undefeated, but the Heisman Trophy race was just as important. It may be hard to believe, but the Bama game was sort of an anti-climax. Attending the Sugar Bowl was a miserable experience.

    Coosa said summed it up very well:

    "We played our best game of the season against GA and won 35-20 and that performance won the Heisman for Sully. The team came out very flat in the IB and never had a chance. AL's wishbone just moved the ball against our defense and there was nothing we could do about it."

    I'm don't know as much about the X and O of football as many of you do, having never played the game, but I do remember what it was like to be a student/fan in 1971 and 1972. In 1972, every game was exciting and we were all amazed as week by week that team did what was necessary to win (with the exception of the LSU game in Baton Rouge), so for me 1972 was a more memorable season. I had a friend, also a student, who worked as a sports analyst for the student radio station. Each time we faced a strong SEC opponent, he predicted a loss for the Tigers. It was great fun to see him proved wrong by the "Amazins". When I look back to those years and compare the teams with our current team, it's the '72 that I think the most about.

    "Auburn. I think of purity for some reason." - Lewis Grizzard

  • For those of us on the younger side of things (a few years short of being born at the time of that game), it's a real privilege to hear these stories. Thanks for sharing. It gives us that care, a much deeper understanding of the history of our program.

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  • Quote
    jadennis
    For those of us on the younger side of things (a few years short of being born at the time of that game), it's a real privilege to hear these stories. Thanks for sharing. It gives us that care, a much deeper understanding of the history of our program.
    /Quote

    +1

    Formerly TKO204 AU Scholly Chart --- http://bit.ly/zHeoRq AU in the Polls -- http://bit.ly/aGrCww

  • One incident worth mentioning about the Auburn-Georgia game in Athens was the night before the game. The Auburn team stayed in am Athens hotel (Holiday Inn I believe) and few were able to sleep as Georgia fans continuously drove through the parking lot blowing their car horns. I seem to recall that some more daring types ran across the roof of the hotel during the night. My dad and I got there early that morning just as the team was leaving for the stadium and I distinctivly remember a very quiet and extremely angry team loading up. My recollection is also that Coach Jordan was as mad as a hornet. It was an absolutely gorgeous day with a glorious ending.

    This post was edited by JuniorAce 4 years ago

  • In 1971, we almost lost our SEC opener in Knoxville. Trailing 9-3, Sullivan led a late and tremendous drive for the game tying TD. Gardner Jett kicked the winning extra point for a 10-9 victory. See link for the whole story of a game I'll never forget.

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    "There's no doubt, we're going up." Gus Malzahn

  • Seraph

    I was too young to remember the game but there is a story about Coach Jordan and Friday's walk through at the stadium, iirc:

    The team had finished their preparations and Coach Jordan called them up. Those that played for him said that He always had a knack for saying the right thing at the right time and so it was this day.

    A soft spoken gentleman that always seemed to maintain his composure, Coach Jordan supposedly said to the team:

    "Lo, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil.......for I am the meanest SOB in the Valley"

    and on that Saturday they sure were.

    (my apologies if this is an incorrect memory.......but it sure is a dadgum good story)

    ps: good stories on the hotel (junior ace) and the UT story OldNewby.......D. Housel referred to the '71 UT game in last weeks program as it was played on Coach Jordan's birthday.

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    Strive for perfection in everything we do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, create it.

  • OldNewby said... (original post)

    In 1971, we almost lost our SEC opener in Knoxville. Trailing 9-3, Sullivan led a late and tremendous drive for the game tying TD. Gardner Jett kicked the winning extra point for a 10-9 victory. See link for the whole story of a game I'll never forget.

    I was sitting with my Daddy at that game. Sitting behind us was a very vocal Vol fan who jeered and disrespected Sullivan, calling him "Patsy" throughout the game. My dad was a true gentleman and not one to get into heated debate, but at the end of that drive, he turned around and said "That was Pat Sullivan." He had had all he could take and just couldn't resist rubbing it in a little bit. Thanks for bringing back a good memory of my Daddy, a true Auburn man.

    "Auburn. I think of purity for some reason." - Lewis Grizzard

  • "M-Dubya" that was a good thread you started...I love stories from the early '70's when I was a mere tiger cub.

    TigerLily...thanks for sharing...I have fond memories of time well spent with my Father many fall Saturdays on the Plains.

    Seraph...I'm glad this thread "miraculously" reappeared for our viewing pleasure...great story about Coach Jordan as well.

    This post was edited by AUTerp92 4 years ago

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    War Eagle!!!

  • AUTerp92 said... (original post)

    "M-Dubya" that was a good thread you started...I love stories from the early '70's when I was a mere tiger cub.

    Do you recall the 1975 season, AUTerp92? It was Coach Jordan's final season, and for that reason it was and still is the only season during which I attended every game, both the 4 at home and the 7 away. The W-L record turned out to be not very good, but that eventually became secondary.

    The bad news started early. Number 7 Auburn was upset in the opener at home by Memphis State 31-20, and would never again that season be ranked. The second game was in Waco against Baylor, and ended in a 10-10 tie. Then Auburn lost to Tennessee at Knoxville 21-17. For the second home game, Auburn lost to "breather" Virginia Tech 23-16.

    Then came a puzzling sequence in a puzzling season. Three straight road games, and Auburn won them all for their only three wins of the season, over Kentucky 15-9, Georgia Tech 31-27, and Florida State 17-14.

    Back at home for the next two, Auburn lost to Florida 31-14 and managed to tie Mississippi State 21-21. Then at Athens, Georgia won 28-13. In Shug's finale, Alabama won at Birmingham 28-0. There was a minor moral victory late in the Iron Bowl game, which seemed at the time bigger than it was.

    Late in the 4th quarter, with the score already 28-0, Alabama's second string offense mounted a drive against Auburn's first string defense. With Bama having first and goal inside the Auburn five, two plays gained nothing. Coach Bryant then inserted his starters to finish offf the drive, but the beleaguered Auburn defense stopped them also on 3rd and 4th downs.

    So Auburn's 1975 season went into the books with three wins, two ties, six losses, and one strangely satisfying goal line stand.

  • Seraph

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    Strive for perfection in everything we do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, create it.

  • Seraph

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    signature image signature image

    Strive for perfection in everything we do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, create it.

  • This post is for members of AuburnUndercover only. Join now! Start Free Trial
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