The Amazins of 2002

By Mickey Dunaway

The last four games of this forgetful Auburn football season and how one native Auburn son turned the gloom into glory even with a record of 5-6 is uniquely Auburn.  This year’s Cadillac-turnaround actually began in November 1972, and here is the story.

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It was second-ranked Alabama and ninth-ranked Auburn playing the tenth and final regular season game at Alabama’s “home turf” of Birmingham’s Legion Field.  Alabama was 9-0, and Auburn was 8-1, losing only to LSU in Baton Rouge.

No TV for this game back in 1972.  Seventy-two was the year after Sullivan to Beasley and the Heisman for Sullivan.  Auburn was expected to have a down year.  Coach Jordan got us to 8-1 by the running of Terry Henley.  Henley was quick, not fast, but he was hard as a pine knot and did not know the word “quit.” Coach Jordan ran him 25+ times a game.  However, the “Terry Henley strategy” would not have worked had we not also had a defense filled with like-minded pine knots. 

There were several exceptional pine-knot-players whose names Auburn fans remember fondly.  The media may have labeled the is team as lacking talent, but the accolades beside their names say differently. 

Terry Henley (All-SEC)

Randy Walls (Only threw 123 times for 189 yards, but he was a LEADER)

James Owens (A future star, but not in ’72)

Mike Fuller (Future NFL player)

Thomas Gossom (Solid receiver who made a career in Hollywood.)

David Beverly (NFL Punter)

Dan Nugent (NFL Tightend)

Mac Lorendo (All-SEC tackle and All-American)

Danny Sanspree (All-SEC Defensive End)

Ken Bernich (All-SEC Linebacker)

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Back to the game.  I was standing at the window over the kitchen sink listening on the radio with Sandy imagining the scene at Legion field as described by Auburn announcers Gary Sanders and Gusty Yearout—because it was not on television. 

With five minutes gone in the 4th quarter, second-ranked Alabama led ninth-ranked Auburn 16-0.

With Alabama leading 16-0, Auburn had driven into field goal range and stalled.  Coach Jordan took the conservative route and kicked a field goal making the score 16-3 and not pleasing most Auburn fans.  Auburn stopped them on the next Alabama drive, and they punted—except they did not get the punt away.  Linebacker Bill Newton rushed through an unprotected gap and blocked the Alabama punt.  The ball took a big bounce on Legion Field’s artificial turn and into the hand of Auburn DB David Langner, who was running at full speed when he caught it and ran it in from 25 yards.  

The extra point made it 16-10.

Auburn’s offense was as lethargic as it had been all day against a good Alabama defense and punted back to Alabama’s offense that did no better.  Deep into the fourth quarter, Alabama went into the same punt formation that produced the first blocked punt.  Bill Newton lined up in the same space as before.  The ball was snapped perfectly to Alabama punter Greg Gantt, and Newton again saw the waters of the Alabama offensive line part directly before him.  He raced directly at the punter and blocked his second consecutive punt.  The ball again bounced perfectly into the arms of the racing David Langer.  Langner scored again to tie the score at 16-16.  

Auburn’s Gardner Jett was true on the extra point to make it 17-10. 

The Auburn Defense kept Alabama at bay to end the game, and the era of Auburn Iron Bowl miracles began.

In the Auburn radio booth, we could barely hear Gary Sanders’ call of the final blocked point for color man Gusty Yearout’s screams of disbelief in the background.  Sandy and I added our voices to the cacophony as we ran up and down our short neighborhood street yelling, “War Damn Eagle!” and “Go to Hell, Alabama!” 

Of course, we yelled those chants in all good sportsmanship.  And, if you believe that, you don’t know about the Iron Bowl!

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