Richard Hyatt: Iron Bowl hype may never end

December 5, 2013 

When a football game becomes an overnight cliché it grabs a place in history. For 41 years the slogan has been “Punt Bama Punt,” but the current catchphrase is “Kick Bama Kick.”

This week we're being inundated with pithy idioms about the miraculous ending of the 78th meeting of Alabama and Auburn. Even Barbara Walters commented about the Tigers' 34-28 victory.

One second of football and Nick Saban's membership in Mensa was canceled, the life of a placekicker that wasn't even on the field at the end of the game was threatened and return man Chris Davis earned a starring role on Auburn's all-time highlight reel and a place on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The week before the Iron Bowl, a friend at church pointed out similarities between these Tigers and a team that put fear into the eyes of Crimson Tide punter Greg Gantt and quieted talk of another national title for Alabama.

Alabama marched into Legion Field unbeaten in 1972. Their coach was Paul "Bear" Bryant and their quarterback was Terry Davis -- the MVP in the Southeastern Conference.

On the other sideline was Auburn, a two-touchdown underdog despite an 8-1 record. Their coach was Shug Jordan, and their quarterback was Randy Walls, a lumbering country boy who succeeded Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan and couldn't pass a lick.

The Tide dominated.

Less than 10 minutes remained when an Auburn field goal made the score 16-3, causing Tiger fans to boo for the appearance of giving up.

On the ensuing possession Alabama had to punt. Auburn's Bill Newton blocked Gantt's kick and teammate David Langner ran it back 25 yards for a touchdown, Minutes later, Newton blocked another Gantt punt and Langner returned it for a second TD. The extra point gave Auburn a 17-16 lead.

That memory never faded. In 2007, ESPN.com ranked "Punt Bama Punt" 55th on college football's Top 100 defining moments and CollegeFootballNews.com ranked it 85th on its list of the 100 Greatest Finishes. In 2010, ESPN.com deemed it the 8th most painful outcome in college history.

The 1972 game wasn't televised. Its place in history came without the benefit of social media, ESPN hype or taunts from Paul Finebaum. But the similarities are strong.

Both Auburn teams came into the game with only a loss to LSU. In 1972 the two unlikely blocked kicks occurred in less than five minutes and Saturday came down to a missed field goal with a second on the clock.

Now we learn that Gantt, Langner and Chris Davis graduated from the same high school in Birmingham.

The constant chatter is giving Alabama fans heartburn and a few Auburn followers are suffering burnout. But get over it. For as we learned in 1972 history doesn't go away quietly.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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