War Eagle Extra

Former local athletes share Iron Bowl memories from the Shug Jordan era to the kick six

Auburn defensive lineman Gabe Wright runs to the sideline before the kick six against Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2013.
Auburn defensive lineman Gabe Wright runs to the sideline before the kick six against Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2013. Courtesy of Auburn Athletics

AUBURN, Ala. The unpredictable nature of the Iron Bowl has been a hallmark of the rivalry for decades. Here’s a look at some memorable moments from the series through the eyes of Columbus area athletes who experienced them.

1970: Forgotten gem; Columbus alum Sammy Oates

The retired attorney has fond memories of Auburn’s 33-28 win over Alabama at Legion Field.

“It was an awesome game,” Oates said. “I don’t think the game gets the credit it deserves. It felt like whoever had the ball last was going to win.”

Oates assessment isn’t far off.

The lead changed hands four times in the second half after Auburn erased a 17-0 halftime deficit. Pat Sullivan connected for a touchdown with Terry Beasley right before the half to give Auburn crucial momentum heading into halftime.

Oates still marvels at the memory of the touchdown Beasley scored late in the game.

“He lined up in the slot and kind of ran an end-around, but it was more compact,” Oates said. “He ran it 40-yards for a touchdown and every defender on the field had a shot at him. I’d love to see video of that one.”

The numerous injuries the Tigers overcame added to the emotional weight of the win.

“We were really banged up, totally out of position in a lot of places,” Oates said.

Auburn had to start two players — running back James Owens, tight end Ronnie Ross — at linebacker.

Alabama running back Johnny Musso’s memorable performance only added to the game’s legend. Musso ran the ball 42 times for 221 before coming out of the game with fractured ribs.

Musso’s 221 yards in a single-game is still one of the top ten single-game rushing performances in Alabama history. The two-time All-American’s 42 carries in the game was a school record until Derrick Henry carried the ball 46 times in last year’s Iron Bowl.

1989: Welcome to Jordan-Hare; Central alum James Joseph

After years of playing Alabama at Legion Field, a venue former Auburn players describe as a de-facto home stadium for the Crimson Tide, the Tigers hosted the Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn knocked off the previously undefeated No. 2 ranked Alabama in a historic 30-20 win. Central’s own James Joseph gave the Tigers an early 7-0 lead by leaping over the Alabama defensive line for a 1-yard touchdown.

“They came to Auburn for the first time and we couldn’t wait,” Joseph said. “It was the only thing we kept talking about all year. They came in undefeated, but we weren’t going to let them win at our house for the first time. We weren’t going to let them win that game.”

As unforgettable as the game was, the pregame Tiger Walk was equally as memorable for the Alabama State running backs coach.

“Our fans were rocking the bus,” Joseph said. “We got out and had to go a quarter mile for Tiger Walk. We were shoulder-to-shoulder trying to hang on to each other so we didn’t just get lost in all the people. It was the most people I have ever seen in my life period.”

1993: Behind closed doors; Baker alum Chris Shelling

A group of Auburn players considered leaving the Plains when the NCAA handed down a two-year penalty for recruiting violations that included a television ban (for the 1993 season) and bowl ban for the duration of the punishment.

“We all kind of talked about leaving, but we decided we were going to stay and make people recognize us,” former Auburn defensive back Chris Shelling said.

The penalties somehow made one of the most heated rivalries in college football even more important.

“Those were basically our bowl games,” Shelling said. “Our only way to put a stamp on the season (in 1993-94) were those games. It was our only way to show Auburn was relevant.”

The game aired on a closed-circuit television at Legion Field, which also sold out.

Patrick Nix came off the bench for an injured Stan White midway through the third quarter with the offense facing a fourth-and-15.

Nix connected with Frank Sanders for a 35-yard touchdown on the quarterback’s first snap. It was the start of a 20-0 run that stunned fans across two stadiums.

“The touchdown to Frank kind of woke us up,” Shelling said. “We were just looking for something a little different. We thought we were a good enough defense to beat them, but we just needed our offense to do a few little things.”

2013: Kick six; Carver alum Gabe Wright

Former Auburn defensive lineman Gabe Wright played well in the 2013 Iron Bowl. The Carver alum sacked quarterback AJ McCarron in the second quarter.

Wright pressured McCarron again in the final minutes forcing the quarterback to throw the ball away on a critical third down attempt.

On Auburn’s ensuing possession, quarterback Nick Marshall tied the game with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates.

Wright won’t get credited with a stat for his most important contribution in the game — a block on Alabama’s kicker Adam Griffith on the kick six. A block that he almost didn’t even have time to make.

“Honestly man, all we were thinking about was trying to block the kick then coach Malzahn called a timeout,” Wright said. “We were on the sidelines talking to our d-line coach as a group, so we had no idea they were talking about pulling one of the defensive backs and putting him back there. No one told us. After the kick, I walked towards the sidelines and heard the crowd erupt. I turned around saw Chris and was like I better block somebody.”

Wright never saw the team practicing the play in practice, but he believes it was instinct that helped Auburn players open up a lane for Davis to go 109-yards down Auburn’s sideline.

“We would practice on a quarterback throwing an interception building a wall for the defensive back on the sidelines and that’s kind of what happened,” Wright said. “He was barely touched on the play.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra

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