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Who Is Auburn's Greatest Running Quarterback ?

Auburn's Jimmy Sidle made the cover of Sports Illustrated September 21, 1964.
Auburn's Jimmy Sidle made the cover of Sports Illustrated September 21, 1964.

The Auburn quarterback leads the league in total offense, "he is tough, fast, and large. He has a cannon for an arm and he runs behind an equally big tall experienced line, the forecast is for nothing but miles of yardage and a host of victories" and "he is a player of extraordinary self- reliance." Sounds like this quote by Sports Illustrated writer Dan Jenkins was written to describe Auburn's Cam Newton. It is an accurate description of Newton. Yet, it was written before Cam Newton was born. It was written about Auburn's greatest running quarterback, All American Jimmy Sidle.

Jimmy Sidle had been a star quarterback at Banks High school in Birmingham. He had a powerful arm that had college recruiters just drooling to sign him. Jimmy had grown up an Auburn fan though and when Shug Jordan came calling, he chose Auburn.

In that day freshmen were prohibited by the NCAA from playing varsity sports. Consequently Sidle started his playing days on Auburn's freshmen team playing for Auburn Assistant Coach Vince Dooley. He said "Coach Dooley liked the way I ran. So he developed me into a running quarterback."

And what a runner he became. Glen Laney Sports Editor for The Florida Alligator during the mid sixties watched Jimmy Sidle play against the Gators. He said, "I've never seen a more intimidating football player. The threat of his accurate passing ability made his running that much more effective. It was amazing how Jimmy Sidle could bounce back every time he was hit by frustrated defenders."

Sidle had his best season during his junior year in 1963. He led the Tigers to a 9-1 record, the only blemish coming in a narrow loss to Mississippi State. The Maroon Bulldogs kicked a 36 yard field goal with 28 seconds left on the clock to steal the win. The field goal kept the Tigers from playing for a national championship. Auburn finished the regular season by defeating Joe Namath and the Crimson Tide 10-8, to earn a birth in the Orange Bowl and a top five ranking in the polls.

That magical year, Jimmy made both All American and All SEC teams. He rushed for 1,006 yards and led the SEC in total offense. If you ask the average fan today, "Who holds the SEC record for rushing as a quarterback?" the answer would invariably be Tim Tebow. Nonetheless the SEC record is still held today by Auburn's Jimmy Sidle.

The success of the Tiger's '63 season prompted Sports Illustrated to pick Auburn to win the national championship for the following year. A prediction that went south when Sidle was injured against Houston at the beginning of the season. The magazine also put a painting of Jimmy Sidle on it's cover page and declared him the best of all of the nation's running backs. That was a huge compliment considering that Gayle Sayers was playing for Kansas that same year.

The 1,006 yard season total also made him the first quarterback to lead the nation in rushing. That record stood for 38 years till Eric Crouch broke it in 2001 (although it came in a 13 game season). No quarterback - not Crouch, not Pat White, not Vince Young, not anyone has ever rushed for a 1,000 yards in a 10 game season. That distinction is still held by Jimmy Sidle.

It now looks like that his SEC record (and 10 game national record) may finally be broken by Auburn's current field general, Cam Newton. Shattered would probably be a better description. Still, if a new rushing record is established, it is particularly fitting that it should be set by an Auburn Man.

I have been attending Auburn Football games for 52 years. That takes in a lot of great QB's and although Jimmy Sidle has always been my favorite player (and up to now has been without equal); I have to say I have never witnessed a signal caller like Cam Newton.

One particular throw in the Kentucky game was absolutely phenomenal. Cam was being chased by UK defenders behind the line of scrimmage to the side line when he pivoted, jumped in the air and threw the ball 40 yards to a diving Kodi Burns, while falling backwards to the turf. It was shades of Dameyune Craig. Yet, as great as Dameyune was, he could not punish D-backs with his running quite like Newton.

Mr.College Football Tony Barnhart said, "Newton is a package of size, speed, and strength, that is like nobody else in the SEC. He has Terrelle Pryor quickness but he is stronger. He has a Ryan Mallett arm and can throw it 50 plus yards with the flick of his wrist. On third down and less than 6, he exerts tremendous pressure on a defense."

Yes it appears Auburn has a quarterback that is poised to rewrite all the record books. At the pace he has been going in the first six games, it looks like he will be joining the exclusive 2000 / 1000 club. That's a list of a small number of QB's that have thrown for at least 2000 yards while running for a 1000 yards in the same season. If he reaches that plateau, he will be only the eighth quarterback in history and the first from the SEC to accomplish the feat. Likewise Cam will become not only the greatest running QB at Auburn but possibly the greatest Tiger Quarterback ever.

Oh yeah, about that Sports Illustrated issue with Jimmy Sidle on the cover? To this day, it remains the only time an active Auburn football player has been featured alone on the front of the magazine, but before Cam Newton is through ...

That too will probably change.