On December 30, Auburn will say hello to an old friend as it plays its first game in Legion Field since 1998. Despite the long absence, Legion Field remains Auburn's (distant) second home. Auburn fans of a certain age will remember parking in that West Birmingham neighborhood and making their way to the stadium. Others parked at Birmingham Southern and made the walk.
This game will mark Auburn's 104th game inside the Old Grey Lady which represents about 1/12 of all of Auburn's football games. Of these games, 50 were Iron Bowls and 53 were against other opponents.
Legion Field opened in November 1927. Auburn played its first games there the next fall, losing to Ole Miss on October 20th and Miss State November 17th. Auburn picked up its first win there in 1931 against Southern Conference rival Sewanee 12-0.
For years, Auburn used Legion Field as bait to schedule marquee games. Auburn was a hard place to travel to and our facilities were smaller and less impressive than Legion Field. Tennessee would only agree to play Auburn at Legion Field. Georgia Tech also refused to come to Auburn but would travel to Birmingham.
Auburn had many memorable games at Legion Field. Here are just a few:
1949 Iron Bowl
In 1949, Auburn entered the second Iron Bowl of the new series a heavy underdog to Alabama. Alabama was on a five game winning streak and hadn't lost since the second game of the season. Auburn, led by a Dameyune Craig like signal caller, "Traveling" Travis Tidwell who led the nation in total offense in 1946. and was the SEC's MVP in 1949.
Drunk, obnoxious Alabama fans taunted Auburn's team before the game. Inside Legion Field, Alabama fans chanted "56, 56, 56," a reference to the 55 they had hung on the Tigers the year before. Johnny Wallis intercepted a pass and ran it in 39 yards for a touchdown. Later, Auburn marched 71 yards to take a 14-7 lead. Alabama scored a touchdown with two minutes to play. Travis Tidwell insisted on going in on the extra point block team. Tidwell insisted in later years that even though he didn't block the kick, he caught the kicker's eye, "put the hoodoo on him" and caused the kick to sail wide right as Auburn held on for a 14-13 win.
The team carried Tidwell off the field but returned to the field to celebrate with the Auburn fans who were still partying in the stands. Auburn fans ripped up their stadium provided chairs and "the field was covered with feathers." Zipp Newman of the Birmingham News said of the game, "There has never been a sweeter Auburn victory in all the 58 years of football on the Plains than the Tigers 14-13 win over Alabama."
In 1954, Shug's early progress had stalled. Auburn's 1953 team had great success running two different systems with two different quarterbacks (one of them Vince Dooley). In 1954, Auburn continued to try to run the two platoon system but lacked the athletes to do so. Auburn entered the game 3-3 and unranked. Miami was undefeated and ranked #6.
The game was Miami's only loss that year. We have film of the game:
1968 #5 Tennessee
Auburn came into this came ranked #18 while Tennessee was ranked #5. Auburn was the night cap on a Legion Field doubleheader that day along with Alabama/LSU. Both games were sold out and many fans attended both games. Tennessee was led by the great Richmond Flowers, Jr., who spurned Auburn and Alabama because of the way the state treated his pro-integration father who served as Attorney General under George Wallace. Flowers went on to be an All American in both track and football at Tennessee.
This game was one of the first night games played at Legion Field. It was a rainy, gloomy November evening on which Birmingham laid "lasting claim to being The Football Capital of the South":
There is a fine Gothic gloom to rainy November days in Birmingham. Clouds hang low on the earth and make a clammy, gray shroud, which nearly obscures the fiery furnaces in the city's vast landscape of steel mills and ironworks. It is easier, however, to dim the flames of Birmingham than to dull its passion, which, on any November day, is football.
Flowers injured his ankle on the opening kickoff and missed the rest of the game. Unheralded halfback Mike Currier scored on his first three touches of the game to spark Auburn to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. Tennessee rallied to 21-14. Auburn then iced the game with a 49 yard touchdown pass from Loran Carter to Tim Christian on the opening play of the fourth quarter to upset the Vols 28-14.
1969 Iron Bowl
1969 was the first year Legion Field had lights for night games. Auburn and Alabama put on an offensive show not matched until the 2014 Iron Bowl. Auburn was 7-2. Bama was 6-3. My dad always mentions this as one of the most fun Iron Bowls he ever attended. It was Sullivan and Beasley's first Iron Bowl and they put on a show. Auburn's 49 points were the most ever scored on a Bryant coached team. The 75 combined points were the most in any Iron Bowl until 2014. But what this Iron Bowl is most remembered for is Auburn's Connie Frederick faking a punt in the last minute of the game and running 100 yards for a touchdown. Phillip Marshall did a story on this a few years back:
"As the game progressed, Connie told Coach Lorendo they were not respecting a fake punt," Bresler said. "As the game moved on, he would tell him each time he came off. We were ahead 42-20 and it was fourth down. Lorendo said `You can do it, but don't tell Coach Jordan I told you you could do it.' Sure enough, he did it. The funny thing is Coach Jordan was looking in the air for the ball."
1972 Iron Bowl
Punt Bama Punt. What can be said about this game that people in this state haven't known since infancy? Somewhere in the house I grew up in, I have a 78 record with the calls from the fourth quarter of the game.
Auburn entered the season unranked and with very low expectations after the departure of Sullivan and Beasley. Auburn put together an "Amazin'" season and came into the Iron Bowl 8-1 and ranked #9. Alabama was 10-0 and ranked #2.
Auburn was losing 16-0 early in the fourth quarter when Auburn sent Gardner Jett on to kick a field goal. Shug Jordan described that as the only moment in his memory when both sides of Legion Field stood up and booed. Auburn people booed because they felt Shug was throwing in the towel. Alabama people booed because it blew the line. Then, lightning struck. Twice.
Former walk on Bill Newton blocked two punts and David Langner ran them both in for touchdowns to cap off one of the strangest wins in Auburn history.
The 1972 Iron Bowl was Auburn's last win against Alabama for a long time. Alabama reeled off nine straight between 1973-81. By 1982, the tide seemed to be shifting. In what turned out to be Bryant's last season, Alabama was unranked and an uncharacteristic 7-3. Auburn was 7-3 but were much improved, led by the dynamic combination of Bo Jackson and Lionel James.
You can see the entire game here:
I had it on VHS growing up and wore it out. Current South Alabama coach Joey Jones started the game off with a magnificent touchdown catch, putting Bama up 7-0. Auburn scored twice and took the lead at the half 14-13. Coach Bryant was asked about his strategy of playing two quarterbacks by Ann Simon, one of the first sideline reporters at the half:
Alabama built a 22-14 lead in the third quarter. Al Del Greco narrowed the lead to 22-17 in the fourth. Then, Auburn drove the field setting up 4th and goal at the Alabama 1.
That game changed the tone of the Iron Bowl series. Since that game, Auburn has won 18 Iron Bowls to Alabama's 16.
The End of Auburn and Legion Field
In his 1991 eulogy to Auburn's relationship with Legion Field, David Housel said the relationship between Auburn and Legion Field started when astroturf was installed. Alabama was "consulted about the turf and what kind to buy;" Auburn "read about it in the newspaper." That was the same year Cliff Hare Stadium was enlarged to 64,000 seats and Auburn began wanting to have more games on campus.
Georgia Tech and Auburn last played in Legion in 1968. Auburn played its last game against Miss State in Legion Field in 1970. Auburn's last nonconference game in Legion was a16-13 win over Louisville in 1974. Tennessee was Auburn's last opponent in Legion Field outside of Alabama in 1978.
In 1984, when Auburn announced it was going to enlarge Jordan Hare to 85,000 seats, the series moving to Auburn was inevitable.
Since the last Iron Bowl was played in Birmingham, the upper decks were removed from Legion Field, reducing its capacity from 83,000 to 71,594. There are talks that the stadium's days are numbered and that UAB could build it's own stadium closer to downtown. It would be great to see Auburn fill the stadium to the brim one more time--maybe the last time--this Wednesday as we say goodbye again to this old friend.