Kickoff of the 2017 season is tomorrow. It’s tomorrow. Unless you fail to wake up in the morning, you’ve made it to another football season and survived another long and arduous offseason. You did it, congratulations.
Since we’re just a day away, and the Countdown to Kickoff series has featured a recap of each year as we get closer to opening day, we figure that you can remember what happened just last year. Auburn lost to Clemson, went on a six-game win streak, got some injuries, lost games at the end of the season.
We’ll do things a little differently today. On Tuesday I pretty much glossed over the Kick Six in our recap of 2013, and so today you’ll get a first-person account (I’m sure you’ve heard many in the four years since that season), but hopefully one that’s a little different.
One day until kickoff, and we’ll talk about the most important single second in Auburn football history.
It’s November 30th, 2013, and I’m sitting in Studio 26 at IMG College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, producing the biggest Auburn game in three years as they host Alabama with the SEC West and national title hopes on the line. In my headset I’ve got a direct line of communication to Paul Ellen, the pregame, halftime, and postgame host for Auburn football, and Jessi Duval, the on-site producer, who keeps the train rolling in the booth by handing sponsor live read cards to Rod Bramblett, the voice of the Auburn Tigers. Paul would let me know which highlights he would like to have for his game recaps, and I’d make sure to cut them and have them ready to go for halftime or postgame. If I need to talk to Patrick Tisdale, the broadcast engineer, I turn one dial on the mixing board in the studio and I’ve got him.
The broadcast booth is one I’ve visited many times, dating back to my days as a student where I helped the old engineer, Larry Wilkins, meticulously pack his equipment after a broadcast. We’d roll up the dozens of cables and squeeze the different heavy pieces of gear he had into several huge cumbersome cases and lug them down to the aging Auburn Network van parked near Beard-Eaves. The booth was small, split-level, with Patrick lording over his mixing boards on the top row, all the way to the left. Next to him was Paul’s spot, right in front of the little fridge, where he’d hand Stan White soft drinks over the railing. Down the few stairs on the right side, Jessi took the spot closest to the window. There she’d have the different sponsor reads taped to the glass, pulling them off as they were called for, and handed down the line to Rod. On Jessi’s left was Gene Dulaney, the statistician, a banker by trade who had all the numbers. Between Rod and Stan sat Beau Benton, the spotter. Beau would have his own copy of Rod’s spotting charts with push pins designating which players were on the field at any given time. He had a little tin labeled “Beau Benton’s Tools of the Trade” where he kept those little pins. He and Rod had developed a kind of sign language wherein Beau would clap his hands together, or almost throw them forward in a Superman impression to indicate fumble, big hit, or who recovered a loose ball. Rod understood these movements perfectly and efficiently.
All the way to the left side on the front row stood Stan White, in full control of the little booth television set. A former Auburn quarterback from the early 1990s, Stan took over as color commentator near the end of Jim Fyffe’s tenure, and he’s been there for Rod’s entire career as lead announcer for the Auburn Network. Whenever something unfortunate happens in a game, you can hear Stan slap his board or the table in the background in disgust.
Then in the middle stood Rod. He stood. Never sat. Maybe during the fourth quarter of a homecoming blowout against Furman he’d lean back on his stool. Not on this day, however. Fourth-ranked Auburn, top-ranked Alabama, the SEC West crown, a trip to Atlanta, the hope of a third straight national title for the Tide, the dream of the ultimate upset for the Tigers. There was a lot to play for, and Rod wouldn’t be alone in standing at attention for more than four hours inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Rod had been named as Jim Fyffe’s successor in 2003 after Fyffe suddenly died. Looking strictly at football, it was a pretty good time to come in for your inaugural year as the lead announcer. Tommy Tuberville’s team was ranked sixth in the country to start, and a game against USC to open the year seemed like the perfect kick-start for a national championship campaign. They even wanted to honor Fyffe and his signature call during the game. About thirty minutes before the game, we practiced in the stadium. One side of the crowd would yell “Touchdown!” and the other side would yell “Auburn!” when the Tigers scored the first of what would surely be many touchdowns against the Trojans. I was there with my dad on the “Auburn” side, surrounded by a frothing crowd, hungry for a long-awaited championship.
Then Auburn got shut out. 23-0. Jason Campbell’s first pass was intercepted, and some brand-new USC quarterback named Matt Leinart threw a touchdown on his first attempt. It was downhill from there. The car ride home was not fun, the postgame interviews morose. We had no idea how good USC would be, but the only other time they failed to score 30 points was in a very easy 28-14 Rose Bowl romp over Michigan. Auburn didn’t score a touchdown the next week against Georgia Tech either, and it almost seemed like the fans, and Rod, were being punished for the hubris we had showed up until about 4:35 on August 30th, 2003. God looked down upon the beautiful plains of Alabama, and saw high-fiving, and War-Eagling, and merry-making, and overconfidence, and decided to teach us a lesson. At the time I thought that lesson went along the lines of never expecting something good because it will always come crashing down, but that’s a very Chicken Little way of looking at it. The real lesson was that when you have a vacancy at offensive coordinator, don’t promote some guy you work with and trust that he’ll do as good of a job as Bobby Petrino. I digress.
Rod would get some good moments that year, Carnell Williams’ 80-yard burst on the opening play of that November’s Iron Bowl resulted in the call that would bolster the next several years. I knew it from heart, all the way to the ecstatic “Go crazy, Cadillac! Go! Crazy!” I embarrassed myself more than once belting it out while doing laundry unaware that my mom was right around the corner. For Rod though, he alternated between imitating the classic extended Fyffe call of “Touchdown Auburn” and his own “Touchdown Tigers.” It seemed like he couldn’t quite settle on a signature call.
Ten years later, however, Auburn had gotten that elusive national championship, and Rod had gotten his share of moments as well. He had landed somewhat on taking over Fyffe’s call and continuing it as an Auburn tradition. It’s what the people wanted to hear, after all. On the field, seven years of pittance had finally come home to roost in the form of Cam Newton and a perfect season. But we didn’t realize that we were sitting on the crest of a wave that would soon capsize the boat, and the Tigers won just three games in 2012. Enter Gus Malzahn, offensive architect of the 2010 championship season, to try and right the ship.
He didn’t have much in the way of expectations, and after an early-season drubbing in a stiff dew in Baton Rouge, the average 7-5 season looked like it was coming along nicely. By this time, I was running things in the studio for the radio broadcast, my first stint with the network since I’d been a student during the 2010 season. To be honest, I was waiting for the magic to be rekindled. It wasn’t there yet, but that changed once October began. The offense found a groove with Tre Mason and Nick Marshall running the tandem show in the backfield. Sammie Coates became a viable explosive threat at wide receiver, and the defense did just enough on the other side, coupling a pretty solid run defense with an opportunistic back end. We know what led up to the last day in November… Auburn beat a top-ten Texas A&M bunch at their place, smashed Tennessee, and stole Georgia’s soul with the Prayer in Jordan-Hare. I teared up in the studio during that postgame show, realizing that I’d just heard one of the great radio calls in Auburn history. It’s a call that’ll be played on the Jumbotron decades from now, And it put the Tigers at 10-1 with the two-time defending national champs coming to town.
We went on the air at 1:30 Eastern Standard Time for our regular two-hour pregame show, at which time a beleaguered Michigan team was beating undefeated Ohio State in Ann Arbor. It was already shaping up to be that kind of a day around college football. In our third segment, we tried to work all the mojo possible, bringing on Frank Sanders and Patrick Nix. Those two pulled Auburn back into the 1993 Iron Bowl with a miracle touchdown on fourth and a mile, a play that had a fantastic Jim Fyffe call go along with it. All pregame long, we brought on players who’d beaten Alabama, and I suppose we pleased the gods in the end, as it definitely paid off.
But let’s fast forward about five hours. By now you know what happened on the field. Alabama jumped out to a 21-7 lead, but a touchdown just before halftime cut that down to a one-score lead, and an early third quarter touchdown pass from Marshall to CJ Uzomah tied the game at 21. AJ McCarron hit Amari Cooper for a 99-yard score in the fourth quarter, and somehow Auburn battled back from a failed fourth down conversion to get the ball back and score with thirty seconds remaining, and then we went to overtime. Or so we thought.
After TJ Yeldon was forced out of bounds, referee Matt Austin turned on his mic and announced “time has expired in the fourth quarter.” Rod exhaled, said “Overtime in the Iron Bowl, can your heart stand it? 28-28, Auburn football continues in a moment,” and then I heard him say after a few breathless and silent moments from the booth during the break “No matter what happens, I’m not leaving any of you behind!” While we were in commercial Nick Saban lobbied the officials for an extra look at the previous play, and overtime all of a sudden became an afterthought as they put one second back on the clock for the Tide. A full four minutes after the review started, at exactly 7:25:33 EST, Chris Davis caught Adam Griffith’s field goal attempt nine yards deep in his own endzone. Rod wove a spectacular two minutes of radio with a gleeful and giggling Stan White in the background as Davis ran it back and dethroned Alabama. As the celebration for the greatest moment in modern Auburn history took place on Pat Dye Field, I celebrated in the studio and turned my attention back to the actual broadcast just in time to hear Paul say “Uh, Jack… we may want that highlight.” I cut a two-minute clip because I couldn’t find a good spot to end the highlight, there were just too many gems to leave out:
“There goes Davis! (Oh my God!)” as he crossed midfield with nobody around him save for blue jerseys. Patrick Tisdale actually turned Stan’s mic down slowly so that he didn’t run on over Rod’s call. He’s the true MVP of the moment.
“Auburn’s gonna win the football game!” as Davis strode into the endzone.
“They’re not gonna keep ‘em off the field tonight!” once Rod saw the immediate stream of students and fans pouring onto the field.
“Oh my Lord in Heaven!” voicing perhaps what every single person inside the stadium thought at the time, thanking or cursing the Man above, depending on which color you were wearing that night.
“Auburn has won the Iron Bowl, in the most unbelievable fashion you’ll ever see!” as CBS panned across stunned Alabama fans in the northeast corner of the stadium.
“You got plans next week, my friend? ‘Cause I’m gonna be in Atlanta!” once Stan gathered himself enough so that Patrick would turn his mic up again.
But never was the phrase “Touchdown Auburn” uttered during the nearly three minutes from the time when Chris Davis took his spot in the endzone until Rod tossed it to break. He never even said the word “Touchdown.” In the end, the greatest second in college football history didn’t need it.
We’ve got Auburn football tomorrow. I can hardly sit still. War Eagle.