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Rod Bramblett Retrospective: The First One

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We’re looking back at some deep tracks in honor of Rod.

In the wake of Saturday night’s tragic loss of Auburn radio announcer Rod Bramblett and his wife Paula, people have been sending out their wonderful memories and tributes to a man that was part of the lifeblood of Auburn University.

Here’s one from Friend of the Program @sheabooskyy, and one from Justin Ferguson as well:

Those are two of the ones that touched closest to the heart, but there are countless others. I encourage you to take the time to read each and every one and learn from them in the process. There are lessons that we can all take from Rod’s time with us, from the meaning of family to the worth of hard work.

Hard work leads us into this look back at some of the various moments of Rod’s career behind the microphone as he narrated us through the types of jubilation and heartbreak that only Auburn fans know.

You know that Rod became the football and basketball play-by-play man in 2003 after Jim Fyffe died suddenly, but he’d been on the mic for baseball for a decade before that with Andy Burcham. It’s what they call “putting in your dues” in the business, and Rod certainly earned his chance to take us through the emotions of Auburn football after his work on the diamond.

And what an opportunity he stepped into. The end of the 2002 season flew by on a tear, with Auburn winning five of the final six games of the year, including wins over top ten teams in LSU, Alabama, and Penn State. With Jason Campbell, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, and a ton of defensive talent returning, a run to a championship was all but assured in 2003.

I was there in the stadium as we got another shot at USC. Ranked sixth in the country to start, Auburn was looking for revenge after a 24-17 defeat at the Coliseum the previous fall, where eventual Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer led a late touchdown drive to give the Trojans the win. They ventured across the country ranked eighth with a new quarterback (some guy named Matt Leinart), and a freshman running back named Reggie Bush.

During the pregame festivities, we practiced a tribute to Jim Fyffe and his signature touchdown call. When, not if, Auburn scored its first touchdown of the day, one side of the stadium would bellow out “TOUCHDOOOOOOOWN”, prompting the other side to respond with “AUBUUUUUUUUUURN”.

Foolproof plan. No chance of a jinx. Great day coming.

We got shut out. 23-0. No touchdowns that day. Rod’s first score behind the mic was a slant pass from Leinart to Mike Williams. There were no good plays from Auburn that day, and we headed to Atlanta at 0-1 and last in the nation in scoring at zero points per game.

September 6th at Bobby Dodd Stadium was the same. We lost to Reggie Ball, who once ran out of the back of the end zone accidentally, and failed to score a touchdown for the second straight game. I was in shock. Auburn went from national title contender to national laughing stock. Looking back now, Rod had to feel as if there was some sort of a hex put on the team with him coming in. We know now that it was actually the gross incompetence in coordinating an offense by Hugh Nall and Steve Ensminger. Rod was just the messenger.

I think back to what he must have done leading up to that first game. The prep, the studying, the research. Figuring out the best way to craft a spotting chart. It’s a ton of fiddly work preparing for every single piece of information and shred of data that could be relevant to call a game. Here are his charts from the Washington game this past season. He had it down to a science by then.

Furthermore, think about what kind of special emphasis he must have put on trying to find the best way to honor Jim. Those of you that have listened to early Rod know that he hadn’t settled on a signature call. That struggle must have been tough. Do you continue Jim’s iconic “Touchdown Auburn” or do you find something of your own? Rod went with “Touchdown Tigers” a fair few times in the beginning, but he had to wait on pins and needles to get to the point where he was able to even consider what he’d say.

So, after two weeks of no touchdowns, an offense that sported a 1.5 ppg average traipsed into Memorial Stadium in Nashville to take on a young Jay Cutler and the perennially-terrible Vanderbilt Commodores. This was before Vanderbilt would ever play you tough, and it was going to be an easy win every time you stepped on the field with them. Unfortunately, we didn’t feel capable of beating anyone at this point in 2003.

After a scoreless first quarter, Auburn fans were nearly ready to jump. This was a team that should’ve been fighting tooth and nail with the Oklahomas and USCs of the world for a spot in the Sugar Bowl for the BCS Championship. Instead we took more than a quarter to find the endzone against Vandy, but when we did, it didn’t take Rod Bramblett by surprise.

The first one he ever got resulted in what would turn out to be not just Jim’s signature call, but Rod’s as well. We got the extended “Touchdown Auburn!” that almost seemed like it had to be exorcised from a football demon. It was akin to finally getting that water out of your ear canal, or that popcorn kernel out of your gums. It relieved the very real weight that we all felt on our shoulders, but for Rod, it opened the floodgates. Rod was off and running.

Over the next few weeks, he got to call two wins over top ten teams in Tennessee and Arkansas, and a six-touchdown game from Cadillac in a win over Mississippi State. Later that season he’d cement his legacy early on with his “Go Crazy, Cadillac!” call in the Iron Bowl, but it wouldn’t have happened without the humble beginnings we all experienced that season.

Starving before we eat... oftentimes it’s a reality of being an Auburn fan. Think about the span between football national titles, or the arid desert of failure that we’d wandered through as basketball fans. Rod’s desert covered nine quarters. The Babylon that followed would be something to behold.