Pat Dye’s passing earlier this week was a tough pill to swallow, especially on top of everything else that’s been happening around the country and the world recently. However, Dye immortalized toughness, and he would’ve told those of us who are suffering in some form or fashion that “There’s gonna be a lotta days when you lay your guts on the line and come away empty-handed. Ain’t a damn thing you can go but go back and lay ‘em on the line again. And again, and again.”
His arrival on the Plains led to a nearly unprecedented era of success for Auburn, and the Tigers turned out to be the SEC’s team of the 1980s with four conference championships, three Sugar Bowl bids, and a Heisman Trophy winner. Some of Auburn’s most intense and fantastic games happened under Dye’s watch, and after a period of decidedly uninteresting football in the mid-to-late 1970s, we were due. Let’s look back.
1982 IRON BOWL - AUBURN 23, ALABAMA 22
Show of hands, how many of you have actually ever watched the entirety of Dye’s second Iron Bowl? In 1981, the Tigers gave a valiant effort but fell short to Alabama, giving Bear Bryant one of his milestone wins. Dye’s second try was much better, since the Tigers ended up with a future Heisman Trophy winner in the backfield in Bo Jackson, as well as an inspired defensive performance.
If you’re so inclined, the entire game is on Youtube with Keith Jackson commentating. If you’d only ever seen Bo Over the Top, you might think that that happened with seconds to play. Nope, there was 2:26 left to go, and the Tigers had to withstand two final Bama drives, the first ending in a great interception by Bob Harris. As Auburn tried to run the clock, Bo Jackson fumbled going over the top on third-and-one, and the Tide got one final chance. Walter Lewis complete two straight passes to get Alabama out near midfield, but a grounding penalty set them back and they failed to gain the yardage back. Auburn took over with thirteen seconds left and knelt for victory. Bear Bryant went out a loser in the series, and Dye began a string where Auburn would win six of eight in the rivalry.
If you want, don’t miss Lionel James’ weaving touchdown run early, and Tim Drinkard’s pop-up fumble return either.
Even in his second year he knew exactly how big this was to Auburn folks, and his postgame locker room speech revealed that.
“What I’d like for you to do, is I’d like for you, the ones that want to... I’m gonna go back out there, and thank our people.”
1983 FLORIDA - AUBURN 28, FLORIDA 20
After breaking the Alabama streak, Auburn was off and running. 1983 saw maybe Dye’s best team (unless you think it’s 1988), and a squad that should be honored with national championship recognition. When the Tigers met the Gators in late October, it began a sizzling streak where Auburn’s final five opponents of the year averaged 8.5 wins (in an eleven-game regular season).
Bo Jackson went wild with two long touchdown runs, and the defense made a huge play, but the legacy of this game is the number of future NFLers on the field. Both sides sent a huge number of guys to the pros, and you can watch Bo rip through most of the Florida ones like tissue paper below. This same Florida team blasted eventual “national champ” Miami 28-3 early in the season.
1984 FLORIDA STATE - AUBURN 42, FSU 41
In what many believe is the wildest game of the Dye tenure, Auburn went down to Tallahassee and beat Florida State in an epic shootout. Don’t forget that this was in the era where FSU was on the schedule nearly every single year. Auburn’s non-con in 1984 was Miami, Texas, Florida State, Georgia, Tech, Southern Miss, and Cincinnati. Can you imagine anything close to that now? Along with a full SEC slate? Unreal.
Anyway, this game had everything. After starting the year ranked atop the polls, Auburn dropped the first two games to Miami and Texas, but rebounded to win six straight. During that stretch, they went to Tallahassee to meet the Seminoles. Without Bo Jackson, Brent Fullwood and Kyle Collins stepped in and helped out with a ridiculous game out of the backfield. In a wild back and forth affair, Fullwood’s short touchdown on a lengthy drive put Auburn up 42-41 in the final minute.
In a fun little tidbit, this is even the game that started the FSU War Chant. They started it during a loss — fun!
Here’s Phil Snow and David Housel reviewing the entire game:
1985 SW LOUISIANA - AUBURN, 49, SW LOUISIANA 7
There’s nothing interesting about this game except Dye’s apparently short-lived penchant for sadistic punishment. He wanted to get a good long look at Bo Jackson after the injury-plagued 1984 season. Bo finished drives so quickly that there wasn’t really time to inspect his condition and stamina. So Dye just let him do his thing for a half and change.
Bo ran for 290 yards and four touchdowns after Auburn switched from the Wishbone to the I-formation to highlight Bo’s talents. It worked, and Bo won the Heisman that season. His year included yeeting Deion Sanders to the ground and finishing with 1,786 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Tigers.
We’ll hit the latter half of the decade next, with the next installment including a couple of Iron Bowls and some huge rivalry wins!