In the college football world having three Heisman Trophy winners is a big deal and something worth celebrating.
When I first came to Auburn as head football coach in 1981 I was excited about the opportunity. I knew that the university was the type of place I could recruit outstanding players to because I could tell prospects, without reservation, if you came there Auburn it would allow you to reach whatever level you were capable of reaching and wanted to reach. In college football, there is no higher individual award than the Heisman Trophy and it is not surprising that Auburn has produced a trio of Heisman winners.
Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy in 1971.
My experience as coach at Auburn backed up what I had believed when I arrived about the level of support from the university and the Auburn Family. Auburn gave us a chance, as a football program, to be the best we could be. I can say that without reservations about the support we received from the administrators, students, alumni and fans.
The Auburn players who are being honored, Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson and Cam Newton, are truly deserving of the recognition. I have a lot of respect for each of them.
When Coach Sullivan was playing quarterback for Auburn he was absolutely the best football player in the country. I was on other sideline coaching at Alabama when he beat us badly a couple of times so I know. He had an unbelievable career at Auburn and a great support system that provided him with everything he needed to be a great college football player.
I was fortunate enough to coach Auburn's second Heisman winner, Bo Jackson, who came to us as a freshman in 1982, our second year at Auburn, as we were trying to rebuild the program, which had been down for a few years. Bo might have known how great of an athlete he would become, but nobody else really knew.
Bo Jackson was a football and baseball star for the Tigers and in the pros, too.
As Bo went through his track season his senior year in high school and continued to mature physically, we began to see that he was sure enough going to be a special kind of player. He came in to Auburn as part of a premiere recruiting class and became one of the all-time great running backs in football history as well as a Major League Baseball all-star. His four years at Auburn were special. We weren't the type of football team we should have been his senior year, but that wasn't his fault because our shortcomings that season were mainly on defense.
Of all the Heisman Trophy winners throughout history, from a pure talent standpoint I don't think there was anybody closer to having the combination of athletic ability and competitiveness that Bo brought to his football team than Cam Newton.
A great quarterback like Cam can make a huge difference in a football team. When he arrived at Auburn it was obvious he was a big, strong guy who could run, but he proved to be much more than that when Auburn gave him the opportunity to show what he could do on the big stage.
On the field Cam played at a championship level. Off the field his work ethic and leadership helped inspire his teammates to raise their level of play and contribute to a special season that ended with an unbeaten record and a national championship. Combine his success on the field with his dynamic personality and the leadership off the field with his community service work and it is easy to understand why he is so popular with Auburn fans.
Cam Newton scores a touchdown for the Tigers.
Cam Newton's impact on the football program in 2010 was like the impact that Pat Sullivan made in the late 1960s, a time when the Tigers really needed a star. Bo did a similar things in the early 1980s when we needed a star.
Each of these Heisman winners are well-loved members of the Auburn Family for their exploits on the field and the type of people they are in the rest of their lives. I am looking forward to seeing all three of them together in Auburn.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming. Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.