Greatest Of All Time?

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the greatest football players in Auburn history, the upcoming Peach Bowl game, the 2002 football season and the start of SEC basketball play.

ESPN has been running an interesting promotion on its bowl games, taking votes on the best player all-time at particular schools. As Auburn prepares for the New Year's Eve Bowl against North Carolina, I found myself thinking who I would vote for.

The winner, rest assured, will be Bo Jackson. And it won't be close. But with all due respect to Bo, surely one of history's greatest athletes, there are others who certainly merit consideration.

Here's a look at some of them in no particular order:

*TUCKER FREDERICKSON. He was a Bo-like athlete for his time, blessed with size and speed. He was a great runner, a devastating blocker and even better defensive player in the day of two-way players. He was the first player chosen in the NFL draft.

*PAT SULLIVAN. He didn't fit the prototype, but he won the Heisman Trophy because he was at his best when things were toughest. He was a great player and even greater leader.

*TERRY BEASLEY. He was the best receiver I ever watched. He had blazing speed, toughness and great hands. Without him, there might have been no Heisman Trophy for Sullivan.

*DAMEYUNE CRAIG. He never even made All-SEC, but what Craig did as Auburn's quarterback in 1997 is as remarkable a feat as I have seen in college football. He took a team with no running game and precious little talent around him to 10 wins and to within a point of the SEC championship. I never saw a player with more of a hold on his teammates. They thought he could do anything, and he usually could.

*TRAVIS TIDWELL. I'm not old enough to have seen him play, but many of those who did say he was as good as any quarterback who ever played at Auburn.

*JACKIE BURKETT. As center and middle linebacker on Auburn's 1957 national championship team and 1958 unbeaten team, Burkett was an All-American caliber player both ways. Many of those who play with him swear he remains as fine an athlete as they've ever seen.

*MIKE KOLEN. Ol' Captain Crunch was as fierce a hitter as ever came down the road. He went on to a long and distinguished career with the Miami Dolphins.

*TAKEO SPIKES. He had it all--size, speed, toughness, intelligence, dedication. Spikes was and is the epitome of an outstanding linebacker. Like Craig, he was a leader with few equals.

*TRACY ROCKER. He was the most decorated defensive lineman in SEC history, a fierce competitor with uncanny quickness to go with great strength.

*RUDI JOHNSON. It would be hard to vote for him, since he played just one year, but he made as much difference to his team for one season as any Auburn player ever.

*JAMES BROOKS. He was a great running back on ordinary teams. He wasn't big, but he'd look to people up to run over. Carnell Williams has many of his qualities.

*WILLIAM ANDREWS. With Brooks and Joe Cribbs behind him, Andrews was used mostly as a blocker at Auburn. And he was a devastating one. Once he overcame the injuries that plagued him early in his career, he was as good an all-around player as anybody. He showed that later with the Atlanta Falcons.

Those are just a few that come to mind. I probably left somebody out who should have been there. If I were going to vote, which I'm not, who would I vote for? When all was said and done, I'd vote for Bo. But it wouldn't be an easy choice.

CRUCIAL GAME?

I don't buy all the talk that tonight game is some kind of "must win" for Auburn. Sure, it would be nice for Auburn players and coaches to go into the offseason with a win. It would make the fans feel better. But it won't have much anything to do with recruiting or with what happens next season.

Auburn already has gotten what mattered most out of this bowl game. I'm not sure I've ever seen more physical practices for a bowl, much less two-a-days. It was head coach Tommy Tuberville's response to the Tigers' fade at the end of the season.

If both teams were healthy, I would pick Auburn to win this game. But Auburn isn't healthy. The defensive line is so beat up that Kwesi Drake, a walk-on who has never played except on special teams, will be in the rotation. Tight end Robert Johnson is nowhere near full speed. Neither is linebacker Mark Brown. Cadillac Williams won't play. Wide receiver Deandre Green was left at home.

The truth is, an Auburn win under the circumstances would be quite an accomplishment. A loss would be a disappointment. Nothing more. Nothing less.

FOOTBALL SHORT SHOTS
Jeff Klein, a fourth-year junior quarterback who has played just one series this season, says he'll be back next season, that he has never quit on anything and won't start now...Look for Brandon Cox from Hewitt-Trussville High School to sign with Auburn and to go into next season as the No. 2 quarterback behind Jason Campbell...Their late-season swoon has probably left Auburn players looking at a very, very tough offseason program...Either Ben Nowland or Danny Lindsey will probably start at guard next season...Monreko Crittenden also could move from tackle to guard, a more natural position for him...Daniel Cobb,, who graduated earlier this month, will probably decide not to seek another year of eligibility and will go on with his life...Look for offensive tackle Kendall Simmons to be a first-round draft choice and for offensive guard Mike Pucillo and wide receiver Tim Carter to go in the early rounds.

HOOPS TALK

*It was good to see Abdou Diame decided not to leave the team after all. It'll probably be a while before he plays a significant role again, but he certainly has the talent to be an outstanding SEC player.

*Auburn's basketball team has made great strides since early in the season, when it struggled to beat the likes of High Point and McNeese State. The Tigers have a chance to be a force in the SEC West, but they need to shoot better from the field than they have of late and better from the free throw line than they have all season. In a 64-55 victory over Southern Mississippi, they shot 33.3 percent from the field and made 19 of 30 free throws. A similar performance Saturday against Arkansas won't get it done.

*Marquis Daniels, who has remarkably turned himself into a fine point guard, will face a major test against Arkansas' "40 minutes of hell" defense. The guess here is he'll be up to the task.

Until next time...


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