Phillip Marshall: 37 Years of Sports Memories

The idea came to me watching an ESPN promotion asking viewers to vote on the biggest moments over the past 30 years. I started thinking about the biggest moments I had witnessed in more than 37 years writing sports in this state.

I can't imagine a better time to have written about sports in this state than the time has been my privilege to do it. What follows are some--not nearly all--of the more memorable moments I have witnessed:


1. Learning the hard way. On my first day on the job as a totally unqualified and unprepared sports writer for The Huntsville News, sports editor Sam Ezell instructed me to go to Huntsville High School and get the starting lineup for the upcoming game. As I stood by the practice field, a manager ran to me. "Coach Owen said for you to get you're a-- out of here," he said. I told him who I was and he ran back to head coach Tom Owen, then back to me. "Coach Owen said he doesn't give a damn who you are, to get your a— out of here," the manager said. I left. Owen, one of the best coaches ever in Alabama high school football, became good friends and laughed about that day many times.

2. Run for history. Connie Frederick's 82-yard run on a fake punt in Auburn's 49-26 victory ended five years of Alabama domination. Frederick would say later that he ran beside Alabama players who were sprinting downfield to block for a return and didn't even know he was there.


1. A memorable comeback. Auburn rallied from from a 17-0 first-half deficit to beat Alabama 33-28. So decimated was Auburn by injuries that tight end Ronnie Ross and defensive back James Owens, who would later become a great fullback, started at linebacker. Ross intercepted a Scott Hunter pass that turned the game in Auburn's favor.

2. USC makes a point. Sam "Bam" Cunningham ran over, around and through Alabama to lead Southern California to a 42-21 victory at Legion Field. It is widely believed that Cunningham's big day led to the breaking of the color barrier in southern college football. That's a myth. It was already happening.


1. Unveiling the bone. Alabama, a heavy underdog after two six-win seasons, went to play Southern Cal as a heavy underdog but won 17-10. It was the day the Tide unveiled its version of the wishbone. The new offense had been secretly installed during preseason practice. Can you imagine being able to keep something like that secret these days?

2. Big day in Athens. Auburn defeated Georgia 35-20 victory at Sanford Stadiuma in what was, at the time, the latest in the season two SEC teams had ever matched perfect records. Pat Sullivan threw four touchdown passes and locked up the Heisman Trophy, but what I remember most is the electricity at Sanford Stadium.


1. Instant Replay. Bill Newton blocked two punts, David Langner ran them in for touchdowns and Auburn won 17-16 in a game that will always occupy a special place in Auburn's football history.

2. Dye's wisdom. When Alabama scored late to make the score 10-9 at Tennessee, Coach Paul Bryant was ready to go for two. Pat Dye, who coached linebackers, talked him out of it. Tennessee quarterback Condredge Holloway fumbled a couple of plays later and Alabama drove quickly to the winning touchdown.


1. A championship victory. Notre Dame claimed the national championship with a 24-23 victory in the Sugar Bowl in one of the great games I ever witnessed. Birmingham Post-Herald sports writer Herby Kirby, a friend and colleague, suffered a stroke and died in the press box.

2. Rainy day in Knoxville. Tennessee beat Auburn 21-0 at Neyland Stadium. It was raining so hard in the second half that Tennessee was punting on first down. Auburn players and coaches didn't appreciate it it and would not forget it.


1. Sweet redemption. Auburn defeated Tennessee 21-0 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It was a dominating performance from start to finish. Auburn players begged head coach Shug Jordan to punt on first down in the fourth quarter, but he would have none of it.

2. Dehorning the Horns. Auburn crushed Texas 24-3 in the Gator Bowl. The Longhorns were supremely confident, but had it not been for four Auburn turnovers inside the Texas 20, the Tigers would have scored in the 50s.


1. Jordan's retirement. Jordan announced in April that he would retire at the end of the season. It was announced the same day that offensive coordinator Doug Barfield would be his successor. Sadly, the cupboard was almost bare and Jordan suffered through a 3-6-2 season.

2. Bad starts. The first week of football season. Auburn and Alabama were both ranked in the Top 10 in the preseason polls, but Alabama lost its opener to Missouri and Auburn lost its opener to Memphis. Alabama recovered. Auburn didn't.


1. Happy day. Teresa and I were married on July 1 at Liberty Hill Baptist Church near Clanton.

2. Bone-chilling cold. Alabama's rout of UCLA in the Liberty Bowl. It's not the game I remember. It was the coldest I have ever been at a football game.


1. A study in courage. Wendy Stoeker was a diver from the University of Florida who came to compete at Point Mallard in my first year as sports editor of The Decatur Daily. I watched her do a variety of dives from the highest tower and slice into the water. Wendy was born with no arms. She brushed her hair, even drove a car with her feet. She remains one of the more memorable people I've ever met.

2. Hammering the Buckeyes. No. 2-ranked Alabama pounded Ohio State 35-6 in the Sugar Bowl. It should have been enough for a national championship, but No. 5 Notre Dame beat No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl and jumped all the way to No. 1. Six years later, Auburn would be jilted in the same way.


1. A baby girl. Christine Teresa Marshall is born on April 17 at Decatur General Hospital.

2. The goal-line stand. Alabama's dramatic stand against Penn State in the Sugar Bowl that decided the national championship is as special to Alabama fans as the aforementioned blocked punts are to Auburn fans.


1. A competitive Iron Bowl. It was the first really competitive Iron Bowl since 1974, but Alabama beat Auburn for the seventh straight time. Auburn took an 18-17 lead in the fourth quarter, but Alabama drove 80 yards for a 25-17 lead. James Brooks returned the ensuing kickoff deep into Alabama territory, but Auburn didn't cash in and Alabama survived a scare.

2. SEC Tournament. The first modern-day SEC basketball tournament. On the same night, Auburn won a four-overtime thriller from Georgia and Alabama lost an 81-80 classic to Kentucky.


1. Another Marshall. Bennett Davis Marshall II was born at Decatur General Hospital on July 17.

2. Death of a legend. On the same day my son was born, Coach Ralph Jordan died after a long battle with leukemia.

3. The end of the line. Doug Barfield, a good and decent man and a fine football coach, lost a job he never really had a chance to keep. I'll always wonder what he might have done had Auburn people been united behind him.

4. An epic blowout. The largest crowd in Auburn history was on hand for Tennessee's visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium. In a stunning turn of events, Tennessee won 42-0. What made it more amazing was that Tennessee wasn't a particularly good team. Both the Vols and the Tigers finished the season 5-6.


1. The record-breaker. After a season-long media frenzy, Bryant became the all-time winningest coach with a 28-17 victory over Auburn. I was honored to be asked to write the main Bryant story for the game program.

2. A new era at Auburn. Pat Dye was named Auburn's head coach in early January. It was obvious from the start that this guy would get it done and would get it done quickly.


1. A legend steps down. While many of us were in Orlando to cover Auburn's game against Boston College in the Tangerine Bowl, Bryant announced he would retire after Alabama's game against Illinois in the Liberty Bowl.

2. Fabulous freshmen. Two of the most remarkable athletes in Auburn history began their career--Charles Barkley on the basketball court and Bo Jackson on the football field.


1. A state mourns. Bryant died just four weeks after his last game. The drive from Tuscaloosa, where his funeral was held, to Birmingham, where he was buried, was one of the more amazing sights I have seen. Every interstate overpass was crowded with people holding signs.

2. A champion at Auburn. In his third Auburn season, Dye won an SEC championship. He should have won more than that. Auburn went into the Sugar Bowl ranked No. 3. No. 1 Nebraska and No. 2 Texas lost. Auburn beat Michigan 9-7, but Miami jumped to No. 1 after beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. It was an injustice that still angers those who were part of that team to this day.

Pat Dye led the Tigers to four SEC titles in the 1980s.


1. Major upset. Auburn, ranked No. 1 in the preseason, had been something of a disappointment with three losses. But Alabama had been a major disappointment, winning just four games. Auburn needed only a win over the Tide to go to the Sugar Bowl, but lost in a stunning 17-15 upset at Legion Field.

2. Sonny gets it done. Sonny Smith got Auburn into the NCAA basketball tournament for the first time in school history. Auburn lost in the first round to Richmond, but it would be the first of five straight trips to the big show.


1. A change of heart. Smith resigned late in a disappointing regular season, led Auburn to the SEC Tournament championship and to the Sweet 16 and decided to remain as Auburn's coach after all.

2. The kick. As fans at Legion Field watched in disbelief, Van Tiffin made a 52-yard field goal as time ran out to give Alabama a 25-23 victory over Auburn in maybe the most dramatic Iron Bowl ever played. Pat Washington, a quarterback who never got the credit he deserved, took Auburn on two 80-yard drives in the fourth quarter but had nothing to show for it. Jackson, who would win the Heisman Trophy weeks later, played with broken ribs and rushed for 140 yards.


1. Postseason magic. With Chuck Person, the best college basketball player I ever covered, leading the way, Auburn went all the way to the Elite Eight before losing to eventual national champion Louisville in a game that went to the wire. I will always believe that if the Tigers had pulled that one out, they would have won the national championship.

2. The comeback. Auburn, seemingly headed for a third straight loss to Alabama, rallied from a 17-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to win 21-17 when Lawyer Tillman took a reverse in for the winning touchdown. Tillman wasn't supposed to be in the game for that play and tried to call timeout but didn't get it.


1. Yet another Marshall. Jonathan Phillip Marshall was born on June 4 at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery.

2. A tie to remember. Dye settled for a field goal and a 16-16 tie in the Sugar Bowl, and Syracuse coach Dick McPherson pitched a memorable fit. At the urging of a radio station, Syracuse fans sent Dye hundreds of ugly ties. Dye had them made into a quilt and sold them for charity.


1. Another near miss. Auburn was good enough to win a national championship, but a 7-6 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge cost the Tigers a chance to play for it all against Notre Dame. It was perhaps the best team of the Dye era, led by one of the two best college defenses I ever saw.

2. Deion Sanders. During December, before Auburn played Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, I had a one-on-one interview in Tallahassee with Deion Sanders. When I asked him how he thought the game would turn out, he said "It's going to be close. I see a big play by Prime Time making the difference." With Auburn threatening to score the winning touchdown in the final seconds, Tillman appeared to break wide open. But Sanders recovered with remarkable speed and intercepted Reggie Slack's pass. He had proved to be a prophet.


1. Tide visits Auburn. When Alabama played at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time, the atmosphere was unlike any I have ever witnessed at a football game. Alabama was unbeaten and a slight favorite, but Auburn wasn't going to lose that game on that day.

2. Bad hop. Auburn's baseball team was on its way to Omaha. The Tigers, who had already beaten Clemson 14-7, led Florida State with one out in the ninth and a runner on first in Tallahassee. Second baseman Jeff Leatherman was in perfect position on a double-play groundball that would end the game and put Auburn in the championship game without a loss. At the last second, the ball bounced high in the air and over Leatherman's head. Florida State scored twice and won the game. The stunned Tigers had to play Clemson 30 minutes later were eliminated 11-1.


1. Heading down. Auburn's football team was ranked as high as No. 2, but this was the season that marked the beginning of an unhappy decline at the end of Pat Dye's career. The Tigers came from behind to tie Tennessee, came from behind to beat Louisiana Tech on a last-second field goal and won at Mississippi State only because of a blocked extra point. Florida, in Steve Spurrier's first season, ended the championship talk with a gruesome 48-7 rout in Gainesville.

2. Stallings arrives. Gene Stallings took over as Alabama's football coach and promptly lost his first three games. By season's end, though, he had signaled he would be a formidable force.


1. Ramsay saga begins. Reports surfaced about Eric Ramsay, his tape recorder and his accusations. No one knew at the time just how painful it would get for Auburn's football program.

2. Opposite directions. For the first time since 1981, Auburn didn't have a winning football season, going 5-5-1. Alabama was streaking toward a national championship and went 11-1.


1. Last stand. Auburn players walked onto the turf at Legion Field with helmets held high in silent salute to their coach, who had announced the night before that the Iron Bowl would be his last game as head coach. Alabama, overpowering on defense, won 17-0 after a scoreless first half.

2. The takeaway. It seemed as if Miami receiver Lamar Thomas was headed for a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl. Instead, Alabama defensive back George Teague caught him from behind and, shockingly, took the ball away from him. It was the most memorable play in the upset victory that earned Alabama the national championship.


1. A perfect season. Never has there been a more unlikely 11-0 run that Auburn's in 1993. Probation had hit earlier in the season. Terry Bowden was in his first season as head coach. Yet, that team just refused to lose.

2. Nix to Sanders. Fourth-and-15. Ball at the Alabama 35. Starting quarterback Stan White hurt on the previous play. Patrick Nix, off the bench cold, hit Frank Sanders for a touchdown pass that turned the Iron Bowl in Auburn's favor.


1. Interception Saturday. Auburn's 13-game winning streak appeared to be over. The Tigers' offense had been stymied. LSU led 23-9 in the fourth quarter and Auburn's only touchdown had come on Chris Shelling's fumble recovery in the end zone. Even after Ken Alvis and Fred Smith intercepted Jamie Howard passes and returned them for touchdowns, no one could imagine the scope of what was unfolding. Howard pulled himself together and drove his team to a field goal for a 26-23 lead. On third-and-eight in the final minutes LSU, for some reason, decided to throw again. Brian Robinson intercepted Howard's pass after it was tipped by Jason Miska and returned it for yet another touchdown. It still wasn't over. Robinson intercepted another Howard pass, and it seemed the game was over. But he fumbled when he was tackled and LSU got the ball and drove again. Shelling finally ended it for good with an interception in the end zone. It was the fifth interception in the fourth quarter alone. That game marked the beginning of the end for LSU head coach Curley Hallman.

2. Nix to Sanders again. Nix hit Sanders with the winning touchdown pass as Auburn stunned No. 1 Florida 36-33 in the Swamp.


1. Stymied star. Despite having perhaps the nation's top tailback in Stephen Davis, Bowden decided it was time for Auburn to go to a spread offense. It worked fine against overmatched teams, not so well against teams with equal talent. Auburn lost four games, including a blowout at the hands of Penn State in the Outback Bowl. Davis went on to become an NFL standout.

2. Changing times. Before the Outback Bowl, Bowden informed defensive coordinator Wayne Hall that he would not be retained. Tight ends coach Rodney Garner and defensive line coach Kurt Crain responded by resigning.


1. Overtime heartbreak. Auburn seemed on its way to a blowout victory over Georgia, leading 28-7. But the Bulldogs rallied. They scored on the final play of regulation and won 56-49 in four overtimes.

2. Oh Brother! Not long after the Outback Bowl, Bowden hired defensive coordinator Bill "Brother" Oliver from Alabama.


1. Ross comes through. David Ross was Auburn's starting catcher only because Casey Dunn was injured. Playing at Florida State's Dick Howser Stadium, within sight of the field where he played in high school, he hit a two-strike, two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Auburn a regional victory over Florida State. It was perhaps the single most dramatic moment I have ever witnessed in sports. Auburn went on to win the regional behind an overpowering pitching performance by Tim Hudson and went to the College World Series.

2. Dameyune's year. Auburn went 10-3 and lost by a single point to Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game. Overall, it was an average Auburn team. But quarterback Dameyune Craig, who might be the best to ever play the position at Auburn, made the difference.

3. Disaster averted. All Auburn had to do to get to the SEC Championship Game was beat a four-win Alabama team at home. But as time ran short, it didn't seem it was going to happen. Alabama had a 17-15 lead and the ball. Quarterback Freddie Kitchens threw a short pass to fullback Ed Scissum. Auburn safety Martavius Houston knocked the ball loose with a withering hit and Jared Holmes won it 18-17 with a field goal in the final seconds.


1. Bowden walks away. Told his job was in jeopardy, Bowden didn't wait. He walked out on his team and his coaching staff halfway through the season and was replaced on an interim basis by Oliver.

2. Tuberville arrives. Two days after Thanksgiving, Tommy Tuberville was named Auburn's head coach.


1. A champion at last. Auburn's basketball team, behind All-Americans Chris Porter and Doc Robinson, won an SEC championship for the first time since 1960. It was the most dominant Auburn basketball team ever and could easily have won a national championship.

2. Tuberville Era begins. Tuberville's Auburn career almost got off to a terrible start. Division I-AA Appalachian State gave the Tigers all they wanted before falling 22-15 in the season-opener.


1. Rudi on the run. Tailback Rudi Johnson arrived from junior college and, just like that, Auburn was a contender. The Tigers won the West Division, but they lost to Florida in an SEC Championship Game rematch.

2. A sad story. Porter's career came to a premature end after he took $2,500 from an agent. Auburn got back to the NCAA Tournament but lost in the second round to Iowa State.


1. Blowout at Jordan-Hare. Alabama seemed headed for a losing season in Dennis Franchione's first year. Auburn seemed headed for Atlanta. Alabama won 31-7 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game that stunned and angered Auburn people. Ironically, Alabama hasn't lost to Alabama since.

2. Ugly night in Baton Rouge. Auburn went to LSU the week after losing to Alabama to play a game that had been postponed because of the tragedy of Sept. 11. It was a bizarre night. LSU fans, still angry because Auburn players had smoked cigars after a 41-7 blowout in 1999, angrily taunted Tuberville and his players. Some Auburn players stomped on the LSU logo before the game. Kicker Damon Duval almost had a fight with a tuba player at halftime. LSU won the game and went on to the SEC Championship Game. Auburn's season ended in more disappointment.


1. Heartbreak at home. Auburn was on the verge of knocking Georgia out of the SEC championship and earning a sweet, sweet victory. But quarterback David Greene threw a 19-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-15 in the final minutes and Georgia escaped.

2. Big one at Bryant-Denny. Auburn was without its top two tailbacks and without its starting fullback. Alabama was a substantial favorite. But quarterback Jason Campbell threw two touchdown passes to right end Robert Johnson, freshman tailback Tre Smith had the game of his life and Auburn's defense was dominant. The Tigers won 17-7, avenging the embarrassment of a year earlier.


1. Jetgate. In a sad chapter of Auburn football history, president William Walker, athletic director David Housel and trustees Earlon McWhorter and Byron Franklin slipped away two days before the Iron Bowl to see if they could lure Bobby Petrino to replace Tuberville. Tuberville had been assured his job was safe. Petrino's bosses had not been contacted. Once the trip was exposed, angry Auburn fans rallied behind Tuberville.

2. Early magic. At the end of a disappointing season, with rumors swirling about Tuberville's future, tailback Carnell Williams ignited the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd when he raced 80 yards for a touchdown on the first place from scrimmage against Alabama.


1. A perfect season. Perhaps the greatest football team ever at Auburn went 13-0 and should have played for the national championship. That point was driven home in the spring of 2005 when four Auburn players were chosen in the first round of the NFL draft.

2. Campbell's redemption. Quarterback Jason Campbell, a great athlete and first-class person who was criticized and unfairly blamed for seemingly every loss during his first three seasons, proved himself to be among the best ever to play for the Tigers.


1. Coaching carousel. Basketball coach Cliff Ellis and baseball coach Steve Renfroe were fired. Women's basketball coach Joe Ciampi retired. Jeff Lebo, Tom Slater and Nell Fortner were hired. All three are still struggling to rebuild today.

2. Lightning in Athens. Facing fourth-and-long and trailing 30-28 late in the game, quarterback Brandon Cox hit wide receiver Devin Armashodu for a pass that carried inside the Georgia 2. John Vaughn made the winning kick and Auburn won 31-30.

Coach Tommy Tuberville


1. Winning the hard way. Auburn's football team seldom looked impressive, almost never dominating, but went 11-2 and beat Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl. It was, perhaps, the most unappreciated 11-team win ever.

2. Five straight. A wounded Auburn football team went to Tuscaloosa and did what it had to do to win 22-15 and earns its fifth straight victory over Alabama. It was the final straw for Mike Shula, who was soon fired as Alabama's coach.

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