November 9, 1963 was a blustery, overcast day in Jackson, Mississippi. There was also occasional misty rain. But it wasn’t particularly cold.
My parents found a local downtown restaurant where we could step in, out of the weather, and get a warm beverage. Coffee for them and hot chocolate for me. Or was it a Coke? I don’t clearly recall that bit of minutia.
One thing that I do remember was peering at the front page of that day’s Jackson Clarion-Ledger newspaper and seeing a cartoon of a Bulldog cutting a rope, on which walked a Tiger, with a pair of large scissors. Under the rope was the caption “7-0 winning streak.”
The Bulldog in the cartoon represented Mississippi State and the Tiger was one of the Auburn ilk.
The ’63 edition of The Auburn Tigers was indeed riding a seven-game winning streak and were ranked No. 5 in the nation. The Maroons, as State was still referred to in many circles, were unranked.
The cartoon aroused in me a huff of righteous indignation. How dare they think they can beat us?
At this point in my young life I had attended a total of four Auburn football games. I’m 4-0! Yes, how dare the idiots at the Clarion-Ledger insinuate a win by the lowly Bulldogs over the mighty, undefeated Tigers?!
Auburn led State at the half, 10-3, on the strength of a zig-zagging 47-yard run by All-American quarterback Jimmy Sidle and a 30-yard field goal by Woody Woodall. Mississippi State’s Justin Canale tallied its only score with a 35-yard three-pointer.
The home team tied the game in the third quarter as quarterback Sonny Fisher hit halfback Ode Burrell on a 22-yard pass play.
The game rocked on as a tough defensive battle deep into the fourth stanza. I wasn’t worried in the least. Jimmy Sidle or Tucker Frederickson or somebody would step up and do something to pull out the Tigers’ eighth win in a row.
Then it became eerily late in the ballgame. My concern was not that my precious Auburn would lose. My concern was that I better haul fanny down to the playing field to secure a chin strap.
I took off from my perch in the east stands, out the portal, and broke into a dead sprint around the concourse of the north end zone.
Run, Bird, run!
I made my way to a portal on the west side that I approximated to empty into a view of the fifty-yard line.There I stopped in the opening to catch my breath and check on the action below. Holy cow! The clock had been working quite erratically all game long, but now the sporadically lit bulbs seemed to indicate that there were maybe 28 seconds left.
Oh my! And Mississippi State had called a timeout with the football spotted at Auburn’s 29-yard line!
Justin Canale and the Bulldog kicking team trotted calmly on to the slightly muddy turf to attempt what could be the game-winning field goal.
I held my breath.
The snap. The hold. The kick.
The end over end kick split the south end zone uprights perfectly. And I thought to myself, this can’t be. Auburn cannot lose a game which I attend. It wouldn’t be fair.
A last ditch effort to complete two or three passes failed and it did, indeed, happen.
Home 13, Visitors 10. The old weather-beaten clock showed zero seconds remaining.
I dutifully made my way down the stairs and through the gate to Auburn’s bench area. I was actually happy to be there but the somber looks on the faces of the Tiger players told the story. We lost. No undefeated season.
The reality was harsh but I did have to secure my souvenir. I saw number 15, backup Auburn quarterback Mailon Kent, walking toward the bench to pick up his helmet. He did so as I arrived there at about the same time he did. I meekly asked, “Mailon, can I have your chin strap?”
I thought I saw the corners of his mouth bend just a wee bit upward as he unsnapped the white foam rubber equipment piece from his head gear and handed it gently to me.
I thanked him and broke into another run. This time down the Auburn sideline, back toward the north end zone, around it, and up to the row where my parents stood patiently. But I was beaming from ear to ear.
Yes, Auburn lost. But it was their only regular season loss of that wonderful, memorable season.
Auburn won its final two games over Georgia and Alabama to go 9-1. The victory over Alabama broke a four-year losing streak to the Crimson Tide. And it wasn’t just an old losing streak. Auburn did not score at all during that drought.
Quarterback Jimmy Sidle went on to rush for 1,006 yards and set the single-season rushing record for Auburn. The Tigers played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
Oh! The 10-8 win over Bama? Sidle was hurt in that game and the second string quarterback, Mailon Kent, filled in late and threw a short touchdown pass to Tucker Frederickson to erase an 8-3 Alabama lead and give Auburn the victory. It was fitting and I, in some small, small way, felt a part of it.
The loss to Mississippi State was painful, and it remains so to this day. But an unusually short sixth grader from Camden, in Lower Alabama, most assuredly grew as a person during that special season of 1963.
This 64-year-old kid is looking forward, with the same eager and wide-eyed anticipation, to the Mississippi State game tomorrow as that 11-year-old did back then.
The game is no longer played in Jackson. State home games were moved to Starkville in 1982.
Yes, the venue has changed and one more important thing will be different from that November day in 1963.