It was September and the excitement was building to a fever pitch in the state of Alabama. Auburn was coming off a 9-1 regular season record with a heartbreaking 13-7 loss to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl (AU’s last appearance in the game). Alabama finished 8-2 with a victory over Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. To make things even more exciting, the Tigers were picked by Sports Illustrated to be the number one team in the country.
Boys and girls, this was before any hint of a BCS, a College Football Playoff or anything resembling a way to come up with a “true” national champion.
Jimmy Sidle, Auburn’s All American quarterback, who set their single season rushing record with 1,006 yards in 1963, was back as was Tucker Frederickson and a host of other talented teammates. The stage was set for a monster season on the Plains.
The first game in 1964 was played on a muggy Saturday afternoon in Auburn. The University of Houston was the opening day opponent and the Cougars were a decided underdog. Auburn had traveled to Texas to defeat this team, 21-14, in it’s 1963 opener and fans were more than ready to “tee it up.”
The Tigers prevailed over the Cougars by a score of 30-0. It truly did appear that this team was capable of accomplishing very big things. An SEC Championship ? Maybe. A national championship ? Possibly. BUT Jimmy Sidle hurt his right shoulder and did not pass the ball well in the next game versus Tennessee, although he did run for 94 yards, and Auburn eked out a 3-0 conference win.
Next on the schedule was a night game at Stoll Field in Lexington, KY. Auburn lost three fumbles and, without Sidle being able to pass effectively, the Wildcats came away with a 20-0 victory over the Tigers. A once promising season was now beginning to take on a more somber tone and just when it didn’t seem that things could get much worse… they did. Sidle suffered a double shoulder separation in the next game against Chattanooga and the visions of grandeur, less than one month ago, were now becoming only shattered images of what might have been.
Auburn went on to stumble to a 6-4 record in 1964.
I attended my first Iron Bowl in ’64. It is now a bittersweet memory. The game was played on Thanksgiving Day and it was televised nationally. To say I was excited would be a gross understatement. The undefeated Crimson Tide were solid favorites but that did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm. We were on the way to visit my father’s family In Isabella, AL on Wednesday of that week en route to Birmingham. As we passed through Selma a short sports segment played on the AM radio of our 1963 Plymouth Fury. Frank Gifford was doing predictions and he informed us listeners that the undefeated Tide should have “no trouble” with “Ah-burn.” I was livid !
Alabama had a great deal of trouble with “Ah-burn” on that brilliant Saturday afternoon in the “Football Capital of the South.” My Tigers led the Tide 7-6 at halftime and our hopes were very high. Tom Bryan, the sophomore AU quarterback, was having a solid day and Tucker Frederickson was simply playing his heart out. But Ray Ogden ran the second half opening kickoff back 107 yards for a touchdown. Bama made the two-point conversion and we trailed 14-7. Later, in the fourth quarter, Joe Namath hit Ray Perkins on a 23-yard pass and Auburn lost a tough one 21-14.
It is hard to believe the 1964 college football season is now that far back in the rear view mirror. It does seem like just yesterday when a 12 year old kid from LA (Lower Alabama), who had earlier in the year contracted a permanent case of Beatlemania, experienced the heady highs and lasting lows of this great, great game we know as college football.
But hey ! Let’s do it once more with feeling !!!
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