As I passed him in the hallway underneath the University of Phoenix Stadium last week, I gave Pat Dye a brief wave and he returned the gesture.
The former Auburn head football coach, moments after celebrating the Tigers’ BCS National Championship win over Oregon, had no idea who I was — not that I was surprised. A simple hello from a stranger didn’t mean much to him, but the encounter took me back to some great childhood memories.
It reminded me of my late grandfather, Fred Hammock, who regularly took me to Auburn football practices when I was a kid. There weren’t many other fans standing around with us, so I always assumed (but never asked) that our attendance was a perk for my grandfather being the city’s retired police chief. Folks around town always called him “Chief” for as long as I can remember.
I vividly recall standing on the sidelines one day and peering up at the tower in the middle of the fields, where Dye stood his watch. He glanced down and gave me a wink and a wave, a small act that makes quite the impression on a 9- or 10-year-old.
Dye’s tenure was a special time for Auburn football — he led the team to four SEC titles — and it eventually brought the “Pat Dye Field” name to Jordan-Hare Stadium. It also coincided with a pretty special run of athletic talent and I have a large stash of autographs to prove it.
One autograph search took me to the lobby of Sewell Hall, the athletes’ dorm. My grandfather and I saw a heavy-set guy sitting on the couch and assumed he was a football player, so I asked for his autograph. It turned out he was a freshman athlete, but not a football player. He politely signed and that’s how I got Charles Barkley’s autograph.
The mid- to late-1980s saw Barkley, a legendary NBA player, and Bo Jackson, my childhood hero and still the greatest athlete I’ve ever seen, on the Auburn campus at the same time. That’s without mentioning “The Big Hurt,” future Hall of Fame baseball player Frank Thomas, who also was a tight end briefly at Auburn.
Jackson was back on the Auburn sidelines as a guest frequently this season, including the BCS title game. To have him and Dye there made the national championship even more special for Auburn fans like me. Whether they realized it or not.
Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, visit www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.