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HAMMOCK: Thankful for Auburn-UGA football rivalry's rescue

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Nov. 12, 1983 is just another random day to most. To me, it's one of those days I'll never forget.

It was still four days before my 10th birthday, but I proudly wore my early gift, a fleece grey Auburn jacket with navy blue satin sleeves. It would be fairly tacky these days. Or a throwback.

I threw that jacket on, and my navy Auburn hat with a single A (just like Pat Dye wore that season), and went with my father, aunt and uncle to Athens for the Tigers' football game at Georgia. The Tigers were ranked third nationally and the unbeaten Bulldogs were fourth.

Auburn clinched the SEC title and a Sugar Bowl berth that day --allowing me to wear a "Dawg Meat is Sugar Sweet" sweatshirt shortly after --with a 13-7 victory. Though Al Del Greco missed three field goals, Auburn's defense keyed a 13-0 halftime lead and allowed just a late touchdown. My two favorite players were two of the game's biggest stars, Lionel "Little Train" James scored the game's only TD and Bo Jackson rushed for 100-plus yards.

From that point, I became forever connected to what's known as the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.

I have attended every Auburn-Georgia football game since 1983 --this year will hopefully be my 30th straight in the series -- with plenty hanging in the balance most years. Growing up in Georgia, bragging rights in that series meant more to me that beating Alabama.

Like many other college football fans, the SEC's expansion to 14 teams and this week's discussions of possibly losing the Auburn-Georgia rivalry had me worried. Would my streak end? Would the league end a series that began in 1892 and has been played every since 1898 except for World War I and II breaks?

Fortunately, good news came Friday from the SEC meetings in Destin, Fla. The schedule for 2013 and beyond will feature a 6-1-1 format --six games vs. division teams, one permanent crossover game (UGA-Auburn) and one crossover game that rotates. At least for the near future, the two teams can continue a competitive series with Auburn holding a slight 54-53-8 edge all-time.

I also can keep adding to great memories like these:

--Brandon Cox hitting Devin Aromashodu with a 62-yard pass on a late fourth-and-10 in Athens back in 2005, setting up a short game-winning field goal.

-- Georgia native Ben Leard throwing for three TDs, including 59- and 78-yarders to Ronney Daniels, in 1999 as Auburn jumped up 31-0 at halftime and 38-0 early in the third quarter. I've never seen Sanford Stadium so vacant and quiet during a UGA game.

--Rather than throw the ball and run multiple plays in the 2001 game, UGA chooses a running play on first-and-goal from the Auburn 1 with 16 seconds left. Jasper Sanks is stuffed and time expires for a 24-17 Tigers win.

--Fresh off whipping Florida and stopping a seven-game winning streak by the Gators in that series, UGA lost 45-34 in 1997 to an Auburn offense triggered by quarterback Dameyune Craig.

But I'll also have painful memories like these:

--My friend David Greene of South Gwinnett throwing a 19-yard TD pass to Michael Johnson on fourth-and-15 in 2002. The score with 1:25 left sent UGA to a 24-21 and eventually its first SEC title since 1982.

--Brandon Cox, the hero of Auburn's 2005 win, throwing eight interceptions in 2006 and 2007 losses to UGA.

--The Tigers' four-overtime loss in 1996, a 56-49 setback that saw Auburn blow a 21-point lead and allow a game-tying Hail Mary TD from Mike Bobo to Corey Allen on the last play of regulation.

-- Sitting in the end zone in 1992 as Auburn failed multiple times in the closing seconds near the Georgia goal line, then watching UGA head coach Ray Goff run onto the field and tell his players to lie down so time would expire before Auburn ran another play.

For better or worse, I'm just glad this rivalry survived. It means a lot to me for a number of reasons, including its proximity to my birthday. Over the last 29 years, it's never been played more than six days away from my B-day, though I figured out that Auburn has lost the last three times on my actual birthday. Its last victory on Nov. 16 came in 1985.

But I'm hoping for another happy moment this year since the game is on Nov. 10. I plan to be there again --minus the tacky jacket.

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His regular column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock. For Hammock's blog, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willsworld.

Comments

Michael Buckelew 2 years, 1 month ago

It's almost always one of the best games of the season. This rivalry, Auburn-Alabama, Alabama-Tennessee and Georgia-Florida are pretty much THE old-school rivalries in the conference. If you take away games like that because you want to add new teams, then you have done a disservice to the conference.

I've been on both sides of the rivalry and love the history of both. We're also lucky to see so many players from the area go to both schools and do well. One of those special moments was after the 2002 game I ran into Jon Stinchcomb's mother, who was my English teacher in middle school. She was so happy for her "baby," who had recovered a fumble in the end zone for UGA that day.

Why there was even a hint of doubt about this game continuing kind of amazes me. If the people who run the SEC can't understand basics like that, they should probably search for new jobs.

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