The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry

 

 

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The schools stand about 170 miles apart.  Men have played at one school and coached at the other.  The first meeting between the two schools took place in 1892 and spawned a legend.  The schools have played every year since 1898 except for the war years of 1917, 1918, and 1943.  The series stands at 57-55-8.  The oldest rivalry in the Deep South belongs to the Auburn University Tigers and the University of Georgia Bulldogs.  Pat Dye played at Georgia and coached at Auburn.  He says this about the rivalry, “It’s a unique thing.  It’s like playing against your brother.  I don’t think anybody who plays in that game can ever forget it.  It just doesn’t matter much where it’s played or what somebody’s record is.  It’s so intense and tough, but at the same time, it’s family.”  Will Muschamp also played at and graduated from Georgia.  He became a graduate assistant at Auburn and earned his master’s degree in education from there.  He had two stints as Auburn’s defensive coordinator before becoming the head coach at the University of South Carolina last year.  Muschamp has great respect for both Georgia and Auburn, “Both programs, in my opinion, have cut their teeth on the same values.  The leadership in this program (Auburn) and at Georgia has been very similar.”

Dye used the term family to describe the series.  Certainly, several famous people can claim ties to both schools.  Georgia’s College Football Hall of Fame coach Vince Dooley played and graduated from Auburn before his illustrious career on the sidelines at Georgia.  Hall of Fame Auburn coach and graduate Ralph “Shug” Jordan was an assistant coach at Georgia and head coach of the men’s basketball team before returning to Auburn.  Current Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner coached at Georgia for 15 years while former Georgia defensive line coach Tracy Rocker was a two-time All-American at Auburn.  So maybe the rivalry can be compared to two very competitive brothers trying to one up the other.

Make no mistake though this rivalry is intense and as closely contested as the series record indicates.  Currently, Georgia leads the series and the margin of victory is as close as the series record.

The Bulldogs have scored an average of 16.6 points to Auburn’s 15.4.  The battles have been fought in Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, Columbus (from 1920 to 1928 and again from 1930 to 1958), and Montgomery.  The series began its campus to campus rotation between Athens and Auburn starting in 1959.  Auburn has a winning record in Athens, 18-13, while Georgia is 16-11-2 in Auburn.  Georgia has won 11 out of the last 15 games.  As one might imagine the rivalry has witnessed its share of magical moments.

The first game in the rivalry took place at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park where Auburn won 10-0.  It was that game that spawned the legend of the War Eagle.  As the legend goes, a former Confederate soldier and Auburn faculty member at the time, attended the game with his pet eagle that he found on a Civil War battlefield.  As the Auburn team was driving for the clinching score, the eagle escaped the hold of its owner and began to fly around the field.  The excited Auburn fans began yelling “War Eagle” as the team secured the victory.  As the game ended the exhausted eagle crashed to his death.  If nothing else, it makes for a great story!

Georgia won the national championship in 1942 behind its two legendary Hall of Fame running backs, Frank Sinkwich and Charlie Trippi.  The Bulldogs incurred one blemish on its record, a 27-13 loss to Auburn.  The Tigers came to Columbus with a 4-4-1 record and as heavy underdogs to the powerful Georgia team, but Auburn coach Jack Meagher developed an offensive and defensive plan that befuddled the Bulldogs.  For the first time all season, Auburn ran from the T-formation and amassed large chunks of yardage.  On defense, Auburn dropped its tackles while its ends rushed, thereby keeping Sinkwich and Trippi bottled up most of the day.

Georgia gained a measure of revenge in the 1959 game in Athens.  Bulldog quarterback Fran Tarkenton scored the winning touchdown after an Auburn fumble recovered by Pat Dye.  The 14-13 Georgia victory denied Auburn the Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship. Instead, the Bulldogs claimed the title at season’s end.

Georgia entered the 1986 game in Auburn as 10 and 1/2 point underdogs and was forced to use its backup quarterback, Wayne Johnson.  Two more victories and Auburn would win the SEC championship.  Behind Johnson, Georgia forged a 20-16 upset and again denied the Tigers a chance at a conference title.  If the game itself wasn’t memorable enough, certainly the aftermath on the field will never be forgotten.  Georgia fans stormed the field after the contest and some began to rip apart the turf.  After refusing to leave the field at the request of Auburn officials, fans were drenched with water from the field sprinkler system and fire hoses.

The first SEC game to go into overtime occurred in 1996 in Auburn.  Down 28-7 at the half, Georgia quarterback Mike Bobo rallied the Bulldogs to a 28-28 tie at the end of regulation.  Georgia won the game in four overtimes, 56-49.  Georgia fans refer to the game as the “Miracle on the Plains” and also remember the game for UGA V’s lunge at Auburn wide receiver Robert Baker as he was going out of bounds after a reception.

Finally, Jordan-Hare Stadium became the venue for another miracle in 2013.  After 50 minutes in the game, the Tigers had amassed 29 first downs and led 31-17, but Georgia rallied behind quarterback Aaron Murray to take a 38-37 lead with 1:49 left.  With 36 seconds remaining, Auburn faced fourth and 18 from its 26-yard line.  Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall threw the ball as far as he could downfield.  Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was in perfect position to intercept the pass but it bounced off his hands into the hands of Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis, who took the ball all the way to the end zone for a 43-38 lead.   With the seconds ticking away Murray led Georgia on a furious drive down the field, but to no avail, as the clock struck 00:00 for the Auburn win known to Auburn fans as the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare.”

Brotherly love takes on a whole different meaning when Auburn and Georgia wage war in Athens or Auburn every year in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Legends and miracles have been part of a series that offers further evidence as to why college football is unparalleled in the world of sports.

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