By Jeff Shearer
NEW ORLEANS - While rain soaked the streets of the French Quarter, stories from Auburn’s five previous Sugar Bowl teams flowed freely Sunday at a reunion party.
“It’s fun, especially on New Year’s Day and a big bowl game coming up,” said Carlos Rogers, the 2004 Jim Thorpe Award winner. “You see a lot of faces that you haven’t seen, to be here at this gathering, to see everybody, to talk about some old times, it’s wonderful.”
Auburn’s appearance in the 2005 Sugar Bowl was Rogers’ first trip to New Orleans.
“Being down here, seeing a lot of things, being on Bourbon Street, everything that the Sugar Bowl put together for us as a team,” he said. “And then to come out there and win on top of that was big.”
Auburn’s 2004 SEC championship team capped a perfect season by beating Virginia Tech 16-13.
“Virginia Tech had a lot of guys who were talking, especially their defense wanted to shut down our offense,” Rogers remembered. “We knew it was going to be a really good game. I liked the total battle of it. I remember a big hit I had on the quarterback, and they made a picture of it. I remember a lot of things about that game.”
Thirty-three years before Rogers and the Hard-Fighting Soldiers, as the 2004 team is known in Auburn lore, became the Tigers’ most recent Sugar Bowl team, the 1971 team was the first.
“Tremendous memories, especially for Auburn to bring us back here and to recognize us,” said Bill Newton, a linebacker on the ’71 team. “I was young, ambitious, trying to improve, to make things happen. The experience that we had and the meaning that it’s had in my life has been tremendous.”
The following season, Newton made an indelible mark on Auburn football history, blocking two punts in the Iron Bowl that David Langer returned for touchdowns in a 17-16 win.
“What occurred with the building of this team started right after the Sugar Bowl in ’71,” Newton said. “The winter workouts that we went through, it made the team in ’72. In the Alabama game, there were 10 others guys out there who gave their blood, and I love every one of them. We’re still as close as we can be.”
The 1972 Sugar Bowl is the only previous meeting between Auburn and Oklahoma. The Tigers and Sooners will meet for the second time Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
“We rode on Pat Sullivan’s shoulders all the way down here,” said Terry Henley, a running back on Auburn’s 1972 Sugar Bowl team, which lost 40-22 to the Sooners. “Oklahoma was such a good football team. It’s always great to get together with former Auburn Tigers. We’re very fortunate to be here, and very happy to be here.”
While Henley reminisced, fellow members of “Running Back U” – 2005 Sugar Bowl teammates Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams - visited during a two-hour Tiger Talk program.
“It just gives you a cold chill because I saw Carnell in the 9th grade play against Oxford High School,” Henley said. “I knew right then what a special player he was going to be. I’m always quick to recognize a great talent. And buddy, we’ve had some great running backs, and none better than Bo Jackson.”
One of Jackson’s offensive linemen on Auburn’s first Sugar Bowl winner, in 1984, was Auburn Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs, who hosted Sunday’s reunion. Members of Auburn’s 1988 and 1989 Sugar Bowl teams also enjoyed swapping stories from their playing days.
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer