As the remarkable Auburn football season of 1972 unfolded, I was 22 years old, about the same age as many of the players making it happen. It was a fascinating time for a young man trying to find his way in the newspaper business.
I was in my second year as sports editor and sports staff at The Huntsville News, a small morning paper that no longer exists. I would cover a high school game on Friday, get the Saturday paper out and, with little or no sleep, hop in the car and go cover a college game on Saturday. I was young and loved every minute of it.
Along the way, I came to know many of the players on that Auburn team very well, mostly through linebacker Steve Wilson, a Huntsville native who is now a successful lawyer and a close friend still. It was Steve who called Saturday afternoon with the sad, sad news that David Langner had passed away a months-long battle with cancer.
David Langner is an Auburn legend, the man who picked up two punts blocked by Bill Newton and ran them in for touchdowns in a historic win over Alabama at Legion Field, where he'd once played for Woodlawn High School. He was a tough and fierce football player, a defensive back who wide receivers feared. He loved to mix it up on the field and sometimes off the field. But as time went by, David was proudest of being part of the team Birminghm News columnist Clyde Bolton dubbed "The Amazin's," a team that is still a team after more than 40 years.
Never doubt that David was was proud of those two touchdowns. In fact, he would tell you that there was a time when he was too proud. After Chris Davis ran 109 yards to beat Alabama last November, David cautioned him to handle it better than he had handled it.
The names of Bill Newton and David Langner are forever linked in Auburn football history. As long as the game is played, people will hear Gary Sanders' call of Auburn's 17-16 victory on Dec. 2, 1972. Newton and several other Auburn players of that era were competing in a golf tournament at the Auburn University Club on Saturday when they got the news.
"I've been feeling very sad about losing a teammate, a friend, part of a special group of guys," Newton said. "Only we understand just how close the players on that team still are. Everybody had their attributes. David had talent, but his best attributes were toughness and determnation. He was very cool under pressure."
The last time I saw David was at an Auburn scrimmage. Lettermen were invited to attend and turned out in force. He gave me a hug, as he always did, and told me he was going to be OK. But it was becoming obvious that this was a battle he could not win. He asked his teammates to join him at the Auburn home of his son, Brad. They told stories and laughed late into the night.
"I wonder now if that wasn't a farewell thing," Newton said.
Langer spent much of his adult life in the automobile business in Tuscaloosa, where a memorial service will be held Friday. He made friends everywhere he went - Auburn friends, Alabama friends, all kinds of friends. But always, Langer was fiercely loyal to his school and to his teammates.
Rusty Deen, a sophomore defensive end in 1972, quickly became impressed by the little guy with a big heart and angry disposition on the field.
"David had no off switch when he played," Deen said. "Off the field, he was as sweet a guy as you would ever find."
Lee Gross was a sophomore center, but he'd come across Langner as a high school player in the state playoffs.
"He was the most fierce competitor I ever played with," said Gross, who went to play in the NFL. "Bar none. He was absolutely driven to win in whatever he did."
The name David Langner will forever be part of Auburn football. But more than legendary figure in Auburn football, he was a father, a teammate and a friend. Those of us who knew him will miss him, but we'll always smile at the memories of a tough guy and a good man.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: