Sep 7, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - A quarter of a century later, it still stings. On Oct. 8, 1988, Auburn's unbeaten football team, ranked No. 4 nationally, went to Baton Rouge to play LSU.
A dominant performance by one of the more dominant defenses in Auburn history had the Tigers clinging to a 6-0 lead in the fourth quarter. But LSU, converting three fourth downs, mounted its only drive of the day. Tommy Hodson's 12-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to Eddie Fuller gave the home team a 7-6 victory. It is a victory that is celebrated in Baton Rouge to this day.
Auburn romped through the rest of the regular season. A win at LSU would have meant a matchup with Notre Dame for the national championship.
The 1988 Tigers gave up more than 13 points in a game just once. They led the nation in every major defensive category. They won the second of three consecutive Southeastern Conference championships.
Friday night, players and coaches from that team got together at the letterman's lounge at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Tonight, they'll be honored at Auburn's game against Arkansas State.
Pat Dye, the coach who made Auburn a powerhouse in the 1980's, remembered how it was.
"This football team did everything I ever asked of them," Dye said. "I will go to my grave hurting from the LSU game. I felt like I could have made a difference. It didn't have anything to do with effort. It was us getting away from what we did.
"They weren't as good on defense as we were, but they were good. We threw it up and down the field, but we couldn't get it in the end zone. If we'd gone down there and played with our normal plan - run the football, play-action pass, pound the football, pound the football, play defense - we'd have had them whipped at the end of the game."
Freddy Weygand was a wide receiver in that game. He remembers drives that weren't finished, field goals that weren't made, penalties committed.
"What I will always remember is being on the 40 going in five or six times and getting six points," Weygand said. "You do that, and you are going to have a good chance of getting beat. You don't play in many where you feel like you won the game but you didn't. That was one."
Linebacker Smokey Hodge had a closeup view of the winning touchdown.
"I was the defender," Hodge said. "It was about an eighth of an inch from being an interception. Instead of going for the breakup, I went for the interception and missed it by half an inch. I think about that play all the time."
That it didn't happen, Dye said, takes nothing away from what the 1988 team accomplished. Neither did a 13-7 loss to No. 4 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
"That's for me to grieve over," Dye said. "They were a great bunch of kids. They never backed off. They worked hard."
Despite one disappointing night, Hodge and Weygand said memories of that season are special to this day.
Hodge played sparingly until 1988, when he became a ferocious force at middle linebacker.
"It was the best year of my life," said Hodge, who is in the construction business in Montgomery. "For me to go out there and start as a senior was an honor. Our goal was to not let anybody score. Coach Dye said if the offense could score three points we were supposed to win. That's what we believed."
Weygand had been a freshman star in 1984 but redshirted in 1986. By 1988, he had it figured out on the field and in the classroom. And it was, he said, the season of a lifetime.
"I think it was because it was my senior year," said Weygand, who lives in Opelika and works for Great Southern Wood. "I played a couple of years, redshirted, had some academic stuff and came back and really worked hard. By that time, I was really doing that and getting better every day.
"It was my most memorable and most satisfying season, for sure."
Joe Whitt had come from Montgomery's Robert E. Lee High School to join Dye's first staff in 1981. He never left. He was an assistant coach for 25 years and is now an assistant athletics director and fundraiser.
"We had talent, but the most important thing was the guys cared about each other," Whitt said. "They played together and played for each other. That was the epitome of a defensive football team believing in each other and playing for each other.
"It was a team that could have won it all. We just needed one stop in Death Valley."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: