Each Friday during the 2017 football season, AuburnTigers.com will feature a column from Auburn historian and Athletic Director Emeritus David Housel to commemorate the 125 year history of Auburn football. We hope you enjoy!
By David Housel
In a matter of hours now Auburn's 125th football team will board four charter busses, travel to the Columbus airport; fly to Greenville, S.C. where they will stay in the finest hotel available in preparation for Saturday night's game against Clemson.
It wasn't always this easy. Or as elegant.
Through the years, "Down Through the Years" as Coach Jordan would say, Auburn teams have traveled in planes, trains, automobiles, busses, trolleys, and, once, on a boat.
The team traveled by train in the early years. The first trip, the first team travel so to speak, was to Atlanta for the first game against Georgia in 1892. Fans could buy tickets on that first train trip, and one group, something called the Starke's School in Montgomery reserved an entire train car. Players and fans together rode trolleys to Piedmont Park where the game would be played.
Trains were the predominant means of travel until the late fifties. Busses were used on occasions for short trips such as Columbus for the Georgia game and Montgomery where Auburn played a myriad of teams until Auburn Stadium, later to become Cliff Hare Stadium, could be enlarged to sufficient size to merit playing "home" games at home.
In those days Auburn could make more money playing at neutral sites and paying stadium rental than by playing at home. There simply weren't enough seats to justify playing in Auburn until the mid-fifties.
For trips to Birmingham, the team would gather in Opelika, bussing there in later years when busses became more readily available, board a regularly scheduled train direct to Birmingham the day of the game, arriving at Terminal Station several hours before kickoff.
After the game at Fair Park, Rickwood Field or, later, Legion Field, the team would bus back to Terminal Station, wait on the train, go back to Opelika, then on to Auburn. Things were a lot simpler in those days.
For games in Atlanta against Georgia Tech, the team would leave from the train station in Auburn, now a restaurant. The local departure led to some tremendous sendoffs and spirited "Meet-The-Train" celebrations when the team returned victorious.
There was never a bigger victory celebration than on Oct. 15, 1955 when Auburn returned home after beating Georgia Tech for the first time in 15 years. Almost the entire population of Auburn came out to meet the train that night. Classic pictures, still available, record the moment and the exultation for posterity. These great train station welcome home celebrations were forerunners to today's Toomer's Corner celebrations.
For cross country trips in the thirties, special designated cars would be unhooked and left on the side track to allow the team to practice. Players on the 1936 team remember practicing in the desert on the way to San Francisco to play Santa Clara and stopping on the way back to practice in the desert for the upcoming game with Georgia Tech. Auburn lost to Santa Clara 12-0, but beat Tech 14-12. The game, as always in those days, was at Grant Field in Atlanta, necessitating yet another train trip.
Auburn once carried its own water car filled with good Alabama water on a trip to Texas. On a previous trip to Lone Star state, Auburn lost and the coaches felt drinking Texas water might have been part of the problem. It wasn't. Auburn lost again.
The 1936 team also made Auburn's first and probably only boat trip, to the Bacardi Bowl in Havana Cuba. Practice was held on deck while the ship plowed through the Gulf of Mexico.
The first plane trip, according to Bill Beckwith, was made in 1952 to Memphis for the Ole Miss game. Two flights were necessary because a plane large enough to carry the entire team was not available. Part of the team went up on the first flight, the plane returned, picked up the remaining party, and then flew back to Memphis. The same process was used on the return.
Allowing players to travel individually to bowl games was virtually unheard of until Pat Dye did it in 1984 for the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Dye allowed players to drive their own cars because new NCAA rules now permitted players to be reimbursed for travel expenses to and from the bowl site. Each player received a mileage allowance. If they carpooled, which most players did, they would have more money to spend on the bowl trip.
To put all of this in perspective, Auburn's share of the train cost for that first game in Atlanta in 1892 was $175. Today an average plane trip for an SEC game costs more than $100,000. Planes, trains, automobiles, even busses, trolleys and boats get more and more expensive every year.
But this is how the Tigers have prowled for 125 years.