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'We still have that bond' - 1987 SEC champion Auburn Tigers
Auburn honored the 1987 SEC championship team during Homecoming. Photo: Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics
Sept. 21, 2017

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala. - Overlooking the field on which they created so many memories -- the field named after their head coach -- the 1987 Auburn Tigers reminisced, 30 years after their SEC championship season.

"It was a special year and a special group of guys," said Pat Dye, who coached Auburn from 1981-92. "We weren't fancy."

What they lacked in sizzle, the 1987 Tigers made up for with steak, a defense that gave up more than 20 points only once, in the season's only loss to Florida State.

"Back then, we were playing defense the way you're supposed to play it," Dye said during a team reunion on Homecoming weekend, no doubt pleased with the way Auburn's 2017 defense carries on that tradition.

Defensive lineman Benji Roland played a key role on an Auburn team that went undefeated in SEC play, including a tie at Tennessee, finishing 9-1-2, ranked No. 7.

"You build on the foundation that was laid before you, and that starts with Coach Pat Dye," Roland said. "Coach Dye always stressed, 'If you keep it close in the fourth quarter, we will win the ballgame.'"

Jeff Burger quarterbacked the '87 Tigers, with 1971 Heisman winner Pat Sullivan coaching him and calling plays, sharing offensive coordinator duties.

"When [Coach Sullivan] stepped in the huddle, it was special," Burger said. "He taught me so much, and it wasn't about the X's and O's, but it was about how to be a teammate, how to be a winner, how to be a leader, how to be confident.

"I felt like really all I ever needed was somebody to believe in me, and I felt like I could play at a high level, but I had to have somebody to believe in me, and he did that for me."

Burger's top target in '87, Lawyer Tillman, averaged 18.8 yards on 32 receptions, scoring six touchdowns.

"It was a spectacular year," Tillman said. "Hard-working guys who stuck together."

Tillman gave his grandson one of his championship rings. Auburn won three straight conference titles from 1987-89.

"Just being a part of three SEC championships, under the leadership of Coach Dye, it's been a big ride," Tillman said.

1987 Team Reunion

Auburn concluded the 1987 regular season with a 10-0 shutout at Legion Field, the second of four straight Iron Bowl wins, completing an SEC season sweep over Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Amen Corner, as Dye called it.

"Every year we won those three games, we won the conference championship," Dye said. "What better way to finish the season than playing Georgia, Florida and Alabama. We looked forward to it every year and it was a motivating factor for our coaches and players to get better throughout the season."

"That was just outstanding," said linebacker Craig Ogletree. "Any time you can shut out a team like Alabama, your biggest rival, it means a lot to the program. We always understood the impact and the dynamics of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. And we worked for it. It was instilled in us year-round."

Blakeney, Auburn's receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator in '87, knew the importance of the rivalry, having played at Auburn and grown up in Gordo, 22 miles from Tuscaloosa.

"Every day of your Auburn career, you think about beating Alabama," Blakeney said. "You think about what it means to beat Alabama."

To record a shutout, Roland says, made the win that much sweeter.

"Any time you can shut out a quality Alabama team or your arch-rival, it's huge for your career and your school," Roland said.

After passing around the microphone and reliving the glory days on a Friday night reunion at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the 1987 Tigers received a sustained ovation the next day when they were introduced before Auburn's Homecoming game.

"Guys that you played with and bled with and cried with, it's a special time to come back and it really does mean family to all of us," Roland said.

"The relationships that came out of that time are invaluable," Burger said. "We still have that bond. We know what we went through together. That's part of who we are today is that experience that we had here at Auburn."

"It was a special group of men who came through here in the '80s, I can promise you," Dye said. "And they provided a lot of fun for the students and fans, people. We had a few heartaches along the way. They were easy to love."

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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