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Auburn honors '89 SEC champs, recalls historic Iron Bowl
Sept. 25, 2014

AuburnIronBowl
In its signature moment, Auburn won the 1989 SEC title by beating Alabama in Jordan-Hare Stadium, thanks to stops like this from Craig Ogletree, left and Quentin Riggins


By Charles Goldberg
AuburnTigers.com
 
AUBURN, Ala. -- Rob Selby had gone through Tiger Walk, but nothing like this one, not like the emotional and crazy run-up to Alabama's first-ever visit to Auburn.
 
Dec. 2, 1989. Rod Selby, who grew up an Auburn fan before playing in the offensive line for the Tigers, remembers that pregame walk to Jordan-Hare Stadium.
 
"There were men and women crying," he said. "That could have been me standing there, pleading with somebody for payback. That was a real emotional time."
 
It was also, some would argue, the biggest day in Auburn football history. Alabama was in Auburn, and that was a big deal. And Auburn beat No. 2 Alabama 30-20 as the Tigers won their third consecutive Southeastern Conference championship. Perhaps 80, maybe more, former players, coaches and staff from that 1989 championship team will be honored before Saturday's homecoming game against Louisiana Tech. A one-hour autograph session with the players will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday in the baseball stadium parking lot.

The players willl also get together for a Friday night reunion hosted by the university.
 
"A lot of these guys will sit around telling these old war stories, how we made 100 tackles a game," said Quentin Riggins, a linebacker on that team. "I'm sure the big fish stories will come out two or three times."
 
The anniversary will be about Auburn, Riggins said, and coach Pat Dye.
 
"I think the most important thing is if you see a big number of guys, it will speak not only what they think about Auburn, but also their relationship with Coach Dye. I think he had an unbelievable impact on us," he said.
 
There may tell tall tales, but nothing will top Alabama's visit to Jordan-Hare on a day that Auburn won another SEC title.
 
"There was nothing they could do to stop us," Selby said.
 
This was Pat Dye's team. And Selby and Riggins and Reggie Slack and James Joseph and Shayne Wasden and Ed King and John Hudson and Craig Ogletree and David Rocker and John Wiley and Stacy Danley and Lectron Williams and Alexander Wright and scores more.  They finished with a 10-2 record.
 
"I really think when we played in the Outback Bowl we were probably as good as any team in the country," Dye said. "I think the bowl showed that. I knew Alabama was ranked No. 2 in the nation, but I knew we had a better football team. 
 
"The team just kind of came together. Injury-wise, we were fortunate. And we had a great quarterback in Reggie Slack, who had already won a conference championship. It was just a really good football team."
 
Auburn beat LSU, Florida, Georgia and then Ohio State in the bowl game. But the season will be remembered for Auburn insisting Alabama play in Jordan-Hare after playing the game forever in Birmingham. That Iron Bowl didn't need Internet stories or message boards for Twitter or Facebook to blow it out of proportion. Old-school everybody did that.
 
"Mercy. There never has been, and will never be, the build-up for a game or the atmosphere before the game like that one," Dye said. "There have been games just as important, like the one last year, but it wasn't like 1989.
 
"People were camped out for a week before the game even started. People were walking the streets, walking the campus. By game day, it was in a frenzy. What would you expect?"
 
Selby remembers, 25 years later.
 
"The two weeks leading up to the game was crazy," he said. "That's all the media wanted to talk about. We had twice the media we normally had. Everybody wanted an interview. It was on the front page of the newspapers. They were doing specials about it on TV. Everybody was calling you. I was getting fan mail. I was getting letters, personal pleas, 'You've got to do this for me.' It was nuts."
 
"That," Dye said, "was a big historical event. It was really more significant than the score of the ballgame, even though we had to beat Alabama to win the conference championship.
 
"The only thing that was pressure to me was to have our team ready to play. Getting beat wasn't a big deal if you played as well as you could play. I knew our football was going to be ready to play, and I really knew Friday they were going to be ready to play before the game."
 
Riggins was a senior that season. He had 23 tackles against Florida that season, too. Today, on Saturdays, he's the sideline reporter for the Auburn Radio Network. He remembers it all.
 
"It seems like yesterday when I was sitting on the training table waiting to get my ankles taped, ready to go to practice and trying figure how we're going to survive this next practice with Coach Dye," he said with a laugh.
 
Riggins said the defense returned only three starters for 1989. "The offense was our strength with Reggie Slack," he said.
 
But Auburn was the two-time defending conference champ and was looking for more. It started slowly, with losses to Tennessee and Florida State.
 
"We were not physical, and Coach Dye wanted a physical team, so we went back to work," Riggins said.
 
Auburn settled down, then things picked up in a most dramatic way when Slack threw a fourth-down 25-yard touchdown pass to Wasden with 26 seconds left to beat Florida 10-7 in the eighth game of the season.
 
Dye and former defensive coordinator Wayne Hall helped engineer the turnaround.
 
"When we were stumbling, Wayne Hall said, 'You're supposed to be the best, so don't disappoint.' I'll never forget it that line," Riggins said. "I think that embodied the '89 team. Winning three conference titles in a row was a big deal.
 
"Coach Dye did a great job of recruiting us. A lot of us weren't five-star, can't-miss players. He found different pieces that fit, and he made us a team."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter:

 

 

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