Oct. 11, 2013
Quarterback Jimmy Sidle led the nation in rushing in 1963 with 1,006 yards
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - Tom Bryan was a freshman in the summer of 1963 when he saw Jimmy Sidle up close on the football field for the first time. He knew then he was seeing something special.
"Jimmy was one of the most talented athletes I've ever known," said Bryan, a State Farm Insurance agent in Opelika. "He could have played college baseball, college basketball or competed in track. He was good at pool, ping-pong, tennis, anything. No. 1, he was talented enough to do it. No. 2, he was extremely competitive."
Sidle went to Auburn from Birmingham's Banks High School as a renowned passer. But at Auburn, he top college football running back of his era. In 1963, he was an All-American. He ran for 1,006 yards, became the first quarterback to the nation in rushing and led the Tigers to a 9-1 record and No. 5 national ranking. He was the SEC Player of the Year.
Big and fast, Sidle would sweep to either side with halfback Tucker Frederickson or fullback Larry Rawson in front of him. He had the option to throw, but he usually ran. So far and so fast did he run that a painting of him was on the cover of Sports Illustrated's college football issue in 1964.
In the spring of 1964, Auburn coaches were determined to develop a passing game. They already had two of the best runners in the country in Sidle and Frederickson, who would go on to be the first player chosen in the NFL draft.
"That spring, he threw the ball as well as anybody I've ever been around," Bryan said.
It was in 1964 that Sidle's career took a downward turn. The Tigers picked by some to win the national championship. They beat Houston 30-0 in the opener, but Sidle suffered a shoulder injury that changed everything. He had a hole in the rotator cuff.
With Sidle no longer able to throw effectively, opposing defenses stacked the line of scrimmage. By the end of the season, Bryan and Joe Campbell, both sophomores, had taken over at quarterback and Sidle had moved to halfback. Despite having the nation's top defense, Auburn finished 6-4.
Sidle was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and by the New York Jets of the old American Football League. He eventually played in six games with the Atlanta Falcons as a running back and played two seasons as a tight end with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League.
Life was never easy for Sidle. His parents died when he was young. He was raised by his sister and by Shorty White, his brother-in-law and the Banks head coach. White later became an Alabama assistant.
For a time, Sidle was estranged from his alma mater. He was working on finishing his degree and asked Auburn coach Shug Jordan about being a student assistant. Jordan told him he needed to concentrate on his studies. Sidle was hurt. When White was hired at Alabama, Sidle helped him recruit for a time.
"The good thing is he came back," Bryan said. "Most folks accepted him back. It was almost like a prodigal son returning.
Sidle eventually went into the insurance business and died of recurring heart problems in 1999. He was 57.
The Tigers of 1963 will gather this weekend half a century after they defied expectations and made memories for a lifetime. They'll have reception tonight and will be introduced during Saturday's homecoming game against Western Carolina.
They will, no doubt, tell lots of stories about the quarterback who ran and ran and ran, right into the history books.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: