Oct. 12, 2013
Shug Jordan coached Auburn to nine and the Orange Bowl in 1963.
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – Hal Herring wasn’t at the reception for the 1963 Auburn football on Friday night and he won’t be on the field when players and coaches are honored at Auburn’s homecoming game against Western Carolina today. He's at his Georgia home, nearing his 90th birthday.
But when the Boys of ’63 get together, Herring is always there in spirit. He was the defensive coordinator with the kind of remarkable record that would make him a rich man in today's game. An All-SEC Auburn center and linebacker and an NFL champion with the Cleveland Browns, Herring returned to join Shug Jordan’s staff in 1953. His defenses led the nation in 1957, 1959, 1960 and 1964. The 1957 national champions might have had the greatest defense in the history of the game. Auburn gave up four touchdowns, 28 points, that season. One of those touchdowns came on an interception return. The other three came against the second team.
The 1963 Tigers went 9-1 with a powerful running game led by quarterback Jimmy Sidle and halfback Tucker Frederickson. But mostly they relied on a rock-hard Herring-coached defense. In 13 seasons at Auburn, Herring’s defenses were never out of the top 10 nationally.
Bill Van Dyke, an undersized lineman who played both ways, remembered Joe Namath going 4-for-17 in Auburn’s 10-8 victory at Legion Field. He remembered Namath getting antsy in the pocket after he was hit over and over again.
That was Auburn football in those days. You might be fancier. You might be faster. But you would not be tougher.
Herring’s son Tim, an Auburn graduate and successful Atlanta lawyer, came to town to represent his father and his family. He’ll be on the field today.
There was never much doubt that Hal Herring would return to Auburn after his NFL career. Generations of Herring men always had raised their families and lived their lives in Auburn. Hal Herring and Virginia raised their two sons and three daughters in Auburn.
“He loved Auburn,” Tim Herring said. “He still does.”
Dozens of Auburn players gathered to reminisce and tell stories. More will arrive today. Most of them are in their 70s now, but the memories of a team that reached for greatness are still fresh.
Shug Jordan, another former Auburn center and the head coach who came home to win a national championship, died almost 33 years ago. His son Ralph Jr. was there. So was Mac Lorendo, who played on the 1972 Amazin’s. He was there for his father, too. Gene Lorendo was the hard-nosed offensive line coach.
Hal Herring, so tough and so demanding off the field, was a devoted father and husband and mentor off the field.
And then there were the players, the men who made it happen.
“Dad doesn’t think much of the way football is played today,” Tim Herring said with a laugh. “For him, football was man against man, who could who win head to head.”
Ralph Jordan Jr. was still in high school in 1963. His memory is of a team that would not give up the fight.
“I’ve gotten to know these guys over the years,” Jordan said. “They all have that blue-collar work ethic. I know that coaching staff put them through some tough days to get everything out of them they could. We didn’t have some of the advantages some other schools had, so you had to look harder and work harder and develop what you had.”
The 1963 team had some elite athletes, too. Sidle rushed for 1,006 yards and became the first quarterback to lead the nation in rushing. Frederickson was a hard-charging halfback with sprinter’s speed and a hard-hitting safety who could cover the fastest receiver. He would be the first player picked in the 1965 NFL draft. Mickey Sutton was a fast and athletic halfback. Jon Kilgore was one of the nation’s top punters and Woody Woodall was a top-notch kicker.
Linebacker Bill Cody, only a sophomore, was already showing the talent that would take him to a successful NFL career. Fullback Larry Rawson, his teammates will tell you, was a blocker as fierce as any you’ll see in 2013. Howard Simpson was a physical and athletic two-way end. Van Dyke and Steve Osburne were undersized but devastating blockers. Jack Thornton and John McAfee were dominating players up front.
The list could go on.
Yet, in 1963, Sidle was the only All-SEC selection on a team that lost only a 13-10 heartbreaker at Mississippi State en route to the Orange Bowl.
“I just remember the competitiveness and the toughness,” said Jordan, retired after a successful career as an environmental scientist for TVA. “A lot of these guys, probably no one would have thought they would become the players they did or even the citizens they’ve become or the great things they’ve accomplished.”
Mailon Kent was a fifth-year senior quarterback in 1963, a former starter who played sparingly as Sidle went on his All-American run. But in the biggest game of all, Kent came off the bench to complete a pass to set up a field goal and a pass to Frederickson for what proved to be the winning touchdown in Auburn’s victory over Alabama.
That victory broke a four-year drought in which the Tigers had failed to score a single point against Alabama.
“We hadn’t gotten together in a long time,” Kent said. “A lot of us stay in touch, but it was great to see everybody. We’ve looked forward to this.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: