Oct. 26, 2013
Randy Campbell shares a laugh with a teammate at Friday night’s reunion of the 1983 SEC championship team (Laruen Barnard photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – The Auburn football team of 1983 made a statement that echoes still today. It said loudly and clearly that Auburn could win championships, could be among the nation’s elite.
When the Tigers of 1983 finished 11-1 in Pat Dye’s third season as head coach, beating Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, they did something only one team Auburn team before them had done. They won a Southeastern Conference championship. They also won, among others, The New York Times computer poll national championship.
Since that season, the Tigers have won five more SEC championships, had three perfect seasons and, in 2010, won the BCS national championship.
Randy Campbell, the wishbone quarterback who won 20 games in two seasons as Auburn’s starter, said it hit home after the Tigers beat Georgia 13-7 in Athens to lock up their first SEC championship since 1957. Their only loss was 20-7 to Texas in the second game of the season.
“I’d never met Pat Sullivan,” Campbell said. “I knew who he was, but I’d never met him. He was doing color for the radio. Pat told me after the game ‘Randy, I’m so proud of this team and somewhat envious, because my team never won an SEC championship.’ That was kind of a defining moment to say we really did something special.”
The 1983 Tigers gathered Friday to laugh and tell old stories. They laughed at old stories and talked about children and grandchildren. They’ll be honored on the field at tonight’s game against Florida Atlantic.
“I guess the things that mean the most to the fans are the games and the wins,” said Campbell, who owns Campbell Wealth Management in Birmingham. “Mainly what we talk about is how Coach Dye treated us all the same, like dogs. We talk about funny things that happened in practice and stuff like that.”
The togetherness they all felt in 1983 when they dealt with the tragedy of fullback Greg Pratt’s death and went to do great things, Campbell said, is still there today.
“Every single time I’m around this group of people, I feel more love than you could ever imagine,” Campbell said. “We went through so much together as a team, especially those of us who were here when Coach Dye first came in 1981. Everybody knows how hard our offseason program was and about that first spring, then having a little success and making a bowl game, then the next year having high expectations and having the tragedy of Greg dying. I just felt like our team was a very close group of people.”
David King, a junior cornerback in 1983, lives in Auburn and works as a manager at Kia plant in West Point, Ga. He chuckled as he looked around at his former teammates.
“This is great because this shows everyone where we started,” King said. “The funniest thing is we have gray hair. We’re grandparents. We have AARP cards.”
Dye, who notched SEC championships in 1983, 1987, 1988 and 1989, made an impassioned plea for the 1983 team to be recognized as a national champion beside the 1957 and 2010 teams.
“It was a team effort,” Dye said. “Everybody was important. If I didn’t make you know it then, I want you to know it today. I don’t care if it was the folks coming in cleaning out the trash cans or the secretaries or whoever was in that athletic building, every one of you was important to that program and the success that we had.
“Auburn is bigger and more important than any of us, and we are all lucky to have had the good fortune for you to come to school here and for me to be able to coach here. It’s blessed all of our lives.”
For Jack Crowe, the offensive coordinator, the 1983 championship was special in many ways. An Auburn fan since childhood, he’d gone to Jordan-Hare Stadium as a teen-ager to cheer for the Tigers. His son later graduated from Auburn.
“I was part of Auburn before I came to Auburn,” said Crowe, who retired as Jacksonville State head coach after last season. “Then my son graduated from Auburn. Most people view me as a four-year tenured guy here. I’ve been Auburn forever.”
The Tigers made a statement in 1983, Crowe said, that they feared no one. They took on six teams that finished in the final top 20, including four that finished in the top 10 and three of the top six.
“You usually play a cupcake for homecoming,” Crowe said. “We played No. 6 Maryland for a cupcake. That team proved on the field it doesn’t matter who you are, we are going to take you on.”
Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs was an offensive tackle in 1983. He’d come as an undersized walk-on and stayed to become a starter.
“We went into every game, even the Texas game, knowing we were the best team on the field,” Jacobs said. “In our minds, there wasn’t even a question. We had an unbelievable amount of confidence because of the work we’d put in for two years.”
For Jacobs, it was like a family reunion.
“It brings back a lot of fond memories,” Jacobs said. “You think about the relationships that you built, what you went through. It was really a lot of fun to be here tonight. It’s really neat to be back and see some guys. I’ve seen a couple of guys I haven’t seen in 25-30 years, but nothing has changed. It really is family.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: