By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Once more, Auburn fans will cheer for Sullivan and Beasley.
Sullivan, Auburn's first Heisman Trophy winner in 1971, is this year's recipient of the Jack Meagher Award, given to a person with Auburn University affiliation who has made significant contributions to society through athletics.
Beasley, Sullivan's go-to receiver, is the winner of the James Owens Courage Award, presented annually to a current or former Auburn football player who has displayed courage in the face of adversity, distinguishing himself while contributing to the betterment of Auburn University.
That these Auburn legends are being honored together before the Georgia game is entirely appropriate, says David Housel, former Auburn sports information director and athletics director.
"You had national rankings, you had the Sugar Bowl. It was all on the line for Auburn and Georgia," Housel says of the 1971 edition of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. "There were people climbing in trees and on top of buildings to see that game."
The 1971 Georgia game best exemplifies Sullivan and Beasley's prominent position in Auburn's annals.
Never before in SEC history had undefeated teams met so late in the season when No. 6 Auburn and No. 7 Georgia clashed between the hedges on Nov. 13, 1971.
"The atmosphere," Housel says. "I've never seen anything like it, except maybe 1989 when Alabama came for the first time."
"Super Sully," as some referred to Sullivan, threw four touchdown passes, two to Beasley. Twelve days later, on Thanksgiving, Sullivan won the Heisman.
After Georgia scored to pull within one, Auburn answered on the next play on a Sullivan-to-Beasley 70-yard touchdown.
"Sullivan got away from so many would-be tacklers. It was like Houdini that day, the great escape artist," Housel says. "If you had to pick one play that symbolized Terry Beasley, it would be Auburn's third touchdown. This was the classic over-the-head catch - that is the picture you think about of Terry Beasley, taking off, sprinting, rocketing to the end zone."
Auburn won 35-20. Now, 46 years later, Sullivan and Beasley are still featured prominently in Auburn's record book. Beasley holds Auburn's career mark for receiving touchdowns (29) and yardage (2,507). Sullivan's 53 touchdown passes rank No. 1.
"There's no way to measure what Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley meant to Auburn when they were here as players, and have continued to mean to Auburn," Housel says. "In many ways, they represent what Auburn football is supposed to be all about."
Both legends have endured significant health challenges in recent years.
"They have carried the toughness and the fortitude that Coach Jordan taught them through football to their personal lives with some of the challenges they've faced," Housel says. "They could have given up. They could have said, 'To heck with this, I'm not going to fight it,' but they didn't. They're living life, and I think that's a beautiful thing.
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer