Bo Over the Top: When Bo Jackson beat Alabama in Legion Field
By Charles Goldberg
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Kris Frost was 6 years old the last time Auburn played a football game at Legion Field, so you'll have to excuse the linebacker if he…
He gets it.
"I'm extremely excited to go out on this field where a lot of legends played, and try to make my mark," he said Tuesday on the eve of Wednesday's Birmingham Bowl. "I know that’s the case for all of us, we’re just really trying to make our mark on this field and trying to be legends like the others."
Auburn plays Memphis at 11 a.m. in Legion Field on ESPN, a place where the Tigers haven't played since the 1998 season, the last time Alabama thought it was a good idea to play the Iron Bowl in the historic stadium. Alabama would follow Auburn's lead out of town, playing home games at, well, home, just like Auburn.
Frost is right. Legends have indeed played here, whether it was Heisman winners Bo Jackson or Pat Sullivan or a bevy of other Auburn fall heroes. Bo Over the Top was here. Punt, Bama, Punt was here. A win over Alabama in 1957 made Auburn 10-0 on the way to a national championship. Mailon Kent's touchdown pass beat Alabama in a battle of Top 10 teams in 1963. Big wins over Tennessee were at Legion Field.
On one fall Saturday, Auburn beat Tennessee and Alabama beat LSU at Legion Field in a day-night doubleheader involving four Top 20 teams.
Auburn has returned.
"I know the City of Birmingham is excited for Auburn to come back," said former Auburn quarterback Stan White, who grew up around Birmingham, who played at Legion Field and who'll serve as the analyst, as always, on Auburn's radio broadcast Wednesday.
"This is where you want your recruiting base to be, then you kind of spread out from there -- Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, all the surrounding states."
Still, Legion Field was never quite Auburn's home, not like it was Alabama's. Pat Dye, an Alabama assistant for nine years, knew that as well as anyone after he arrived as Auburn's head coach in 1981.
It was Dye who began the process of moving Auburn's home games to Auburn once and for all.
"The first time I saw Coach Bryant after I got to Auburn he said, 'I guess you're going to want to take the Alabama-Auburn game to Auburn,'" Dye remembered in a 2014 story. "I said, 'We're going to take it to Auburn.' He said, 'Not as long as I'm coaching.' I said, 'Well, you're not going to coach forever.' He said, 'We have a contract through 1988.' So I said, 'We're going to play '89 in Auburn.'"
"I never said anything about playing in Birmingham from a negative standpoint in front of our players or our fans or anybody else," Dye said. "But I knew the disadvantage. I never wanted to make an issue of it because I knew that was the way it was going to be through 1988. Really, I didn't have to play the '91 game in Birmingham, when it was our home game. I really did it for the City of Birmingham because I didn't want them to think we didn't like Birmingham."
Different-look Legion Field is ready for the Birmingham Bowl
The last time Auburn played here there was an upper deck. It's gone. The Tide-Tiger across the street is still here, however.
White was a high school star at nearby Berry, played high school playoff games at Legion Field. Quarterbacked Auburn there, too.
"I remember it several different ways, being a kid growing up and going to the Iron Bowl, and I got to play there a couple of times in high school, in the state championship game in '88, and then at Auburn in '91. It's got some good memories and some not-so-good memories, but there's a lot of history with the stadium," he said.
Like Dye, White understood Auburn's challenges.
"When I was playing, Alabama played two or three games a year there because Bryant-Denny had about 10,000 fewer seats. For Auburn people, and players, when you're able to play two, three, four games there in a given year, obviously it gives an advantage to that team…the lay of the field, the crown, the speed of the turf. We felt like if we had been able to play there three times in a given year, we might have had a little more of an advantage as well.
"I think Alabama people would agree the best thing to do was moving to Bryant-Denny and Jordan-Hare. It was the only fair thing to do."
Some of Auburn's big games at Legion Field
1949 Iron Bowl: Auburn wins 14-13 after Alabama missed an extra point in the fourth quarter
1954 Miami: Joe Childress runs for 164 yards, then the third most in AU history, as unranked Auburn defeats #6 Miami 14-13
1957 Iron Bowl: No. 1 Auburn beat Alabama 40-0 to finish 10-0 and claim the school’s first national championship
1958 Tennessee: Holds Tennessee to no first downs and -30 yards of total offense in 13-0 victory
1960 Georgia Tech: Unranked Auburn knocks off 19th ranked GT 9-7. First game played in series outside Atlanta in 56 years (1904)
1963 Iron Bowl: No. 9 Auburn beat No. 6 Alabama 10-8 on Mailon Kent’s TD pass to Tucker Frederickson
1972 Tennessee: unranked Auburn upsets No. 4 Tennessee 10-6 to break nation’s longest winning streak
1972 Iron Bowl: Punt, Bama, Punt – Auburn blocks two punts and wins 17-16
1982 Iron Bowl: Bo Over the Top – Bo Jackson scores on fourth and 1 with 2:22 remaining to give Tigers first win over Alabama since 1972
1986 Iron Bowl: Wide receiver Lawyer Tillman's reverse gives Auburn the 21-17 lead and the win
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine