Joe Medley: ‘Inspirationals’ should cover revived AU’s latest team
by Joe Medley
Nov 26, 2013 | 1819 views |  0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Auburn running back Tre Mason has help the Tigers to an inspirational season. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
Auburn running back Tre Mason has help the Tigers to an inspirational season. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
AUBURN -- Auburn could add a lot to its status as the top turnaround team this college football season.

There’s still Saturday’s Iron Bowl showdown with top-ranked Alabama, which potential berths in the SEC and Bowl Championship Series title games riding on it.

But let’s stipulate that a 10-1 record and No. 4 ranking in the BCS standings, coming a year after a 3-9 crash, qualifies the Tigers for a nickname.

Something along the lines of the school’s 1972 “Amazin's.”

Hmmm. What could it be, and whom to peg it?

“I think this would be ‘The Unbelievables,’” former Auburn athletics director David Housel said Tuesday. “Or ‘The Inspirationals’, because to any Auburn fan, any football who semi-followed last year and is seeing this year, this is truly an inspiration.

“That ’72 team was amazin’. This team is inspirational.”

Who will argue with Housel? There’s no greater authority on Auburn lore than the 1969 grad from Gordo who devoted his life to his alma mater.

He started in the ticket office and working through a long stint as sports information director before serving as athletics director between 1994 and 2006. He’s been AD emeritus since and still lives in Auburn.

He’s also penned books, including “Saturdays To Remember,” “From the Desk to David Housel, A Collection of Auburn Stories” and “Auburn Glory Days: The Greatest Victories in Tigers History.”

He spoke at the final rolling of the poisoned oak trees of Toomer’s Corner, so who better to baste this memorable and way-unexpected feast of a football season at Auburn?

“I think it’s truly a remarkable story,” Housel said. “You don’t see this kind of thing very often, and I think those players and the coaches deserve every bit of Auburn fans’ gratitude and commendations for what they’ve been able to accomplish.

“It’s been, I don’t want to say miraculous, but it’s been inspirational and just special.”

How special?

Well, let’s just say more amazin’ than “Amazin's.”

“There’s an ‘Amazin's’ element to it,” Housel said, “but the year before, in 1971, Auburn had a good year.”

The 1971 Auburn team, led by Heisman Trophy quarterback Pat Sullivan and wide receiver Terry Beasley, won its first nine games then lost to Alabama in the Iron Bowl and Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Sullivan and Beasley, two of the most celebrated players in Auburn history, graduated, leaving lesser prospects for the 1972 team.

Still, “There was no reason to think Auburn was going to be bad in 1972,” Housel said. “You just didn’t think Auburn was going to be as good in 1972 as they had been the last two years.”

The 1972 team went 10-1, winning the “Punt Bama Punt” game in the Iron Bowl and beating Colorado in the Gator Bowl. Hence, those Tigers became “The Amazin's.”

This year’s Auburn team rose from the dead.

If schools gave nicknames to their memorably bad teams, Auburn’s 2012 team might be called “The Depressin's.” They went 0-8 in SEC play. They lost 49-0 to Alabama.

By midseason, it became clear that Gene Chizik’s final Auburn team was broken and couldn’t be fixed, and long fall Saturdays were ahead for Auburn fans before the program could start over with a new coach.

Insert a new coaching staff led by Gus Malzahn, Chizik’s former offensive coordinator who spent a year away as Arkansas State’s head coach.

Insert junior-college quarterback Nick Marshall, the new maestro of Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense.

Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same team and bottomed out in 2012, two years after Auburn won a national title.

With two more victories this season, the Tigers might play for another national title, so “Amazin's” doesn’t quite cover it.

“This year is a totally different thing,” Housel said. “Last year, Auburn was down and out, and you were just wondering how long it would take them to come back.

“Well, come August, they were back, and that’s a remarkable turnaround.”

Now, “The Inspirationals” have to decide how inspirational, and the next step is the game that matters most to Auburn fans.

Odds makers say the Tigers are a 10.5-point underdog at home against rival Alabama, but the Tigers have trimmed a lot points off those odds since summer. Auburn was a 24-point underdog in June but has played its way into higher regard.

“You can’t count Auburn out of this Alabama game, even though Alabama would appear to be much stronger overall,” Housel said. “But this team had no reason to be 10-1, certainly not after 3-9, but you’ve just got to take your hat off to them. ... It is a victory, really, for the human spirit, and if Auburn wins the Alabama game, it’s going to be great.

"But if Auburn doesn’t win the Alabama game, this still was a heck of a story.”

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, On Twitter @jmedley_star.
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