"Iron Bowl '71" was special
Jim Grammer, When it was a game
The college football season of 1971 was a successful one for both the Auburn Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide.
Both were undefeated and rated near No. 1 in the nation going into the Iron Bowl, and Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan had just won the Heisman Trophy.
The game was getting more national attention than usual.
These were two great football teams, and I was fortunate to be starting for the red and white that year.
There was a lot of hype going into that game. Newspapers were running articles daily about what someone on each of the two teams was saying about the other.
Something the average football fan in the state didn't realize was that a lot of members of the opposing teams were friends. The fanaticism of Alabama and Auburn fans was good, I guess, in the fact that it makes the game more interesting. The "bragging rights" were a lot of fun, too, but I think most other veteran players will agree that's just for the fans.
Johnny Musso and Pat Sullivan were actually good friends. They had played high school sports against each other and in little league together before that. There were many more guys on our team who were friends with some of the Auburn players.
Ronny Ross, a great defensive end at Auburn, visited friends on the Alabama campus often.
I struck up a good relationship with Tommy Lowery, the starting fullback for Auburn in 1971, back when we played in the high school All-Star game. We were a lot alike, two country boys, he from Oneonta and I from Hartselle.
Because of these friendships, it always stuck in my memory what happened just before the game at Legion Field that year.
Coach Bryant was not much for pre-game pep talks. His philosophy was that if you weren't ready to play by then, nothing he could say or do would get you ready. He believed it was each player's responsibility to get themselves ready mentally for the game.
Big pep talks are what Coach Bryant referred to as a bunch of false chatter. I always have believed he was right. Big fiery pep talks only are good for the movies and professional wrestling.
But on this particular November afternoon, Coach knew a lot of us were going up against friends, and I believe he delivered the greatest pre-game talk in the history of the game.
I don't think I can quote it exactly, but he began by telling us that the guys over in the other dressing room are just as good people as we were and that they wanted to win just as much we did. He said he realized some of us were good friends and said the same was true about the coaching staff. He said there are times in our lives that we are called upon to do what we have to, regardless of how tough, or how difficult it may be. Regardless of the people involved.
Coach then reached into the breast pocket of his coat and pulled out a small red Bible. He had a page marked and turned to it.
He began reading from the book of Ecclesiastes. He read in his slow, deep voice, "to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die; a time to build up and a time to break down; a time to heal and a time to kill."
He put a little extra emphasis on the word "kill." He slowly raised his head. You could have heard a pin drop in the dressing room.
Every player knew exactly what he meant.
By the way, we won the game. We were lucky, and the Tigers had an uncharacteristic bad game.
I don't know if what Coach Bryant said that day had anything to do with the win or not, but I will never forget what he said.