Kevin C. Cox
Chortling about Auburn's recent, er, tribulations? Better pump your brakes, because the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry has a way of surprising highly ranked teams.
When you've played a game 115 times in 130 years, you've probably collected some interesting history along the way, and Georgia-Auburn — the most frequently played rivalry game south of the Mason-Dixon Line other than Virginia-North Carolina, which leads by a single contest — is no different. Sometimes Georgia-Auburn is a coronation, as it was for the Dawgs in 1980 and 2002 and for the Tigers in 2004 and '10. Over more than a century of matchups, though, it's clear that the complete opposite outcome is just as likely — in other words, a stunning upset of a highly ranked team by an unranked, unheralded spoiler.
Clearly Auburn has to hope for the role of spoiler this year. At 2-7, the 2012 Tigers have already been eliminated from bowl contention and have yet to taste victory in conference play — and with their only remaining opportunities to do so a pair of rivalry games against arch-rivals (Georgia and Auburn) currently ranked in the top five, Auburn stands a very real chance of going winless in the SEC for the first time since 1952, Shug Jordan's second season as head coach.
Tempted to gloat about that, are you? Before you start making space for another SEC East championship trophy on your mantle, Bulldog Nation, you might want to remind yourselves just how often the Dawgs and Tigers have crushed each others' dreams over the years. This is by no means a comprehensive list of every upset in this storied rivalry, just the biggest. And it should temper the arrogance of any Dawg fan who's taking a blowout victory for granted this weekend on the Plains.
1914: The best Auburn football team up to that point had outscored its first seven opponents 186-0 and wouldn't allow a single point all year long. Against a 3-5 Georgia team, though, the Tigers could manage no better than a scoreless tie in Atlanta — the only blemish on their record that year.
1942: On its way to the Bulldogs' first national title, Wally Butts' best Georgia team thrashed its opponents by an average of 25 points a game and pitched six shutouts, including a 75-0 demolition of the Florida Gators. The Dawgs' lone loss that season: a two-TD loss in Columbus to Auburn, at which point Georgia was the No. 1 team in the nation and the Tigers were stuck at 4-4-1.
1950: Georgia came into the Auburn game 4-1-3 and ranked No. 19, its only loss a 14-7 defeat at the hands of Alabama; Auburn, meanwhile, was winless and hadn't come any closer to a victory that season than a 19-14 loss to Wofford on opening weekend. Nevertheless, the Dawgs had to sweat out a 12-10 victory in Columbus.
1962: Four years prior, Georgia-Auburn had moved from the neutral site of Columbus to a home-and-home, and the game was being played in Auburn for only the second time ever. The Dawgs were 2-3-3 and hadn't tasted victory in more than a month, but they beat a 6-1 Auburn team 30-21.
1970: Auburn was 7-1 and ranked No. 8 in the AP poll, coming off back-to-back victories over Florida and Mississippi State by a combined score of 119-14. Georgia, meanwhile, was 4-4 and unranked. But it was the Dawgs who notched a 31-17 win on the Plains, ending Auburn's thin hopes for an SEC title.
1986: If any of your Bulldog relatives make references to the "Sprinkler Game" or the "Firehose Game," this is the one they're talking about. At 6-3, Georgia was a three-touchdown underdog to the eighth-ranked Tigers, whose only loss thus far was a one-point loss to Florida in Gainesville. However, the Dawgs' backup quarterback, Wayne Johnson, led Georgia to a 20-16 victory, which thrilled the visiting Dawg fans so much that they stormed the field at Jordan-Hare and refused to leave. At that point, Auburn's grounds crew turned on the sprinklers and fire hoses to scour the Dawgs off the field. Legend has it that Georgia turned around and billed Auburn for water damage to the marching band's instruments.
1994: By the time the Auburn game rolled around in '94, the bloom was falling off the rose of the Ray Goff era in earnest. The Dawgs' three games leading up to their visit to the Plains: a 43-30 loss to Vanderbilt on Homecoming; a four-point escape from a Kentucky team that would finish 1-10; and a 52-14 beatdown in the Swamp courtesy of a gleeful Steve Spurrier. Auburn, meanwhile, was 9-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation, and had yet to lose a game under second-year head coach Terry Bowden. The Bulldogs broke Bowden's 20-game winning streak, however, with a tie that inspired the headline "UGA beats Auburn 23-23" in the next day's Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
1996: Georgia was headed to a mediocre 5-6 finish in Jim Donnan's first year, while Bowden's Tigers were 7-2 and ranked. The Dawgs dug themselves into a 28-7 hole late in the first half but stormed back with two long TD passes from Mike Bobo, including a 30-yarder to Corey Allen with no time left on the clock that tied the game at 28 and forced the first overtime period in SEC football history. Robert Edwards ran for TDs in the first three overtimes, and then Torin Kirtsey took the ball in from the 1 yard line in the fourth OT period; on Auburn's ensuing possession, the Dawgs stopped Dameyune Craig a yard short of the first-down marker on 4th-and-3, clinching a wild 56-49 victory for Georgia. So wild, in fact, that it inspired the NCAA to implement the rule requiring teams to attempt two-point conversions on touchdowns scored after the second overtime period.
1999: Now it was time for a first-year Auburn coach to embarrass the Dawgs. Tommy Tuberville's 5-6 record in his inaugural year on the Plains mirrored Jim Donnan's first campaign at Georgia, while the Dawgs were 6-2 and ranked No. 14 in the AP poll. As a full moon rose over Sanford Stadium, however, Auburn QB Ben Leard carpet-bombed the Georgia secondary with 416 yards on 24-of-32 passing, including nine receptions for 249 yards and two TDs by Ronney Daniels. A stunned crowd watched the Tigers carry a 31-0 lead into halftime and push that lead to 38-0 in the fourth quarter before the Dawgs mustered three purely cosmetic touchdowns late in the game.
2006: Auburn was 9-1, ranked No. 5 in the nation and still had hopes of earning a berth in the national championship game. There were no such lofty hopes for the Bulldogs, who had lost four of their last five — including embarrassing defeats at the hands of both Vanderbilt and Kentucky — and were languishing at 6-4. The Tigers failed to wake up on time for the 11:30 a.m. Central kickoff, though, as the Dawgs raced out to a 24-0 lead in the second quarter and cruised to a 37-15 finish. How bad was Auburn's offense that day? Brandon Cox finished with eight completions on only 12 passing attempts, but unfortunately for him, four of those completions were to Georgia's defensive backs. Bulldog safety Tra Battle actually qualified as Auburn's leading receiver on the day, with three picks returned for 69 yards and a score.