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"Sweet Auburn!" wrote Oliver Goldsmith, "loveliest village," but Auburn, Ala. is less lovely than lively. Its basic stock is good old-fashioned fans. Toomer's Corner, downtown, is still the gathering place where the students paint the store windows, gather to talk football, eat hamburgers and French fries, tack up bunting and talk more football.
Auburn University now has 15,400 students, the preponderance of whom prefer football to revolution, and one head coach, who is one of the last of a breed. Ralph (Shug) Jordan is not interested in endorsements, special investment deals or other diversifications of his fundamental role. He loves to coach football and talk it, and he does not withdraw from people who want to draw him out on the subject.
Jordan has a 128-64-5 coaching record and a war record so distinguished that it is said he should have been dead about four times now, plus the time, a couple of years ago, when the writers had him dying of cancer. Today he says he is completely recovered from that disease and full of a zest that comes along with a new lease on life.
His football team this year should achieve preeminence in Alabama football—that is to say, it should overshadow Bear Bryant's team—and renew its old lease on the War Eagle spirit. The War Eagle spirit is hard to explain, in this day and age, especially to someone who hasn't felt it. Suffice it to say that Auburn's Tech Week, before the Georgia Tech game every year, is climaxed by a student parade through town, with band music and the works, including signs and placards bearing football rather than political slogans. Thousands of students descend upon Cliff Hare Stadium just as Thursday practice ends, and Coach Jordan comes over to the mike and makes a little pep talk. The scene gets to everybody on hand. As for the non-student Auburn fans, they are a tailgate crowd: fried chicken, potato salad, but very little drinking. An Auburn home game would never be described, as the annual Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville has been, as "the world's biggest cocktail party."
And yet people have been so rude as to establish Auburn, a former agricultural college, as the southeastern focus of Aggie jokes. For instance, "Auburn football players won't be having ice water this year The boy who knew the formula for ice graduated."
But the Auburn people are laughing all the way to the bank to deposit the proceeds from 22,500 season tickets, the biggest advance sale in Auburn history and three times as big as last year's. Fans are looking forward to this season with an eagerness they haven't felt since the Jimmy Sidle-Tucker Frederickson era in the mid-'60s. Thirty-seven lettermen are returning from the team that led the SEC in scoring last year, and one of them is junior Quarterback Pat Sullivan, of whom one scout says, "You don't realize it because he says yes sir and no sir, and he's humble, but Sullivan has a killer instinct. When he gets one touchdown he wants two. When he gets two he wants four." Last year, when Auburn tried to work out play-action patterns off the multiple T, Receivers Terry Beasley, Dick Schmalz and Alvin Bresler got downfield so fast that they were usually out of range when Sullivan finished his options. Still, Sullivan threw for 16 touchdowns and 1,686 yards as a sophomore.
This spring Auburn worked on drop-backs and Sullivan completed 68% of his passes in scrimmage. Mickey Zofko and Wallace Clark carried the ball well in the spring, and 145-pound unscholarshipped sophomore Gardner Jett kicked 20 extra points every day of practice without ever missing one, then kicked field goals of 45 and 40 yards to win the A-day game.
This is Jordan's 20th Auburn team, and it looks as if it could be an awfully jazzy one to be representing a lovely little village.