May 15, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN - It's one of many calls that made Jim Fyffe, Auburn guy, Auburn play-by-play man, so beloved.
"Burger sets up to throw - oh my! - Touchdown Auburn! Touchdown Auburn! Touchdown Auburn! Tillman! Tillman! Tillman!"
"Touchdown Auburn!" was Jim Fyffe signature call. Anybody who listened to Auburn football from 1981 through A-Day 2003 can tell you that. Anybody can tell you he was an Auburn fixture, like touchdown passes or Pat Dye. They arrived in Auburn together. And Fyffe was the eyes to see Bo Jackson runs and Jeff Burger's passes and Lawyer Tillman's touchdown catches and more.
He called Auburn football and basketball games for 22 years. He died 10 years ago today. He was 57.
"When you think about Jim, he's undefeated," Dye said at Fyffe's memorial service. "Even when Auburn lost, he'd make it all right - we were all Auburn people.
"All Auburn people identified with Jim Fyffe."
"Pat is going to leave with Bo. He's going to break a tackle. He's going to break another tackle...35...40...Down the sidelines, we've got a foot race at the 40, the 30, the 20! Bye-bye Bo!"
Georgia Tech didn't catch Bo Jackson in that 1985 game. Jim Fyffe was happy to report that.
Rod Bramblett replaced Fyffe as Auburn's play-by-play man. He's been on the mic ever since with the task of replacing a legendary broadcaster.
"I was extremely honored to be the one to follow Jim, but it is a deal where - for decades, maybe - you're still operating in his shadow. He casts a big shadow," Bramblett said. "He's one of the best there ever was."
Bramblett knows his assignment. It follows the script Fyffe uses, and of other beloved play-by-play guys of SEC football.
"People aren't listening to a Jim Fyffe or an Eli Gold or a Larry Munson or to me to hear down-the-middle objectivity all the time. They want to hear their announcer get excited when something good happens, and not as excited when something bad happens," Bramblett said. "It's because of the passion. The majority of people are listening to get the Auburn take. They're listening because they care. They want their announcer to care."
"Burger out of the I, he's going to pitch to Jessie, and he's going to give to Tillman on the end around...10...the 5...Touchdown Auburn! Touchdown Auburn! Lawyer Tillman on the end around reverse! 32 seconds left. Auburn has gone ahead 20-17."
That was Lawyer Tillman's touchdown run that beat Alabama in 1986.
But what about when Bramblett took over? What about now? What about 'Touchdown Auburn!"?
"The initial controversy was what was I going to say after a touchdown," Bramblett remembers. "I still have the manila folder at home, and it's a couple of inches think of emails from fans... 'Hey, Rod, here's what I think you should do.' About half were you've got to do your own thing because 'Touchdown Auburn' was Jim's call. The other half said you've got to say it because it's Auburn. When it came to the first game, I just had to convince myself 'you've just got to be yourself.' But even then I didn't know what I'd say.
"In the end, Jim's great legacy was 'Touchdown Auburn' and, after two or three years of me sometimes saying it and sometimes not saying it, it just kind of dawned on me that's what needs to be said. Auburn fans expect it. Jim left that as Auburn's signature call. Now, that's what I say every time because Jim made it an Auburn thing more than a Jim thing."
Fyffe called Auburn basketball, too. But he's known for "Touchdown Auburn!," an irony for a kid who graduated from a high school in Kentucky that didn't have a football team. He would leave Kentucky, call Samford football in Birmingham for awhile before becoming sports director at WCOV in Montgomery, sometimes calling pee-wee football games on television.
"And this will be 57 yards...he kicks, it's going to be short, it's no good. The ball game is over! Ladies and gentlemen, Auburn is going to the SEC Championship Game. Hail to the champions!"
Jim Fyffe made that call in a win over Alabama in 1997. In the other radio booth was one of Fyffe's friends, Alabama play-by-play man Eli Gold.
"He and I used to drive together from Montgomery to Auburn when the Iron Bowls began being played on campus," Gold said. "Alabama stays in Montgomery the night before the game in Auburn, Jim would call and say 'I'll swing by and pick you up,' and that's what he did.
"We were very good friends even though clearly our football and basketball rooting interests were vastly different. But I worked in NASCAR and Jim enjoyed NASCAR... I can't believe it's been 10 years."
Bramblett has replaced Fyffe. Gold replaced, directly and indirectly, popular Alabama play-by-play man John Forney. It made him understand why fans relate to their broadcasters.
"I always describe radio as a romantic medium. There's a kinship between the play-by-play man and the fans," Gold said. "One reason for that is win, lose or draw, you're kind of like that comfortable pair of shoes that is always there. To magnify that, on television, one week you may have Brent Musburger doing the game, week two and three you'll have Vern Lundquist doing the games, week four may be Brad Nessler doing the games. All these guys are wonderful broadcasters, but every week it's different. Guys like myself, and Jim, were lucky to be with a team so long. You just build on that comfortable relationship with the listener that can't be replaced. TV is great, replays are wonderful, the pictures are outstanding, but there is a relationship with the fans and the team that builds up with the play-by-play man.
"Auburn fans loved Jim when he yelled, 'Touchdown Auburn!' It was a cause to celebrate. That's why he was so beloved."
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