June 19, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
It was dubbed the "Avalanche." And it was as devastating as it was simple.
The Auburn Tigers of 1963 didn't have a thick playbook. They used no trickery. What those Tigers had was quarterback Jimmy Sidle and a fleet of backs and linemen that knocked defenders out of his way.
At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Sidle was bigger than most of Auburn's linemen. He would sweep to either side with halfback Tucker Frederickson, fullback Larry Rawson and pulling guards Bill Van Dyke and Steve Osborne in front of him. He had the option to throw, but he usually ran. So fast and far did he run that he was a consensus All-American and a painting of him was on the cover of Sports Illustrated before the 1964 season.
Sidle, known as a passer at Banks High School in Birmingham, rushed for 1,006 yards in 1963, becoming the first quarterback to lead the nation in rushing, and led the Tigers to a 9-1 record and No. 5 national ranking. He was SEC Player of the Year. Ole Miss was the SEC champion because of a scheduling quirk, but there was little question that Shug Jordan's 13th Auburn team was the league's best.
Most of Auburn's Boys of '63 are in their 70s now. Those who aren't are getting close. But a half century after they took the SEC by storm, the memories are still fresh.
Mike Alford was a junior center on his way to the NFL.. He looked back years later at a season that defied the experts. It all started, he said, with Sidle.
"We had confidence in Jimmy Sidle that permeated the whole team," Alford said. "When we were on offense, no matter the down and distance, we had confidence in our ability to get our blocks and for Jimmy to make the play."
Van Dyke, an All-SEC guard at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, put it more bluntly.
"It was Sidle," Van Dyke said, "He was the guy. You just knew something good was going to happen. When we played Georgia Tech, they scored after an intercepted pass. I remember Sidle saying when we got back to the huddle `We're not calling a timeout until we score.' Jimmy was such a competitor. Anytime he was in there, you knew you had a chance to win."
Auburn scored and got a crucial road victory, 29-21.
But Sidle was no one-man team. Junior running back/defensive back Tucker Frederickson would go on to be the first player picked in the 1965 NFL draft. Halfback George Rose caught 15 passes on his way to a stellar NFL career as a defensive back. Tackle Jack Thornton, end Howard Simpson, linebacker Bill Cody, Alford, tight end Bucky Waid, kicker Woody Woodall and punter Jon Kilgore were among the stars who led the way.
And then there was Mailon Kent.
Kent was a senior quarterback who had been the starter in 1962. He suffered a knee injury in the preseason in 1963. By the time he returned, Sidle was on his way to a season for the ages. But against Alabama, Kent's time finally came.
The Tigers and the Tide matched 8-1 records at Legion Field on Nov. 30. Auburn had not scored a point on Alabama in four seasons - falling 10-0 in 1959, 3-0 in 1960, 34-0 in 1961 and 38-0 in 1962.
Auburn broke through in 1963, winning 10-8. But it was Kent instead of Sidle who made the big plays when they were needed most.
Auburn threw just two passes that day, both by Kent. With Sidle banged up, Kent hit Waid with a 13-yarder to set up an a Woodall field goal in the first half, the Tigers first points against Alabama since a 14-8 win in 1958.
In the fourth quarter, still clinging to a 3-0 lead, Auburn faced third-and-goal at the Alabama 8 after Simpson had recovered a fumbled punt. Auburn coach Shug Jordan told Kent to go in and run one of his favorite plays. Kent would have the option of running or throwing to Frederickson.
"We put Tucker in motion," Kent said. "If the end goes out with him, you run. If he comes for you, Tucker is open. He came up. When he did, Tucker circled in there and caught i for a touchdown."
It was just the fifth catch of the season for Frederickson.
Alabama scored on an 80-yard run by Benny Nelson and a two-point conversion, but that was it. Auburn had broken the streak.
For all its firepower on offense, Auburn still relied on defense. That's the way it was when Jordan and defensive coordinator Hal Herring roamed the sideline.
After losing a disappointing 13-10 decision at Mississippi State, the Tigers bounced back to beat Georgia 14-0 and Florida State 21-15. That set the stage for the showdown at Legion Field. Alabama had quarterback Joe Namath and was favored by more than a touchdown, but Herring had a surprise in store.
"Namath was probably the best throwing quarterback I ever saw," Herring said in an interview years later. "I used an old basketball defense. It was part man-to-man and part zone. They never did figure it out. It was just one of those things you do. You could tell a player then what he needed to do, and he would do it. We didn't have computers to tell us what to do."
So effective was the defense that Namath completed just 4-of-17 passes for 41 yards.
Auburn went to the Orange Bowl and lost 13-7 to Nebraska when a last-gasp drive fell short. But bowl games were different in those days. The final polls came after the regular season. Most schools didn't even include bowl games in their overall season record.
For Alford, 1963 was the best of times on and off the field.
"I still have memories of all the victories, but the one thing I appreciate the most is the camaraderie that resulted out of that," Alford said. "That was a close group of kids. We are still close now."
Sidle's career was derailed in the first game of the 1964 season when he suffered a shoulder injury in a 30-0 win over Houston. By the end of the season, he was playing halfback. He caught a touchdown pass in a 21-14 loss to Alabama.
Sidle played six games with the Atlanta Falcons as a running back and two seasons as a tight end with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. His teammates believe to this day that, had it not been for the injury, he would have been an NFL quarterback.
Sidle died of recurring heart problems in 1999. He was 57. Alford remembered a good friend and a competitor who was at his best when it mattered most.
"He was one of those guys that wanted the ball with the game on the line," Alford said. "And we wanted him to have it."
THE '63 SEASON
Sept. 21: Auburn 21, Houston 14
Sept. 28: Auburn 23, Tennessee 19
Oct. 5: Auburn 14, Kentucky 13
Oct. 12: Auburn 28, Chattanooga 0
Oct. 19: Auburn 29, Georgia Tech 21
Nov. 2: Auburn 19, Florida 0
Nov. 9: Mississippi State 13, Auburn 10
Nov. 16: Auburn 14, Georgia 0
Nov. 23: Auburn 21, Florida State 15
Nov. 30: Auburn 10, Alabama 8
Jan. 1: Nebraska 13, Auburn 7 (Orange Bowl)
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: