June 26, 2013
For the first time, I believe, since Auburn's men's basketball team beat Mississippi State in 2009, I went to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday. As I walked around the concourse, my footsteps echoed in the emptiness.
No one knows exactly when it will happen, but Beard-Eaves, before much longer, will be consigned to history, torn down to make room, probably, for badly needed parking. The men's and women's basketball teams play now in glittering Auburn Arena, which is as it should be.
It's not time yet, because Beard-Eaves still has its purpose. Mostly women's sports use the facility now, but most of those programs have moved out, too. Volleyball coach Rick Nold sits in the office once occupied by the men's head basketball coach. But the arena is largely empty.
The old arena and I have a long history together. It opened as Memorial Coliseum in 1969, the same year I got my first newspaper job. As I looked down at the empty basketball court still surrounded by more than 10,000 seats, I thought about the things I've seen and done in that building.
Until 1989, when the Auburn football complex opened, what is now Beard-Eaves housed the entire athletic department. Assistant football coaches worked in small office, two to an office. The head football coach's office was smaller than the offices assistant coaches have to themselves these days.
It was in the lobby at Beard-Eaves that Shug Jordan announced in the spring of 1975 that the coming football season would be his last and that Doug Barfield would take over as head coach in 1976. Pat Sullivan had come to the same lobby late on Thanksgiving night in 1971 to talk about winning the Heisman Trophy.
As I looked down on the court from high above, I felt a twinge of sadness. For all the recent hard times for Auburn basketball, a lot of great things happened on that court.
Chris Porter had perhaps the most spectacular dunk in Auburn history on that court against LSU. I could almost see Chuck Person rising high to swish another long-distance jumper, Charles Barkley hammering home a dunk, Sonny Smith yapping at officials and smiling the entire time, that 1999 team celebrating Auburn's first SEC championship in 39 years, Auburn's women cutting down the nets after yet another NCAA regional championship.
I could see Joe Ciampi screaming at an official in an exhibition against a Russian team, an official that couldn't understand a word he said. I could see Vicki Orr going to the basket, Carolyn Jones scoring again and again, Nell Fortner's 2010 Tigers celebrating their SEC championship.
So many great athletes played on the court for Auburn and for opponents. Pete Maravich scored 46 points on opening night at Memorial Coliseum in 1969, but Auburn won 90-71. Shaquille O'Neal played there. So did Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld, Leon Douglas and Mule King, so many great players from Kentucky and elsewhere. Auburn's John Mengelt, still one of the pure scorers I ever saw, scored 60 points against Alabama in 1970. And Jeff Lebo coached Auburn to victory over Mississippi State in Beard-Eaves' last game in 2009.
Beard-Eaves was showing its age well before the basketball programs and others started moving out to new, fancier digs. There'll be no more competition on arena floor, no more victory celebrations.
Only the echoes remain.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: