published Sunday, December 8th, 2013

Ex-Auburn star Sanders exults in legendary run

ATLANTA — Eight days ago, Frank Sanders couldn't watch it anymore. The former Auburn All-America wideout left his alma mater's Jordan-Hare Stadium late in the third quarter of last week's game against Alabama and drove his car toward Birmingham.

"It was too emotionally draining," he said. "I had to get out of there."

So he was in his car when the Tigers' Chris Davis returned a last-second Crimson Tide field-goal try for the most talked-about touchdown in AU history, the one that won the Iron Bowl and sent Auburn to Saturday evening's SEC championship game, which it won 59-42 over Missouri inside the Georgia Dome.

"I couldn't believe it," said Sanders, who was his school's Legends honoree at a banquet Friday night that saluted one former player from each of the SEC's 14 schools. "I just started screaming as I drove."

More than a week later, Davis's score still has Auburn fans screaming every time they watch the replay, including at least four times Saturday at the Dome.

"It definitely belongs up there with the greatest plays in Auburn history," said Sanders, whose game-winning TD catch against Florida in 1994 belongs in that category. "I think it's right up there with 'Punt, Bama, Punt'; Cam Newton's comeback win at Alabama in 2010; and Terry Bowden going for it on fourth-and-15 in 1993 after [quarterback] Stan White got hurt."

If Sanders fondly remembers that Bowden decision, it might be because he caught a touchdown pass from Patrick Nix on that play after White went to the sideline. Auburn ultimately came from a 14-5 halftime hole to win 22-14 and complete an undefeated season.

But for every positive there's a negative, and for this year's Alabama legend, Marty Lyons -- who never played on an undefeated team but did help win the 1978 national championship with a considerable role in the goal-line stand against Penn State in the Sugar Bowl -- this year's Iron Bowl stung.

"One second," he said Saturday afternoon, recalling the game-clock time that remained when the Tide attempted the field goal that Davis returned. "One second changed the whole season."

He was sitting in his den on Long Island, putting logs on a fire, when it happened.

"At first, you just feel sick," Lyons said. "My daughter, Megan, who's an Alabama sophomore, was crying. It hurt."

But then the former Tide All-American watched the fans of his bitter rival storm the field. He saw the unbridled joy in their faces, the happiness a monumental sports upset can bring if you're not the team getting upset.

"I started thinking this is what makes college football great," he said. "This is why everybody loves college football."

That doesn't mean he necesssarily wanted Auburn to win the SEC championship.

"I'm pulling for Missouri to win by one," he said before the opening kickoff. "I'm still hoping there's a way for Alabama to play for the national championship."

Sanders still was hoping for a way for his Tigers to play for the national title, since they currently stand third behind Florida State and Ohio State, each of which played in conference title games later Saturday.

"I always think we're one of the two best teams whether we get in the BCS game or not," he said. "But it would sure would be nice to get a chance to prove it."

At 8:30 tonight, when the BCS bowl matchups are announced, Sanders, Lyons and the rest of the nation's college football fans will find out if Auburn gets that chance, or if Sanders will yell unhappy screams this time around.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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