BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — It’s been 50 years since one of the greatest finishes in Iron Bowl history.
It was an ending that left Alabama fans in shock, Auburn fans in awe and everyone with a serious case of deja vu.
The date was December 2, 1972. The venue, Legion Field in Birmingham. Gary Sanders was on the call that day as a play-by-play announcer for Auburn radio.
“It used to be an interesting stadium because virtually every play made somebody happy. You had the stadium divided right down the middle,” recalled Sanders.
CBS 42 spoke with Sanders in LaGrange, Georgia where he is now retired. Sanders remembers Auburn, coached by “Shug” Jordan, came into the game as underdogs. Alabama, led by Bear Bryant, was undefeated and ranked #2 in the nation.
“Bear at that time stood on the pedestal. He’s the one that you not only beat Alabama, but you beat the Bear,” remembered Bill Newton.
Newton was a junior linebacker at the time. He remembers what it felt like that day and what happened in the fourth quarter that would seal his fate in the college football history books.
“It takes me back in time. I remember the whole thing. It was late in the evening. The sun was going down. I can just see it now in my mind as it was playing down,” Newton told CBS 42 from his home in Fayette, Ala.
Little did Alabama fans know, their team was about to go down, as well, in dramatic fashion. Alabama led 16–0 with ten minutes left in the game. Sanders said an Auburn drive stalled and managed only a field goal, which made it 16–3.
“When Auburn kicked the field goal to make it 16 to 3, my color announcer said I heard some Auburn people boo thinking we might’ve given up with the field goal, but the only way for Auburn to win is a field goal and two touchdowns and hold Alabama scoreless. Now he did not say block two punts to get to that, but he had it figured out what we had to have,” said Sanders.
“Matter of fact, Coach Jordan on the field goal said it’s the only time in Iron Bowl history when both sides booed. Auburn fans booed because they thought I had given up. Alabama fans booed because the betting line was 16 and 3 got us inside the betting line,” he continued.
Newton recalls what it felt like out on the field.
“Every time we went out there, we had in our minds hold them and make them punt,” Newton said.
On the next possession, they did just that and forced Alabama to punt. That’s when Newton blocked Greg Gantt’s punt, allowing his teammate David Langner to run the ball back 25 yards for an Auburn touchdown.
That brought the score to 16–10.
“They always said a bad speaker was the oratorical equivalent of a blocked punt. In other words, it was boring. It wasn’t boring that day,” said Sanders.
“That was our mentality. We still thought up to the last minute of the ball game to win the ball game and we said you never quit, and we didn’t,” said Newton.
Several minutes later, Alabama was forced to punt again. In a miraculous moment, Newton blocked the punt again and Langner returned it again for a touchdown.
Newton remembers it like it was yesterday.
“We lined up and they snapped the ball, and it was like déjà vu. I saw it when I broke through the line and he was in the process of dropping the ball and I knew I had it at that time,” he said.
“We called it ‘instant replay’ because it almost looked like the same play over again. Same guy blocked it. It bounced the same way. Langner catches it on the run, and it was one of the memorable victories and certainly one of the memorable teams,” said Sanders.
After the extra point kick, Auburn led 17–16. That would be the final score.
“My wife said I was dancing in the press box. Now I’m not much of a dancer but [that night] I may have been,” said Sanders.
“The game was symbolic of what our whole year was like. We were underdogs every game and coming into that game, of course, we weren’t expected to win. The best team did win that day,” said Newton.
“They called the team ‘The Amazin’s’ and what was amazing was how determined and how tough and how dedicated to each other they were,” said Sanders.
Sanders said looking back on that day 50 years ago is something special.
“I’ll tell you 50 years is a long time except in my mind it went by in a hurry. I said at the end (of the radio call) someday when we’re old and gray and I just didn’t think old and gray would get here quite as quick as it did but it’s here and it’s something good to look back on,” said Sanders.
David Langner, who played such an integral part to pulling off that famous win, died in 2014 after a battle with cancer. Newton remembers his teammate with fondness.
“Langner had no fear. He had no concern for his body because he would throw everything into it. The boy was a unique person, but he was one you would want to be on your team, to go to war with because he gave it his all,” Newton said.
You can read more about ‘Punt Bama Punt’ and hear Sanders’ radio calls here.