Beginning with the Auburn-Alabama game in 1949, I’ve attended hundreds of Auburn’s football games. One of the five best games I’ve seen was Auburn-Georgia in 1971 between the hedges. Both teams were undefeated, and Auburn was ranked sixth and Georgia seventh by the Associated Press. There were five undefeated teams ahead of them.
The sportswriters touted the contest as “The Greatest Game in Dixie History.” The Bulldogs had a terrific defense led by Chip Wisdom, Mixon Robinson and Chuck Heard. They gave up 25 points to Oregon State in their first game, and in their next seven games they surrendered only four touchdowns. Auburn was led by senior quarterback Pat Sullivan and two outstanding wide receivers--Terry Beasley, All American, and First Team All SEC, Dick Schmalz.
This week, I called my friend and fellow John Carroll High School alumnus, Dick Schmalz, and talked to him about the game. Dick, please give me a player’s perspective about that great day in Athens.
“Arnold, the game was the highlight of my college football career. The hostile Georgia fans were bound and determined that we did not get any sleep the night before the game. Our motel had exterior corridors, and their rabid fans paraded up and down in front of our rooms screaming ‘Dawg Meat, Dawg Meat.’
“Our coaches spent half the night chasing them out the motel. Their fraternity houses were close enough to the motel that their members got on our roof and yelled until the wee hours of the morning."
Facing a defense that had allowed only six points a game, did Auburn install any new plays?
“We did, and I have an interesting story for you about our preparation. John McGeever gave me a couple of pass plays that he thought would be successful against their secondary.”
McGeever was a defensive standout, a hard running fullback, and captain of Auburn’s 1961 team. He was a graduate of John Carroll and a friend of Schmalz.
After a great career at Auburn, McGeever played cornerback and safety for the Denver Broncos. He started every game for four years before playing his final year of professional ball for the Miami Dolphins. One year at Denver, he intercepted seven passes. He had seen Georgia play on television and studied their secondary.
Dick said, “On Monday before the game, I told our offensive coordinator, Gene Lorendo, Coach, a friend of mine gave me two pass plays that he said will work against the Georgia defense.”
Lorendo replied, “Schmalz, I get hundreds of suggested plays every week. Who is your friend?”
Lorendo perked up. “Let me see them.”
Schmalz told me, “I scored touchdowns on both of those plays, although I broke the route on one of them in the end zone to get open.”
Dick, the electricity on game day was palpable. Tell me how it was for the team?
“Our buses parked on a hill above the field, and we had to walk down long, concrete steps to reach the locker room. Both sides of the steps were crammed with Georgia fans, including their band. They were screaming ‘Dawg Meat, Dawg Meat,’ and other things you can’t put on paper. To say it was a boisterous crowd is an under statement. The atmosphere was like a Reverse Tiger Walk. It fired us up though and we were ready to play.”
What was the mood of the team in the midst of that scene?
“I was walking next to Sully and I have never seen him cooler. He was smiling and he was ready. He looked at me and said, ‘Dick, we are going to shine today.’
“It reminded me of his manner in the first game of the year. We played Tennessee up there and with three minutes left we were down 9-3. We took possession on our 14-yard line. Pat told us in the huddle, ‘We’re going to win this ball game, and I’m going to tell you how. Dick, run a curl and break it off two yards short.”
Schmalz caught the pass that was one of his 49 receptions for the year, and Sullivan led them down the field to a 10-9 victory.
Schmalz was known for his outstanding hands as a pass receiver for Coach Shug Jordan's Tigers.
The first half of the Georgia game was a classic in SEC football. We lead by the score of 21-20. Auburn’s Roger Mitchell blocked an extra-point attempt for the one point difference. A year later, he blocked an extra-point attempt by Alabama in the famous “Punt Bama Punt” game. Otherwise, that game would have ended in a 17-17 tie.
Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy that afternoon in Athens even though the game was not televised. He threw the ball for 248 yards and four touchdowns--two to Beasley and two to Schmalz. The final score was 35-20 as Auburn won the “Greatest Game in Dixie History.” Three John Carroll graduates played a huge roll in the victory: John McGeever, Pat Sullivan and Dick Schmalz.
Schmalz was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, but a previous broken clavicle and knee injury at Auburn limited his capability. He came back to Birmingham and has been a successful commercial real estate developer for years.
Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Arnold Heflin is an Auburn graduate and the author of the book Mockingbird’s Song: Hettie Keller's 10 Maxims for Peace and Happiness.
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