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New book ‘Teammates for Life’ tells story of Auburn’s 1972 ‘Amazin’s’ 2/2/2023 Creg Stephenson,

A recently published book tells the story of one of the most-glorious — and unexpected — seasons in Auburn football history.

Jeff Miller’s “Teammates for Life: The Inspiring Story of Auburn University’s Unbelievable, Unforgettable and Utterly Amazin’ 1972 Football Team, Then and Now,” hit shelves in late November. Miller — an Auburn graduate and veteran sportswriter who has worked for The Huntsville Times, among other stops — will sign copies of the book at Fairhope’s Page and Palette at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Miller has written in the past about football at Army, in Texas and in the professional ranks, but for his fifth book decided to tackle a subject close to the heart of generations of Auburn fans. Led by stars such as running back Terry Henley, quarterback Randy Walls, defensive linemen Danny Sanspree, Benny Sivley and Bill Newton and defensive back David Langner, Ralph “Shug” Jordan’s 1972 team — dubbed “The Amazin’s” — is among the most beloved in the school’s 100-plus-year football history.

“That team really was a victory of the human spirit,” Miller told this week. “Auburn has the ‘Auburn Creed,’ which begins ‘I believe in work, hard work’ and that really was the formula for success for this team. Running the same plays over and over and over again. It was just a matter of repetition. Their philosophy was ‘When we get in games, nobody has outworked us in practice, and we can impose our will on opponents.’ That was really the simple key to victory for them.”

Miller enrolled at Auburn in the fall of 1973, which means he just missed witnessing the exploits of the 1972 team in-person. A year after the departure of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Pat Sullivan, All-America receiver Terry Beasley and other stars, the Tigers of 50 seasons ago pulled off a series of improbable victories on their way to a 10-1 finish and No. 7 final national ranking.

Picked to finish sixth in the 10-team SEC in the preseason, Auburn beat No. 4 Tennessee 10-6 in late September, then knocked off nationally ranked Ole Miss a week later. The season culminated with a 17-16 victory over No. 2 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, the game immortalized as “Punt Bama Punt.”

“I arrived as a freshman in the fall of ‘73, and Auburn proceeded to lose the next nine in a row against Alabama,” said Miller, a New Jersey native. “Not many of them were close. At times, it seemed like Auburn might never beat Alabama again in football. So that game in my mind’s eye just grew exponentially.

“I’m not from the South. So when I got there, I really didn’t know the details. I knew they won the game. But soon after, I learned the details of 17-16. For years, I thought this would be this would be something to write about. And then maybe four or five years ago, I determined that if I was ever going to do that, I needed to have it done in time for the 50th anniversary of the game, and I barely got that done.”

The 1972 Iron Bowl is among the most glorious victories in Auburn history, and until the “Kick Six” in 2013 arguably the most improbable. The Tigers gained just 80 yards of total offense that day at Legion Field in Birmingham against a Crimson Tide team that had already clinched the SEC championship, but Newton blocked two punts — and Langner returned the both for touchdowns as Auburn rallied from a 16-3 deficit in the final six minutes.

The stunning upset came on the heels of an off-the-cuff dig at Auburn’s agrarian heritage by legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at a meeting of the Birmingham Monday Morning Quarterback Club the previous week. Asked one too many times about an upcoming matchup with Texas in the Cotton Bowl, an exasperated Bryant blurted out “I’d rather beat the cow college than beat Texas 10 times.”

Bryant’s insult, still felt more than 50 years later by many Auburn fans, was a galvanizing moment for the 1972 team, Miller said. Though the two reporters at the event — Alf Van Hoose of the Birmingham News and Bob Phillips of the Post-Herald — buried Bryant’s “cow college” remark within stories largely focused on Texas, the message still got through to the Tigers.

“In those days, the Birmingham News, you could get home delivery in Auburn. They would have those papers in the lounge at the athletic dorm, Sewell Hall,” Miller said. “Terry Henley, of course, seized upon that and made it a rallying cry. It kind of was the kick in the pants motivation just before that game.”

Miller interviewed dozens of members of the 1972 Tigers for “Teammates for Life,” as well as close relatives of many who are no longer living. Among those he talked extensively with are Ralph Jordan Jr. — the coach’s son — and several family members of Langner, who died of cancer in 2014.

The heartbeat of the story is Jordan, the consummate “Auburn man” who by 1972 had been head coach at his alma mater for more than 20 years (he died from leukemia in 1980 at age 69, five years after retiring from coaching). A walk-on who became a three-sport standout with the Tigers in the early 1930s, Jordan populated the Auburn roster with players a lot like himself, Miller said.

“Coach Jordan served in World War II and earned a Purple Heart, but as his son told me, he didn’t really like to talk about all that stuff,” Miller said. “But it was obviously a pivotal experience in his life. … Auburn was known as a welcoming program for walk-ons. Bill Newton was a walk-on, Gardner Jett, the kicker, was a walk-on. It goes back to coach Jordan himself being a walk-on, being able to show that kind of appreciation and compassion for somebody who went through all those head-busting drills for four years.”

In addition to his signing on Thursday in Fairhope, Miller will also appear at Read Herring (also known as New South Books) in Montgomery at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 9 and at Auburn Oil Co. Booksellers from 10 a.m.-noon on Feb. 11. The latter appearance will also include former Auburn athletics director David Housel — who wrote the foreword for “Teammates for Life” — signing copies of his popular book, “From the Back Booth at Chappy’s.”

Creg Stephenson has worked for since 2010 and has covered college football for a variety of publications since 1994. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @CregStephenson.

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