As I inch closer to 40 years-old my appreciation for Pat Dye grows more and more every year. I’ve been somewhat surprised by the reaction of others to Dye’s name being put on Auburn’s football field.
A friend of mine the other day made the comment that Dye had been caught cheating and for that he doesn’t deserve to be honored. This was an Auburn man who said this. An Auburn graduate. The comment floored me. Didn’t he realize the contributions this man had made? Have some of us forgotten this quickly?
Growing up in the 1970s, I was in the seventh grade when Bo went over the top. Until that point I had never known an Auburn victory over Alabama. I can remember year-in and year-out Alabama not just beating us but embarrassing us. Unfortunately, I came along on the back end of Shug Jordan’s incredible career. I just remember the aging man on the sidelines looking helpless as Bear Bryant rolled up another win.
As a child I would ask my father why we were Auburn fans. It would be so easy to go the other way. After that question, my dad began taking me to more games on the Plains. I quickly became infected with what all of us now call the “Auburn Experience”. We still didn’t win much (these were the days of Doug Barfield) but it felt great to be an Auburn Tiger.
I’ll never forget the day that all changed. This guy named Pat Dye was introduced as our coach. He was a former Georgia Bulldog player - which to a 10 year-old was something to worry about. I had wanted Vince Dooley – the former Tiger quarterback.
That day, Dye kept referring to us as the “University of Auburn” but that’s not what I remember most. I remember the confidence of this man. That’s something I’d never known from an Auburn head coach. Remember, Shug was finishing out his career when I came along. Dye was asked that now famous question, “How long will it take you to beat Alabama?” We all know his response – “60 minutes”.
Dye brought something to us that had been lacking for years – respect and confidence. When we entered Jordan-Hare or Doak Campbell Stadium we all had the feeling that we were going to win. We always felt like we had a chance. We expected to beat Georgia. We expected to beat Alabama. And more times than not we did.
That’s what Pat Dye brought to Auburn. Expectation. Confidence. It’s easy now for us to take that for granted. How close was Auburn to becoming another Mississippi State or Ole Miss? How close were we to becoming a middle tier program in the SEC? I argue that had Dye not come along, we very well could be sitting today in a 72,000 seat Jordan-Hare Stadium. We more than likely would still be traveling to Birmingham to play Alabama each year. We probably would have never known the likes of Bo Jackson, Brent Fullwood, Tracy Rocker or Ed King.
When you stop and ponder the gifts Pat Dye has given Auburn it makes you wonder why we’ve waited this long to honor the man.
And most importantly let’s not ever forget December 2, 1989. That was the day we got on equal footing with Alabama. And because of Pat Dye we have never looked back.