Over his 25 years as Alabama head coach, the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant lost to Auburn just six times. Perhaps the most infamous of those came on this day 50 years ago.
Up 16-0 in the fourth quarter, Alabama watched its lead evaporate, thanks to a pair of special teams touchdowns. The 17-16 victory for the Tigers came to be known as “Punt Bama Punt”.
Setting the Stage
Alabama was 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country as it arrived at Legion Field on Dec. 2, 1972. To that point in the season, the Crimson Tide had played just one game decided by fewer than 14 points. Alabama beat Auburn 31-7 the year prior and arrived as a 16-point favorite.
Despite being almost 3-score underdogs, the Tigers were in the midst of a stellar season in head coach Ralph Jordan’s 22nd year. At 8-1, the Tigers were ranked No. 9 and had won four straight following a loss to LSU.
“Punt Bama Punt”
Alabama led 16-0 entering the fourth quarter before the Tigers finally got the board with a field goal. Linebacker Bill Newton recorded 23 total tackles for Auburn, but his biggest plays came on special teams.
With less than six minutes to play and Alabama lined up to punt, Newton was able to break through and block Greg Gantt’s boot. Fielding the block in stride, David Langner raced 25 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 16-10.
At the conclusion of Alabama’s next possession, history repeated itself. With less than two minutes left, Newton was again able to get a hand on the Gantt punt with Langner again returning it for a touchdown — this time to give Auburn the lead, 17-16. Langner would put the final nail in Alabama’s coffin by intercepting quarterback Terry Davis’ pass.
The loss would ultimately kill Alabama’s national championship hopes. The Crimson Tide let another fourth-quarter lead slip away in a 17-13 loss to Texas in the Cotton Bowl. At 10-2, Alabama finished No. 7 in the final AP Poll.
Auburn would finish 10-1 and No. 5 in the AP Poll after throttling Colorado in the Gator Bowl, 24-3. As for Jordan’s tenure at Auburn, the victory would be his last over Alabama and perhaps his most memorable. It came on this day a half-century ago.
Featured image courtesy of Auburn athletics