WHEN IT COMES TO AUBURN, it pays to read the fine print. Comb the
Tigers' box scores, because the team is banned from the tube. Note
the asterisk next to Auburn in the SEC standings, indicating that the
Tigers are ''not eligible for title.'' And by all means train an eye
on the left biceps of tailback James Bostic, which was on prominent
display after the Tigers' 38-35 come-from- behind triumph over No. 4
Florida. Hobbling around misty Jordan-Hare Stadium, wearing a T-shirt
and paying tribute to the fans, Bostic flashed a tattoo of a panther
surrounded by these faint words: NEVER ENOUGH RESPECT.
How could there ever be enough respect for a team that had a
Nielsen rating of zero and no bowl to play for, yet had gone 7-0 and
earned a No. 10 ranking? How could there ever be enough respect for
the five Auburn players from Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale who
had endured ceaseless jawing back home after losing to the Gators the
last two years, but who came through now, when it meant the most?
How could there ever be enough for Ace Atkins, a senior defensive
end who entered the game with three career tackles and left with two
king-sized sacks? And what about for placekicker Scott Etheridge,
whose decisive 41-yard field goal with 1:21 to play redeemed an
earlier miss from 35 yards out?
How could there ever be enough respect, finally, for Auburn coach
Terry Bowden, who after watching his team nearly disappear into a
17-zip black hole, scrapped one game plan for another and remained
upbeat throughout? As a law- school grad, Bowden knows a little about
fine print, but he has chosen to concentrate on the big picture. ''I
wanted so much for these players to feel the good part in college
football,'' he said after the game. ''They haven't felt that in a
On a shelf in Bowden's office are a pair of white-and-orange
sneakers, size 20. They were sent to him by a fan with a note that
reminded Bowden of the magnitude of the shoes he had stepped into.
Before Pat Dye resigned as Auburn coach last November, he had brought
the Tigers to national prominence. But the 37-year-old Bowden eagerly
put his size-8's in Dye's footprints. During successful coaching
stints at smaller schools, Bowden had been steeling himself for just
such a Division I-A opportunity. ''Besides,'' he says, ''I'd had some
experience filling big shoes.''
Just for the record, Terry is better educated, slightly plumper
and far less folksy than his father. Though Terry has a keen feel for
offensive play- calling, he has not swamped his game plans with
reverses and rooskies like his dad; the kind of player he had at
Auburn this season thrives on a blue- collar, power-I team. Terry
sees being Bobby's boy for the advantage it is. ''Every time Florida
State's on national TV, it's talked about, how both the Bowdens are
unbeaten,'' Terry says. ''So we've gotten a lot of exposure out of
A more likely heir to Bowden pere -- at least in terms of
offensive inventiveness -- is the Gators' fourth-year coach, Steve
Spurrier. Against Auburn, Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun attack put up its
usual gaudy numbers: 560 yards in total offense, 196 coming on 22
carries by senior running back Errict Rhett. And the Florida defense,
prone to surrendering large strikes, yielded % no gain of more than
23 yards, while limiting Auburn's reliable running game to just 116
In the end, the Gators were undone by a handful of costly mistakes
and by an opponent that didn't lose its composure or its faith -- or
the football. This was the seventh time in seven tries that a
Spurrier-coached Florida team had lost to a ranked team on the road.
Said Rhett after the Auburn game, ''I'm still trying to figure out
It all started out according to form. Thanks to the soft passing
touch and prescient reads of freshman quarterback Danny Wuerffel, the
Gators were appropriately lively 'n' lethal, taking a quick 10-0 lead
and driving again with a minute left in the first quarter. Wuerffel's
cause had been abetted by the Dillard High Five, three of whom are
starters in the Tigers' defensive secondary; they were out of
position more than once.
''We were too eager,'' said strong safety Otis Mounds. A redshirt
junior, Mounds was the first of the Fort Lauderdale bunch to sign on
with Auburn; Dye had continued to recruit him even after Mounds
served 10 months in a Florida correctional institution for dealing
crack. Dye's loyalty impressed four of Mounds's schoolmates --
Bostic, cornerback Calvin Jackson, free safety Brian Robinson and
wideout Frank Sanders -- who followed Mounds's lead the next year.
''Most schools wouldn't look at Otis because of his past,'' says
Jackson. ''It really gave me the feeling that Auburn cared.''
Against Florida the Dillard gang began to assert itself on a
second-down play for the Gators at the Auburn 10. Wuerffel's pass,
intended for wide receiver Willie Jackson, who was in the end zone,
instead found Calvin Jackson at the four, and the Tiger cornerback
had a clear stretch of green in front of him. Touchdown. That made it
10-7, Florida, instead of 17-0. The game was on.
Bowden's battle plan at the outset had called for long drives full
of running plays to keep the ball out of the Gators' hands. ''But if
they get up two touchdowns,'' Bowden had said, ''I'm not sure we have
the sort of team that can come back.'' Bowden was entitled to his
doubt: The combined record of Auburn's first six opponents was 13-19.
By halftime the Tigers had had five possessions, rushed 13 times and
gained just 12 yards. Florida had owned the ball seven times and
scored five times -- and led 27-14.
Wuerffel was being supplied with ample time to take his three-step
drop, find the open man and deliver. But that changed in the second
half when Atkins nailed Wuerffel twice to stop two Gator drives.
The son of late Auburn great Billy Atkins, the 213-pound Ace has
written an unpublished spy novel and studied taekwondo, but he had
not made a tackle all season. ''I've never been a part of a game like
this one,'' he said afterward. ''It was like a movie. I don't think
that Hollywood or Robert Altman could have scripted it better for
Meanwhile, Bowden junked his pregame strategy and went to the air,
with quarterback Stan White hitting Sanders on intermediate routes to
set up the run. White finished with 23 completions in 35 attempts for
267 yards. ''We're not a team that's going to go out and throw 50
times, like Florida,'' said White. ''We've got a balanced attack.''
Auburn's revised game plan loosened up the Gator defensive
backfield and created a bit of room for Bostic, who may be the most
fiercely aggressive ball carrier on any team anywhere in the land.
Bostic has a sweet disposition off the field, but on it, he runs
as if each carry were his last. That may partly explain the 76 yards
he gained on 17 attempts against a Florida defense stacked to stop
him and the four-yard touchdown he scored with 13:40 left in the
fourth quarter to give Auburn its first lead, 28-27. On
fourth-and-one, White pitched to Bostic, who faced two problems: 1)
He had no blockers, and 2) Florida linebacker Dexter Daniels had both
hands on him three yards behind the line of scrimmage. But Bostic
blasted through Daniels's grasp -- if not Daniels himself -- and into
the end zone. ''I wasn't going to let him tackle me,'' Bostic said.
''I had my second effort.''
The fifth member of the Dillard gang, Robinson, was heard from
three series later. A blitzing Robinson forced Wuerffel to float a
pass that Tiger cornerback Chris Shelling picked off and returned 65
yards, setting up a nine- yard touchdown on a reverse by Sanders to
make the score 35-27, Auburn. Florida responded by marching 81 yards
to tie the game with 5:44 left.
On Auburn's next possession White's pass on third-and-eight from
his own 42 sailed high, and the Tigers seemed to have stalled with
barely four minutes left to play. But Gator safety Lawrence Wright
had nailed the intended receiver, Sanders, out of bounds, and the
15-yard personal-foul penalty kept the Auburn drive alive for
Etheridge's kick. ''I'm putting this loss on my shoulders,'' Wright
Among his fellows from Fort Lauderdale, Sanders is an anomaly.
Unlike Bostic ( with his panther or Mounds with his cat or Robinson
with his tiger or Jackson with his eight ball (witch's claw
attached), Sanders has no tattoo. ''I'm the one who knows what to do
with money,'' he says. ''Otis probably has two, three hundred dollars
in tattoos on his body.'' In addition, Sanders admits that after
watching Florida's four-wideout sets and wide-open attack, he has
occasional pangs of regret about having chosen Auburn. ''That's a
receiver's dream right there,'' he says of the Gator offense.
But the pangs, like the Tigers, eventually pass. ''A lot of people
thought we made a bad decision to come here,'' Sanders said after the
game. ''But this shows Auburn is a great program.'' Besides dropping
Florida to 5-1 and dampening its national championship hopes,
Auburn's victory paved the way for some verbal payback by the Dillard
gang come summertime. One of the primary targets of that retribution
will be Rhett, who is known for his nonstop chatter. ''Those five
guys live right down the street from me,'' Rhett lamented. ''Now
they've got bragging rights, and I don't have another chance to play
In some respects the NCAA probation has been a plus for the
Tigers; they remained relatively free of expectations. ''That's the
positive -- you can relax a little,'' said Bowden. ''The negative is,
the closer you get to having a good season, the more you realize what
they have taken away from you.''
WHEN IT COMES TO AUBURN, it pays to read the fine print. Comb the