BOTH OF THE TEAMS' QUARterbacks were making a final, desperate
attempt to gain some measure -- any measure -- of redemption for a
college career gone bad. Mississippi State's Todd Jordan and Auburn's
Stan White had been the bluest of blue-chip recruits coming out of
high school. Both had figured to lead some fortunate college to the
promised land of New Year's Day bowls and, just maybe, a national
championship. That was five years ago. Five miserable, rotten,
stinking years ago.
The shiny dreams that both senior quarterbacks had in the spring
of 1989 had given way to the melancholy autumn of '93. In many ways
their collegiate hopes had gone off the rails through no fault of
their own. For example, Jordan, the '88 Mississippi high school
player of the year, from Tupelo High, had played under four different
offensive coordinators using seven different offenses during his time
in Starkville. Along the way Jordan, who going into this season had
started only three games for the Bulldogs, had endured the additional
turmoil of coach Rockey Felker's being replaced by Jackie Sherrill in
December 1990. At one point last season Jordan was told by Watson
Brown, the Bulldogs' offensive coordinator at the time, that he would
never again play quarterback at Mississippi State.
A similar mishmash of misfortune had plagued White, even though he
had been a starter since his freshman year. White had led
Birmingham's Berry High to the state title as a senior by passing for
1,444 yards and rushing for 650, and at Auburn he had been forced
to learn four different offenses from three different quarterback
coaches. What's more, he, too, had had to cope with a change at the
top when his original head coach, Pat Dye, was replaced last
December by Terry Bowden, a tumultuous shift brought on by NCAA
So when Mississippi State lost 31-17 to Auburn, the Bulldogs were
left with a disappointing 1-4 record and Jordan was still in search
of redemption. Oddly, though, while Auburn fans should have been
screaming and making noisy claims of being No. 1, there was a kind of
pall over the campus. Why so restrained? First, the Tigers' six
victims to date had a combined record of 13-19. Looming were Florida
and Alabama. Second, because of the NCAA probation, the Tigers were
not allowed to appear on television this year or to go to a bowl for
Not that any of those things were the fault of White. A tall (6
ft. 3 in.), good-looking, personable young man who signs every
autograph with good humor, White threw three touchdown passes against
the Bulldogs. He holds 14 school records, a blitz that has relegated
1971 Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan to runner-up status in the
Auburn record book. Said Dye of White, ''He has a strong arm, he's
smart, and he ain't never lacked courage. He might be a better pro
than college quarterback.''
Bowden, too, buys into this theory. ''If he had been in a
different situation, he would have been one of the top quarterbacks
in the country,'' Bowden said. ''There has been constant team and
university adversity. He has been trying to do too much, throwing to
receivers who were young, never in the right place, and different
ones every week.''
The low point, and perhaps even the defining moment, for White
occurred in 1990 when the Tigers went to Gainesville with a 7-0
record and ranked fourth in the nation. Florida, however, routed
Auburn 48-7, and the image of White, a redshirt freshman, being
hurled to the ground like a small sack of potatoes lives in infamy.
Another gloomy moment came last season when, shortly before the half
against struggling Arkansas, White threw an ill-advised pass that was
picked off and returned 85 yards for a touchdown. Ultimately the
teams tied 24-24. And, of course, White is the guy who had been at
the helm for three straight losses to Alabama. When losing to the
Tide is the sin, forgiveness takes awhile.
Against Mississippi State, however, White's scoring passes were
works of ; art. Over a span of 7:17 in the second quarter, beginning
with Auburn trailing 6-0, he put up 21 unanswered points to secure
the victory. The three touchdown plays went like this:
-- He hooked up on a streak pattern with wide receiver Frank
Sanders, who raced between the safeties for a 57-yard score. (Sanders
was one of the Tigers who had whined last year that White should be
-- On the next series White tossed a perfect screen pass to
running back Stephen Davis, who turned it into a 35-yard scoring run.
-- Then, on the Tigers' next possession, White made a pinpoint
seven-yard touchdown throw to fullback Tony Richardson, expertly
avoiding an interception by a Bulldog cornerback who had unexpectedly
dropped into the coverage.
Among White's many virtues is his forthrightness. The day before
the Mississippi State game, he calmly reviewed the chaos that is his
career and said, ''I'd be lying if I said the last two years have
been much fun. It's not fun when you lose, and if it doesn't hurt
when you lose, you're not much of a player. While I've been here, we
haven't had our share of wins. We want to return Auburn to the way it
was when we got here.''
Mississippi State doesn't have the legacy of success that Auburn
does, but Jordan shares White's resolve. ''I would much rather be
good, fall down and then be good again than be good, fall down and
never get back up,'' he said after the game.
When last glimpsed against Auburn, Jordan was still struggling to
his feet and still looking for directions to Redemption Street. White
could have told him that it's not easy to find.