Don’t take my word for it — or any Tiger fan’s — when it comes to Auburn running backs. Take the word of a neutral authority like, say, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples:
I’m trying to figure this out, and the only real conclusion is holy cow Auburn has had some great RBs in the past 20 years. https://t.co/JhaepjtCgJ
— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) May 10, 2018
That’s Staples’ response to this thought-provoking tweet from the SEC Country Auburn account, one asking: aside from the obvious Heisman-winning McAdory High School graduate, what two Tigers tailbacks would feature in your ultimate Auburn backfield? Such is the historical embarrassment of riches at the position on the Plains that the question generated nearly 200 responses — and given the options, it’s nearly impossible to say any of those answers was any less correct than any other. For the record, Staples went with Cadillac Williams and Kerryon Johnson.
That conversation served as a nice reminder of how nice simply being reminded of Auburn’s past can be. Why bother ranking — or even choosing — among a candidate pool this deep?
— Skye Underwood (@SkyeUnderwood) May 10, 2018
To that end, here’s a list of 10 running backs from Auburn’s illustrious ball-carrying history — not ranked, not rated, just remembered. Why? Because remembering is enjoyment enough.
Arguably the greatest player of the Shug Jordan era whose name doesn’t rhyme with Schmat Schmullivan, Frederickson compiled a resume in 1964 that would make him as household an Auburn name as Cadillac or Cam if he had played in the modern-era: first-team All-SEC, first-team All-American, sixth-place in the Heisman balloting, plus leading the SEC in interceptions as the starting safety for the nation’s No. 1 defense. A physical freak by the standards of his day — at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Frederickson was larger than many of the linemen blocking for him — he went No. 1 overall to the New York Giants in the 1965 NFL Draft.
Tucker Frederickson was pretty gosh-darned good.
Even accounting for 1983 or 2003, Auburn’s depth chart may never have been more loaded at running back than it was in 1977 and 1978, when Joe Cribbs, James Brooks and Andrews gave the Tigers three different backs who would be named first-team All-Pro in the NFL. Andrews never rushed for more than 635 yards in a season at Auburn, but that’s how it went in the Tigers’ backfield in the late ’70s, when going to the NFL meant you had finally secured yourself more playing time.
The mind reels at what Fullwood might have accomplished had he not shared a backfield with Bo for three-quarters of his Auburn career, since it already reels at what he accomplished in the single season he didn’t: 1,391 yards on 167 carries (8.3 yards an attempt), 10 touchdowns, consensus All-American honors and sixth in the Heisman vote.
Ho hum, just another highlight-machine future NFL Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro unfortunately overshadowed by one of the greatest running backs to ever live. Dime a dozen at Auburn in that era, really.
Bostic’s 1993 season was an all-time performance: 1,205 yards on 199 carries (6.1 yards per attempt) and 12 touchdowns, good enough for first-team All-SEC honors and to propel Terry Bowden’s first team to an undefeated season. More importantly: Bostic breaking away for the game-icing touchdown against Alabama will be the most deliriously joyful your humble Auburn writer will ever be while listening to a radio sports broadcast.
You ask “When will it get old listening to Mike Tirico say ‘It could all change in one snap’ before Johnson runs through the entire Wyoming defense as Tirico unleashes a series of escalating ‘RUDI JOHNSONs,’ a Poke defender rips off his helmet in frustration, and the director caps the sequence by showing us the Bo Jackson image atop the stadium?”
I answer “Never, of course.”
Of all the “pick an Auburn running back decisions” possible, picking between Ronnie and Cadillac is the most “parent is forced to choose between his or her children” decision of them all. Let us note Cadillac remains the school’s second-leading career rusher all-time, but Brown has the distinction of the best-soundtracked tailback highlight video on YouTube. Watching Brown sings to yours truly’s football soul in a way even watching Cadillac did not … but if yours sang the other way ’round, Lord knows your soul’s just as fine as mine.
In 2004, Auburn finally said goodbye to two of the greatest tailbacks to ever play on the Plains … and in 2005, said hello to a back who promptly led the SEC in rushing, became the first Auburn rusher to go for 100 yards in six consecutive games since Cribbs, was a unanimous first-team all-conference choice, etc. Same-ol’, same-ol’, mostly, except for the part where his 218 yards against LSU qualifies as the most spectacular Auburn performance in a losing effort in recent memory. Don’t worry, John Vaughn, you will be forgiven. Eventually.
With 2013’s magic carpet ride still only five years in the rearview mirror, Auburn fans likely don’t need much reminding of who Mason was. But it might still be worth recalling that with the SEC title on the line, Mason rushed for 304 yards against Missouri, the second-highest single-game total in Auburn history and the most for an Auburn back since 1944*.
304 yards. 304 yards. Three hundred-and-bleeping-four yards.
Again: the point of this list isn’t to necessarily celebrate Auburn running back greatness, as to remember Auburn running backs who deserve simply to be remembered. And “The Lizard” most certainly does, mostly to recall that Auburn once enjoyed the services of a player nicknamed “The Lizard.” But it’s also worth recalling that a player as elusive and dangerous in space as Cooper would have been a terrifying weapon in a Gus Malzahn-style spread offense … for which Cooper, an Auburn player from 1996 to 1999, arrived some 10-to-15 years too early to enjoy.
Remember our mutual favorites, of course. But don’t forget the irrational favorites, either. It’s running back, at Auburn: there’s enough greatness to remember it all.
*Curtis Kuykendall rushed for 307 yards for Auburn that season against Miami. We cannot show you any YouTube footage of Kuykendall’s performance, but we can show you his 1989 Coca-Cola Auburn trading card.