Obviously, someone forgot to tell Pat Sullivan that this is the year of the running back. Last week the Auburn quarterback kept right on throwing passes, including four for touchdowns against the best defense in the Southeastern Conference, as the unbeaten Tigers demolished a very good Georgia team 35-20. When the execution was completed, Shug Jordan, the Auburn coach who is about as emotional as Lincoln's statue, snorted when someone suggested that Sullivan might not win the Heisman Trophy. "Maybe not," Jordan drawled, "but if someone else does get it, I'll bet he's Christ reincarnated." Then a look of horror crossed his face, and he held up a restraining hand. "Hold it. I'm a religious man and now I'll be up all night saying Hail Marys. Maybe I had better say that if someone else gets it, he'll have to be, ah, magnificent.'
Which was about what Vince Dooley, the Georgia coach, was saying just a few yards away in the white blockhouse that serves as Georgia's dressing quarters in home-town Athens. A portrait of calmness and composure, Dooley was considerate in this year's first defeat, even going so far as to offer his seat to a late arrival. "I was just saying," he said, "that we were beaten by the best quarterback I've ever seen. Sullivan was a super player having a super day." He grinned and went on, "And if Sullivan is Superman, then Terry Beasley is Boy Wonder. You'd have to prove it to me if there is a better college passing combination. I know the other guy they are talking about, Marinaro. He is good. But Sullivan has got to win the Heisman. Of course, it's not unusual for him to have a great game. You can talk about anything you want, Auburn's receivers, its defense today, its line play, its punter, anything you want. But it all comes back to one thing: Sullivan."
Oddly enough, in view of the outcome, it was Georgia that had exhibited wild optimism during the week, with estimates of victory ranging up to 40 points. The oddsmakers, who apparently failed to note that Sullivan seldom played more than the first three quarters against most rivals this season, saw the Bulldogs as three-point favorites. Which is how coldhearted fortunes are built.
On his wall, Royce Smith, Georgia's All-America candidate at offensive guard, has a blank poster, and each week he invites his fellow Bulldogs to come in and write a bright morale booster for the upcoming game.
November 22, 1971
"But we don't allow anything trite like 'Get 'em 'Dogs,' " said Smith the day before the game. "It has to be really profound. I think this week we had the best lines we've ever had. Steve Sleek, a reserve linebacker, wrote: 'If the world was ending tomorrow, your one wish should be that we are playing Auburn today.' I really like that."
Georgia's searing optimism boiled over at a Thursday night pep rally, where the players did everything but predict total annihilation of the state of Alabama. Phil Sullivan, a defensive back who the folks at Georgia say is better than that other Sullivan, told a wild crowd of about 1,000, "People have said we haven't played anybody. Well, I'll tell you one thing: We've beat the hell out of everyone we've played this year."
And then Dooley got up and yelled: "You're gonna see the damnedest bunch of 'Dogs getting after their butts that you've ever seen."
"I tell you," said Royce Smith, "that pep rally gave me goose bumps all over."
In a more reflective moment Dooley was wondering how his team could go 9-0 without a few troublemakers among the crew. "We won two conference titles in five years and we had a few boys that were, well, hard to handle. Then the last few years we were down and we had nothing but good kids. I got to the point where I was wondering where all the discipline problems were. I got to thinking, 'Hey, you troublemakers, where are you when I need you?' "
In Auburn, where Jordan's Tigers faced the double challenge of Georgia and then unbeaten Alabama two weeks later, the players worked out with the casual detachment of pros. There was a pep rally, but the players stayed home.
"Sullivan really held us together," said Beasley, the All-America split end who is expected to gather a few Heisman votes in his own right. "He's so cool it's unbelievable. All week I knew the pressure was building on him, but all he'd do was give us a big smile and go about practicing. He's so darn confident, it just makes us all confident."
Sullivan led his confident crew into Athens, spent a fitful Friday night listening to the bedlam of auto horns and drunks, and the next afternoon set about destroying Georgia's dream of a national championship.
On the second play of the game Sullivan ran for 15 yards. On the seventh, while falling after being hit by Georgia's Chuck Heard, he flipped a 27-yard pass to Dick Schmalz at the Georgia two. "I thought I had him," said Heard. Two plays later, Tommy Lowry banged over for the touchdown.
Georgia, trailing for the first time all year, got nine yards and punted, and it was Sullivan again. He passed to Lowry for 10, to Schmalz for 18, and then Beasley for 34 and a score. With less than 10 minutes gone, Auburn led 14-0.
A few moments later Andy Johnson, Georgia's fine sophomore quarterback, broke through the Auburn line, avoided a tackier and ran 67 yards to the Auburn two. Two plays later, Jimmy Poulos scored. Recharged by this, Georgia drove 78 yards the next time it had the ball, Donnie Allen scoring from the four, to forge a 14-14 tie.
Undaunted, Sullivan brought Auburn right back, connecting with Schmalz on a 15-yard scoring pass to give Auburn a 21-14 lead at halftime.
After a scoreless third quarter, Georgia got a chance to tie. Auburn fumbled, and Georgia's Steve Kitchens scooped it up at the Tiger 26. Stalled at the 20, Georgia missed a field goal but got the ball back at the 13 when Kim Braswell, the 5'7" 170-pound kicker, was roughed. Three plays later Johnson dove in from the one.
"Then came a big play," said Jordan. "No, two big plays."
The first was when Roger Mitchell streaked in to block Braswell's extra-point attempt, leaving Auburn ahead 21-20. And then on the first play after the kickoff, Sullivan passed to Beasley, who collided with Georgia's Don Golden and Gene Swinford at the Georgia 44, twisted away from the arms of both and bolted in for the score.
"We weren't even trying to score on the play," said Sullivan.
"I saw the collision and I said, 'Oh, no,' " said Schmalz. "Then half a second later I saw Terry out in front of both of them by a step. I knew they'd never catch him."
"That Beasley is something else," said Sullivan.
"Boy Wonder," said Dooley.
A few minutes later a long punt return to the Georgia 20 helped Auburn put the game away. Sullivan got a first down with his fourth completion to Beasley. He then combined with Schmalz for the final four yards and the game's last score.
For the day, Sullivan wound up with 14 completions in 24 attempts for 248 yards and the four scores. That gave him responsibility for 71 career touchdowns, tying Steve Ramsey of North Texas State and Army's Glenn Davis for the NCAA record. His yardage also built his three-year total to 6,725, placing him third on the alltime list behind Chuck Hixson of SMU (6,884) and Jim Plunkett of Stanford (7,887).
"With one game to go," said Jordan, a twinkle building in his eyes.
"Yeah," said Sullivan with a wry grin. "Alabama."