Is there any possible way I can get a do over?
Can we just go back to the end of 2019 and start over? I’m just going to say it. This year sucks.
I am way beyond the point of being sick of tragic and depressing news, yet here we go again. It was announced Monday legendary Auburn football coach Patrick Fain Dye died at the age of 80. He was so important and uniquely special to Auburn people for so many different reasons.
I rejoice he lived a very full life and was relatively healthy for the majority of it. However, I mourn because the world is a far less colorful place without Dye in it.
Obviously, people will talk in the coming days about his victories and championships and rightly so. They are a pillar in the foundation of the modern Auburn football program. A seemingly endless line of former Tigers, past and present, have already voiced their appreciation for the transformational impact he had on their lives.
Again, the true measure of a man lies in the impact he has on others — positively or negatively.
I had the good fortune, like practically every other person in the state, to meet Dye on several occasions. He was always approachable, always engaging and always true to character. I met him for the first time when I was just a kid in the mid-80s.
I believe he came to Hamp Lyon Stadium one night to scout Scott Bolt. No matter how stealthily Dye planned his arrival, it caused an unavoidable commotion. A whisper began to circulate through the crowd that Southern royalty has been spotted on the grounds. Everyone began to look around to see if they could spot him.
I wondered if it was just a hoax — until an imposing figure wearing an unmistakable satin blue Auburn jacket and a blue hat with an orange solid “A” on the front of it caught my eye.
More than a few brave souls approached him to get an autograph or share a pleasantry, but I was terrified. It neared the end of the game and the crowd had thinned out quite a bit. I begged my father to go get an autograph for me, but he forced me to do it myself.
I sheepishly approached what seemed at the time like a giant of a human being and asked for an autograph on the back of my ticket stub (which I still have). He asked if I was in Auburn fan. I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “Whar Eegul” in that beautiful yesteryear way.
As I floated back to my seat billowing with pride, I felt as though it was my finest hour.
I’ve often heard people — Tide and Tiger fans alike — talk about Auburn having a “little brother” syndrome in comparison to Alabama. To be honest, I never really understood how that was in any way an accurate characterization. Then again, why would I?
My first memories of Auburn football are from the early 1980’s. While technically I was alive in the 70s, I have never truly lived in a world where Auburn and Alabama weren’t on equal footing. In fact, the Tigers have not merely been equal but superior.
Auburn actually has a 20-18 record against the Crimson Tide since 1982. This will be the true legacy of Pat Dye as the Auburn football coach.
Dye fundamentally changed the attitude and perspective of the players, the fans and the administration simultaneously. He had an incredible ability to connect with people, especially young men. He was an old-fashioned coach.
I’ll remember him as much for the off-the-cuff locker room speeches that could bring grown men to tears as I will remember him for the SEC titles. His importance to Auburn University cannot be overstated.
I met him a few more times in between but the last time was about a year ago exactly. He talked about getting out and working on his farm every day. He talked about how much he loved it.
The years had most assuredly taken a toll on the imposing figure I remembered from my youth, but he still looked like a giant to me.