By J. Henderson
Here is a strange story appropriate for the week of the Arkansas game.
The year? 1993. The new restaurant that had Birmingham hoppin’? Outback Steakhouse. It was late October on Hwy 31. A Friday Night dream!
It was also my great grandfather’s last birthday, last he would celebrate rather. I was in high school, a freshman. I ordered a steak and a baked potato and ate free food with family under lights so very dim and goofed off with my cousin. When it came time for the potato, I made a face because something didn’t taste right. I asked the waiter, “is there some sort of Australian butter on here?” He said it was sour cream. It was my first taste of the stuff.
The next day was Reid McMilion’s first taste of Australian butter, too, if by Australian butter you mean hard-core glory. And I do. I mean, he’d always been there, always been ready, but we called on him in a close one, 31-21, and he answered with a stoic roar. He was a senior and going freaking bald. He’s one of my all-time faves and that game is the reason why. Just 12 carries, by my heart was riding piggy back the whole time, if you know I mean.
I was by myself in the house, alone, no one with me but the Lord. It was cold outside. It was gray. There would be no warmth from the glow of the TV because the TV wasn’t going to be on because the Tigers were kept from television that year by the efforts of the traitor Ramsey. No matter, we ruled via radio. (“We weren’t seen, but we were heard!” read the bumper stickers.) I yanked my mom’s doggie bag out of the fridge, threw cold steak and potato into the microwave, took it back out and headed downstairs. And then I turned on the radio and I listened to the immortal Jim Fyffe diagram every step of 6’0, 220 lb Reid’s 91 yards of workhorse grandeur. Head down, legs up, smash them in the face until you see blood in the snow. Make cherry ice-cream out of it, eat it up. Spit it out. Win the game, let the angels quiver in the waves of your power! Yes, it was snowing up in Fayetteville the day before Halloween and thanks to Jim, I might as well have been there to see it fall. It is one of the more vivid memories of my life, listening to that game.
But Reid’s heroics apparently were peripheral to the real secret behind that particular Auburn victory, a crucial road win that shot the Tigers even further down the fated 11-0 path of undefeatedness, at least according to former Auburn defensive end Ace Atkins. And no, it has nothing to do with a half-time inspiration from young Coach Bowden.
Atkins is a writer, and actually a teacher at Ole Miss these days. He’s a prominent and skilled purveyor of that wonderful genre known as ‘southern noir.’ His dad, Billy Atkins, was a senior star on the 1957 Auburn team that won the national title, which makes them the only Auburn father and son pair to both play on undefeated teams. I imagine they could easily be the only such duo in the entire history of the game.
Here is a picture of Atkins 4th tackle in 1993.
A “Sports Illustrated” piece on the game credits a pep-talk from Bowden about somebody stepping up to make a big play as the fire that got into the team’s blood, as well as some talk about Eskimos having to work all day at the Alaskan pipeline from secondary coach Jack Hines, who had a master’s degree in psychology. But no! says Atkins, that wasn’t it at all. Atkins lays it all at the mouth of Otis Mounds, the Auburn safety with the troubled past who made national headlines while a redshirt freshman in 1990 for being paged to the playing field from the stands during the opening game of the season against Fullerton State. 8 years later, he would get the job as LL Cool J’s stunt-double on the set of the movie Any Given Sunday.
“It’s funny how the truth vs. the myth is always confused in football stories,” Atkins said.
“Someone told me… that it’s a famous story of how Terry Bowden came to the locker room at the Arkansas game and said you guys can be 8-1 or 9-0. Or something like that. Anyway, it’s told as that being the turning point of that game.”
“The turning point came when we had been berated the entire first half by the Arkansas homecoming queen — yep, we were so bad in ’92, we were picked as homecoming — and finally defensive back Otis Mounds had had enough,” Atkins said.
And get this – the girl’s name? The Homecoming Queen’s name? Kym Polite. Kym Polite. She was a varsity cheerleader. And she blew it for her team because Otis Mounds had had enough.
“He turned around to the young lady – decked out in a fur coat and tiara – and yelled at her in the third quarter ‘Shut up, bitch.’”
“Now, that is what made the whole sideline pickup and we won the game. The girl was trying to get down to the field to slap Otis but she was held back by her court, her tiara falling off her head.”
“True tale,” Atkins said.
War Eagle! Let’s channel the spirit of McMilion and give’em hell! No Rules! Just Right! Shut up, Arkansas!