By C. Davidson
As a freshman sitting in the southeast corner of Jordan-Hare, I recall the thrill of watching a tiny halfback dart around Tennessee tacklers and flatten linebackers who outweighed him by 50 pounds. That was The Little Train, Lionel James, whom Pat Dye called “No. 6 in your program, No. 1 in your hearts.” In fact, the story was that James wore No. 6 because he was too small to fit two numbers on his jersey.
Lionel was a talented, fearless player. Along with another candidate for this list, Tommie Agee, Lionel cleared holes for the greatest Auburn Tiger of them all and made clutch run after clutch run. He was also Bo’s mentor in 1982 and ’83. When he was presented the Sugar Bowl MVP trophy, Bo handed it over to Lionel.
From Bo Knows Bo, a classic…
The greatest sports memory of my life was being in Legion Field for the 1982 Iron Bowl when we broke the nine-game losing streak. Of course, Bo Over the Top was the game winner. But that probably would never have happened without Lionel’s 14-yard touchdown run on third and 10 when we were down 7-0. Later in that game, The Little Train also made a huge block on a 53-yard run by No. 34.
David Housel is given to hyperbole on occasion, but I think he has this exactly right: “The coaches at that time obviously saw something in him that was greater, that was more important than his physical size. They saw something inside, in his heart, that made him special. Coach Jordan used to say that if he could look into the heart, mind and soul of anybody, he could make them into an athlete. I think Lionel James is the kind of player he had in mind when he said that.”
Many thanks to Charles. Other than a comment by “George Bush” naming Randy Campbell, a quarterback during the Jackson dynasty (am I seeing a trend?), his has been the only response — and it was a good one — to TWER’s solicitation for a little somethin’ on whomever you’ve deemed the most underrated Auburn player ever. I knew Little Train would be up there – the nickname almost demands it. Send your ruminations to firstname.lastname@example.org and yes, it can be Lionel James again if you really feel it… speaking of, Will Collier wrote a
piece novel on James for ITAT back in ’96, well worth checking out…