Most Underrated Ever: Lionel “Little Train” James

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 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…



Filed under Most Underrated Ever

4 responses to “Most Underrated Ever: Lionel “Little Train” James

  1. el Carg

    agreed that Little Train is one of the best. I’m not even sure “underrated” should be used for a guy who did the things he did, plus played in the pros.

    Last I heard he was dealing with an illness. Anyone got an update?

  2. Mr. James is an excellent candidate.

    I think another one is a guy who is a very recent performer and at first glance wouldn’t fit this bill. However as time continues on a-pace and other names are echoed in the crisp Auburn air — and when you think of his lasting contribution and impact over a career — I’d go with Will Herring as one of those guys. Jimmy Brumbaugh might be in the same category for very similar reasons.

    And while his numbers were gaudy and he’s still at the top of many of the rankings some college buddies would argue for Dameyune Craig, making the case that he was the prototypical scramble quarterback before college and pro ball felt the need for such a person. To look back upon his skill set now is a neat trip.

    And let us not forget our preceeding kickoff specialist, a man so unheralded most don’t even know his name.

    Now if we got truly historical…

  3. Sullivan013

    Most underrated?

    Not a player, but a position: Fullback

    That thankless position of punishment that consists of running headlong into the mass of the defense, and choosing to hit the biggest body in the hole and clear the way for the scat-back behind you with the ball. Succeed and your reward is a bone-crushing blow and a mouthful of ice-cold turf. Fail, and you get the same, only with the ire of every fan, coach and fellow players for missing the key block in the series.

    No other player epitomizes the term ‘Underrated” better than Auburn’s unique class of quality fullbacks that have gone to the NFL. Part of the reason for Auburn’s ‘Running Back U’ title has been the unsung performance of such quality people like Tommy Agee, Fred Beasley, Heath Evans, Carl Stewart, and (my favorite) the Fullback-turned-linebacker-turned-Fullback-again; Brandon Johnson. I never saw a tougher competitor or harder hitting player prior to the emergence of Tray Blackmon (what these two might have done to each other in a scrimmage is the stuff of wistful debate).

    For the “2 carries for 5 yards, and 1 reception for 6 yards” guys whose true impact and performance can only be witnessed by watching film. War Eagle, guys.

  4. Sean Anaya

    my coach, (coach Evans) told me to look u up he said anythings possible it doesnt matter about size, he says he knows you and he played on the chargers with you.

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