From The Notebook: Paul Hemphill (1936-2009)

hemphill header

Paul Hemphill, noted newspaper columnist and author of “The Nashville Sound,” “Leaving Birmingham,” and “Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams,” died Saturday morning. He was 73.

His last book, “A Tiger Walk through History: The Complete Story of Auburn Football from 1892 to the Tuberville Era,” was published in 2008.

Hemphill was a native of Birmingham and graduated from Auburn in 1957.

1957 was a good year to graduate…

It was also a good year to be The Plainsman’s sports editor.

Here’s Hemphill’s column from December 6, 1957.

[you can read it in its full, antique glory here]

I’ll Remember…
What does it take to be the best football team in the whole nation?
Lots of things, friends, lots of things… more than you’d think.
Most of’em are obvious, like scoring more points than the guys at the other end of the field every Saturday, or blocking hard and tackling the same way.
Your Aunt Matilda – who’s never seen a football game in her life – knows it takes a lot of good football players and the same amount of coaches molded into a happy, winning machine.
But there are plenty of things making for undefeated seasons which never get into the headlines… some folks call’em “intangibles”… others name them “loyalty” and “pride” and “desire.”
This Auburn team, the 1957 one, the one that’s sitting right on top and looking down at everybody else in the football world, had those “intangibles.”
Maybe that’s why almost everybody calls it the best in the nation instead of just another good football team.
And maybe I’m too sentimental, but it’s gonna be so, so hard to forget the many little – yet big – things that happened in the fall of 1957 to the bunch that has to be called the greatest in Auburn history.
I’ll remember all the surprises that came along week by week… things such as Lloyd Nix’s brilliant quarterbacking that cold, wet, day against Tennessee in his first college game at that position…
And the sight of unknown Mickey Welch, jumping into the battle against Georgia Tech in his hometown and stopping – all by himself – the Engineers’ most serious scoring threat.
I won’t forget either the raw courage shown by Bobby Hoppe when he refused for three Saturdays to give in to two ribs broken in the opener against Tennessee… Nor the way 165-pound Tommy Lorino buried back into the fray against Kentucky minutes after being laid low by 240-pound Lou Michaels.
The same kind of stuff was shown all year long by Captain Tim Baker, who was so banged up even before the season began that he shouldn’t even have been in a uniform.
“Desire,” is the nice word they call that… it’s also “guts.”
And I’ll never forget the display of same rendered by loose-jointed John Whatley, long, lanky and almost-forgotten, when he threw off his parka that cold afternoon in Birmingham and replaced Jimmy Phillips in a manner described by the All-American as “better than I could ever have done.”
The sights in the Auburn dressing room after that come-from-behind win over Mississippi State are even more clear in my mind.
There was end coach Gene Lorendo, big, tough, and with the booming voice, so happy about “Ol’ John’s” (Whatley) golden moment that he was almost in tears. And outside the clubhouse, there was backfield teacher Buck Bradberry, who was telling writers – even before they asked – what he thought of his Tigers’ coming from behind for the first time.
That was “pride.”
And when you start talking about “loyalty,” you have to mention everything “Shug” Jordan did, everything he said, all year.
He showed it each time he was asked about one of his men. Never, not once, was there a word of criticism for a player who had obviously made a mistake.
Never did the savior of Auburn football portray any doubt that the men who played for him WERE men.
That, you have to call “loyalty.”
And never did Jordan’s loyalty and respect of his football players show more to this fan than last Saturday against Alabama in a fleeting incident that almost everybody missed.
It was midway in the second half when graduating Bobby Hoppe had prematurely ended his college career with a twisted elbow.
And as the gritty Chattanoogan sat dejectedly on the Auburn bench, head down and probably with a tear in his eye, his coach sensed the need for saying one last word of gratitude to the one who had exemplified the Auburn spirit throughout the football season that was almost endd.
I’ll never, ever forget the look of fatherly pride in “Shug” Jordan’s eyes as he cupped Bobby Hoppe’s chin in his hand and lifted his head to say a simple… “thank you.”
That was loyalty, pride, and respect.
And I’ll remember…

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Visions of ’57: Auburn 29, Florida St. 7

From the 1958 Glomerata:



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Goes to show…

… how famous Michael Jackson really was. And how small.



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X almost marked the spot

I talked with Exene Cervenka from X the other day. I got real excited for a second. Not quite Bjork excited, but definitely excited.


Moi: Have you ever been to Auburn?

Exene: Well, we played there. About a million years ago. You have a big football team, right?  I think we played one of those football years. I don’t remember. I might have it mixed up with Birmingham or something. Does Birmingham, Alabama have the elephant mascot?

Moi: Oh man… that’s Tuscaloosa. Those are the bad guys.

Exene: Oh. Man, I got mixed up. I was young. I was drunk. It was a long time ago. It was football. It was surreal. I got mixed up.

Moi: You would have liked Auburn better.

Exene: I probably would have.

Me: Do you watch American Idol?

Exene: I do not.


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Fly down the field, girl, fly down the field

At a recent commencement ceremony at George Washington University, there were cries of “War Eagle.”

On her name card, Auburn alumna Sara Elisabeth Burson (class of ’07) slipped our school’s illustrious battle cry in between her middle and last name.

She handed it to the announcer.

The announcer looked at it. A gag? Native American? Are you sure?

So sure.

So sure Sara graduated with a Masters in Tourism Administration from GWU not as Sara Elisabeth Burson, but as Sara Elisabeth War Eagle Burson.


This I discovered after typing “War Eagle” into Twitter’s search engine, just for kicks.

And it got me thinking about the girl whose middle name really is War Eagle.

I went to high school with her, in Birmingham no less. She was beautiful. So was her little sister – her name (her first name) was Tiger. Their last name was White. They were two of the prettiest girls in school, duh.

Alabama fans brag on their houndstoothed army of Bryant namesakes (“hi, name is Drunk Jones, this here is my brother Cheeter”), but with the single, feminized semi-exception of Tyde (you remember him – Saban’s brother?), have any of them ever had the passion or the balls to name a child after their actual battle cry?

War Eagle ended up going to Georgia. It hurt us all.


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Bo Knows The Secret of Life

“God bless you. And most of all, keep Auburn in your prayers, keep Auburn in your heart, and War Eagle.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Bo Knows The Secret of Life“, posted with vodpod


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Happy 2009



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