We spend a good amount of time here talking about college football’s common threads. This is such a personal sport, and it’s easy to spend all of your time in your own little hole, talking about your team, your inevitably terrible offensive coordinator, your cheatin’ rivals, etc. But the more you become a fan of college football as a whole, the healthier your fan existence becomes. There is just so much random joy and silliness to be found.
What’s funny is, one of the most personal, school-specific pieces of a fan’s universe — the play-by-play homer announcer — is one of the things any fan in the country can relate to. Inevitably biased. Personal curator of our favorite moments as a fan.
As a Missouri fan, I think of the famous 2007 Mizzou-Kansas game through the filter of radio guy Mike Kelly’s “Safety! Ballgame! Bingo!” and of Henry Josey’s 2013 SEC East-clinching touchdown as “Henry Josey! Angleton, Texas! Explodes for 57 yards!” As a fan of School X, you’re almost inevitably thinking about your favorite plays and your radio guy’s calls right now as well.
It is because of this thread that we can all relate so directly with the loss of Auburn’s Rod Bramblett. Bramblett and his wife, Paula, died in a two-car accident near campus on Memorial Day weekend, leaving the Auburn family, obviously, in shock.
Bramblett succeeded a legend in his own right when Jim Fyffe unexpectedly passed away in 2003, and he quickly made the space his own. He was on the mic for “Go Crazy, Cadillac” in ‘03, and he was the voice behind Auburn’s 2019 Final Four hoops run as well. And in between, he helped give the college football universe two of its most amazing moments:
“Alright, here we go, fourth- and-18 for the Tigers. Here’s your ballgame. Nick Marshall ... stands in ... steps up ... gonna throw downfield, just a home run ball, and it is tipped up and LOUIS CAUGHT IT ON THE DEFLECTION. LOUIS IS GONNA SCORE. LOUIS IS GONNA SCORE. LOUIS IS GONNA SCORE. TOUCHDOWN, AUBURN. TOUCHDOWN, AUBURN. A MIRACLE AT JORDAN-HARE. A MIRACLE AT JORDAN-HARE. SEVENTY-THREE YARDS. AND THE TIGERS, WITH 25 SECONDS TO GO, LEAD 43-38.”
On the evening of November 16, 2013, in one of the five best games of the decade, Auburn had just blown a 20-point lead to rival Georgia. The Tigers’ hopes of a dark-horse SEC West title run had vanished when UGA’s Aaron Murray scored a controversial fourth-down touchdown. Facing fourth-and-long with 36 seconds left, Auburn needed a miracle and got one. And Bramblett’s dexterity, his ability to go from steady to apoplectic in the time it takes to flip a light switch, took it from miraculous to part of college football’s fabric.
Of course, this was only the second-most legendary finish at Jordan-Hare that month.
“Chris Davis is gonna drop back into the end zone, a single safety. I guess if this thing comes up short, he can field it and run it out. Alright, here we go ... 56-yarder ... it’s got ... no ... does not have the leg. And Chris Davis takes it in the back of the end zone. He’ll run it out to the 10 ... 15 ... 20 ... 25, 30 ... 35, 40 ... 45, 50 ... 45 THERE GOES DAVIS. DAVIS IS GONNA RUN IT ALL THE WAY BACK. AUBURN’S GONNA WIN THE FOOTBALL GAME. AUBURN’S GONNA WIN THE FOOTBALL GAME. HE RAN THE MISSED FIELD GOAL BACK. HE RAN IT BACK A HUNDRED AND NINE YARDS. THEY’RE NOT GONNA KEEP ‘EM OFF THE FIELD TONIGHT. HOLY COW. OH MY GOD. AUBURN WINS.”
Just two weeks after Ricardo Louis caught it on the deflection, Chris Davis dropped back into the end zone, just in case. Auburn had tied top-ranked Alabama in the final minute, and a back-and-forth classic appeared destined for overtime. But first, Alabama had one second left to attempt a super-long field goal.
This return went from “fun chaos” to “oh my god, this is going to happen” when Davis escaped the wash on the sideline without stepping out of bounds. Bramblett, who couldn’t possibly have suspected this was going to happen, who couldn’t possibly have rehearsed the scenario in his head before the kick, called it perfectly, again going from stable to OH MY GOD in a heartbeat. While not even his color man could provide anything but incoherent screaming, and while Jordan-Hare had become an exultant mass lifting off of the ground, Bramblett translated chaos into English.
I want to say that every team gets a moment like this, but that’s not true. The circumstance was a moonshot, and Rod treated it like one. https://t.co/Mnf82Ow5xx— BUM CHILLUPS (@edsbs) May 26, 2019
It’s not even my team and it’s the best football moment of my life, and he is a big, big part of how I remember it— BUM CHILLUPS (@edsbs) May 26, 2019
These two moments have never failed to give me goosebumps, to make my eyes a little glossy. They encompass everything about why we follow this sport, why we put up with its nonsense. This was pure, ringing joy, and while Verne Lundquist’s CBS calls were great in themselves, they weren’t this.
I ache for Auburn at this loss, but this shouldn’t just feel personal for Auburn fans, and this wasn’t just a loss in Southeastern Alabama. Bramblett was officially a member of college football history, a contributor to its lore. His death is a personal loss for all of us.