Magazine Features

Sixty Years Strong

By December 6, 2017 No Comments
Sixty Years Strong: Over half a century later, Auburn's first championship team remains on of its greatest.
SIXTY YEARS AGO this season, the Auburn Tigers celebrated an undefeated season on their way to the 1957 College Football National Championship. Auburn Magazine sat down with three of them — quarterback Lloyd Nix, defensive end Hindman Wall and tackle Ken Paduch — to look back on that incredible season.

SIXTY YEARS AGO this season, the Auburn Tigers celebrated an undefeated season on their way to the 1957 College Football National Championship. Auburn Magazine sat down with three of them — quarterback Lloyd Nix, defensive end Hindman Wall and tackle Ken Paduch — to look back on that incredible season.

AUBURN MAGAZINE: Looking back, what do you remember the most about the 1957 team? Auburn was not a championship favorite at the start of the season.

LLOYD NIX: Not at all. We had a really good defensive team and we knew if we had to score, we could. I played a defensive back, Jackie Burkett, Zeke Smith, Tim Baker, just all the guys, Jerry Wilson, Red Phillips were our ends. The defensive backs made very few tackles — we had such good linebackers the guys just didn’t get that far.

KEN PADUCH: As freshman, we always started practice down on Biggio Flats, which is where the coliseum is today. We’d go down there and warm up, then we’d have to run up the hill; we were the dummies for the varsity and I always kidded the guys, I said ‘I made you what you are.’ Coach Lorenzo had us going through some drills — Jerry Wilson and Red Phillips were blocking me and I split the two of them. He gave them hell!

HINDMAN WALL: We didn’t have the number of players that they have today, so we had a much closer group of people. We played quite differently — we had fewer number of plays, we played both ways, it was an exceptional thing. Playing on a national championship team is not a commonplace thing, and if you’ve been a part, even a very small part of it, it’s a lasting memory.

AM: Your first game of the season was in Knoxville, against the eighth-best team in the country…

NIX: We played Tennessee in ’56 — I was playing halfback, Johnny Majors was their star and he just really hurt us, they
beat us 35-7, so we were anxious to go back to Tennessee the next year and get right with them. We went up to Tennessee as a big underdog. In the rain. We ended up winning that, and that was the start of winning the national championship.

AM: Next was Chattanooga and Kentucky…

NIX: Kentucky and Mississippi State were always the most physical teams we played. Kentucky had Lou Michaels — everybody remembers Lou Michaels, he was a big tackle who went on to be a big-time pro player — we had a hard time scoring against Kentucky and Tommy Lorino got hit — they said Lou Michaels hit him out of bounds, and they got a 15-yard penalty; we went down to score on that series to win the game, 6-0 I believe it was.

AM: Georgia Tech was the closest you came to losing all season.

NIX: Wasn’t fun. Georgia Tech was always tough — Bobby Dodd was a good coach. I noticed I couldn’t get my shoulder pads off after that game; turns out I separated a shoulder.

PADUCH: They talk about today the present team only letting people score 14 points; well, the ’57 team only let ‘em score 4 touchdowns all season.

AM: Do you miss Auburn playing Georgia Tech?

NIX: Yes — We used to play Georgia Tech in Atlanta every year and that was our biggest rivalry at that time when they were in the SEC. I feel like they kept us from getting the No. 1 [rank] in 1958 — they tied us 7-7. If we had won that game, we would’ve had two National Championships in a row.

AM: Tell us about Houston.

WALL: That was a long trip. We traveled by train on a lot of games, and of course that was a flying trip to Houston — that was kind of a big thing — and we played in Rice Stadium. We ended up winning the game pretty handily when it was all over. I caught a touchdown pass that game; we didn’t throw the ball that much, so I’ll never forget that game.

NIX: We scored every time the in first half we had the ball. It was the last play of the first half, the other guys were in there and they get it down to the 3-yard line and Coach Jordan calls me up and says “get your ends and get in there and get it in the endzone!”
Well, I called Red Phillips and Jerry Wilson, my two ends, and took ‘em in and called a pass play — I faked to the left, moved out to the left and threw it — and it was tapped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted and ran back 100 yards for a touchdown.
That was the last play of the half, and Coach Jordan did not wait til we got in the locker room. He met me at mid-field, grabbed me by the nose mask and said “Dammit Lloyd! I meant the other endzone!”

Aubie on hill of scores

AM: The Mississippi State game is listed as an away game, even though you played it at Legion Field.

NIX: Legion Field, we never felt like it was a home game for us. Mississippi State even played their home games there. We didn’t mind playing there, but it wasn’t a home-field advantage for any of our games.

AM: What do you remember about the Georgia game?

NIX: I remember one deal in particular — it was in Columbus, a little wet — we ran a play to the right where I pitched it to Tommy Lorino, but I pitched it behind Tommy and Georgia recovers the ball. We were ahead just a few points; a touchdown would beat us. Zeke Smith came up, patted me on the back and said “Lloyd, that’s ok, I’ll get it back.” The next play, he caused a fumble and recovered it, so we went on to win that.

PADUCH: In those days, we played 60 minutes — offense and defense. Lloyd, being the quarterback that year, he was returning the kickoffs. So it was against Georgia, we’re in Columbus — Lloyd caught the ball and he reversed his field, and he reversed his field, he reversed his field again — he did that three times, then he broke into the clear. About the 50 yard-line he stumbled and fell — he ran out of gas! And we never let him forget it!

AM: Do you miss playing Georgia in Columbus?

Lloyd Nix Story Pass

NIX: No, I think home-and-home is the best deal. We never did go to Athens and play, the year after I left in ’59 was the first year that we went to Athens and played, and we lost that year. But Columbus was really a different place. It was small, you could actually hear fans in the stands, they were so close to you. One of my best friends from Carbon Hill always came to the games down there. He had a particularly high-pitched voice and I could always hear him in the stands.

AM: Which game do you remember the most?

NIX: The Alabama game. Coach Jordan did not, ever, talk about us having a chance to win the national championship until that game. As we were leaving the locker room Coach Jordan stopped us all at the gate and says “guys, if y’all have a good game, you got a chance of being the national champions.” It started out good, the defense — Tommy and Jackie Burkett both intercepted passes and ran ‘em back for touchdowns, so we get off to a great start. We scored 40 that day — it was the coldest, windiest day I ever played my years at Auburn, but we could’ve scored about as many as we wanted to that day.”

WALL: The very last game of the year, we played Alabama and we were ahead 34-0 at halftime. To put a little history in perspective, in 1948 Auburn and Alabama resumed playing, and Alabama beat Auburn 55-0. The next year, in ’49, Auburn won. Well, at the half we were up 34-0 when Coach Jordan called us all together — he basically said “I’m gonna play everybody we’ve got on the team.” I couldn’t understand that at the time, because, y’know, the fans and all wanted to surpass what had happened many years ago, so I never forget that day. But the reason is more important. I spent 40 years in college athletics after that and coached, and I think I understand more about why he said that — he didn’t just want to run up the score, but Alabama, that’s our arch rival, so that made it a difficult thing. I never forget that as long as I live.

AM: When did you know you had won the championship?

NIX: It was announced on Tuesday, after the Alabama game, that we had won the national championship. I found out about it from some of the students as I was going to class — there was about 6,000 – 6,500 [people], you knew most all of ‘em and most all of ‘em knew you — some of ‘em hollered at me sayin’ “Hey Lloyd, y’all know you won a national championship?”

Nix Paduch Wall

Following the 1957 season, the Auburn Tigers remained undefeated throughout the 1958 season, but a tie with Georgia Tech on October 18th held Auburn to fourth-overall in the nation. Hindman Wall graduated in 1958 with a degree in Industrial Management, but would spend over 40 years in collegiate athletics as coach and administrator. He returned to Auburn in 1986 as Associate Athletic Director, sometimes referred to as Coach Pat Dye’s “right-hand man,” and was instrumental in coordinating the first Iron Bowl hosted at Auburn in 1989.

WALL: I think one of the things that, when you look back on it, forgetting us as football players, there’s been a lot of successful people come through that and they’ve been successful in their life, they’ve been good people, they’ve made great contributions to society and that itself speaks well for our team.

Lloyd Nix graduated in 1959 having compiled a 19-0-1 record as a starting quarterback, but chose to enter dental school in Birmingham rather than the

NFL draft. Nix married his wife, Sandy Nix ‘60 and operated his own dental practice in Decatur, Ala. from 1965 until his retirement in 1999. Since graduation, he has continued to support Auburn through scholarship activities and fundraisers. He also has lent his time and talent to committees, councils and boards including The Honors College Development Council, the Research Advisory Council and as past president of the Auburn Alumni Association board of directors. He hasn’t missed a home game since 1963.

NIX: A lot of the guys went on to play pro ball and after that, they got retired from all of that, we’d always get together — Jackie, Zeke, Red, we’d play golf together some, meet at different functions, we just liked being together. It was a good group of guys. It was just a great way to get an education and I would not give anything for my experience on the ’57 team or on the ’58 team and my time at Auburn University.

Ken Paduch was taken 182nd overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1959 NFL draft, one of nine Auburn teammates to enter the professional league that year. Nearly 60 years later, the significance of the ’57 Championship — and the brothers he gained on the team — has only grown in his eyes. There are fewer in attendance at each anniversary reunion, but they are far from forgotten.

PADUCH: I’ve never seen a man with bigger hands than Jackie Burkett had, I never seen a man quicker than Zeke Smith was, I never seen a man more likeable than Cleve Lester was. That team was just unbelievable bunch of guys. I can say it laid the foundation for me at Auburn and for Auburn football, and I’m just tickled to death with it.

by Derek Herscovici