April 26, 2014 – Auburn football legend David Langner died Saturday at the age of 62 after a long battle with cancer. Langner may be gone, but his memory will live on forever in the annals of Auburn history.
Those of us fortunate enough to have been alive in 1972 to experience what was then the most improbable and thrilling finish in the history of the greatest rivalry in college football will never forget his name, any more than those of us who bore witness to the stunning end of the 2013 Iron Bowl will ever forget the name Chris Davis.
Langner made his mark on Auburn history as part of 1972′s Amazins, a team written off for dead after the departure of the dynamic duo of Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Pat Sullivan and record shattering receiver Terry Beasley after the 1971 season.
No matter what happened on the afternoon of December 2, 1972 against undefeated second-ranked 14-point favorite Alabama, the ninth-ranked 8-1 Tigers had carved a place in Auburn lore due to the sheer resiliency and determination of the team. A junior, Langner was a critical part of that squad and in many ways epitomizes its heart.
Langner was a little small and a tad lean, but what he lacked in physicality he more than made up for in tenacity. On that cool December afternoon in Legion Field, Langner and the Amazins created a legend.
Trailing the Tide 16-3 with 5:35 to play, Auburn’s Bill Newton blocked an Alabama punt. The ball bounced directly into Langner’s hands and he raced 25 yards untouched into the endzone. Gardner Jett kicked the point after and Auburn had cut Alabama’s lead to 16-10.
Alabama’s next possession chewed precious minutes off the clock, but the Tiger defense came up with a stop and the Tide’s Greg Gantt lined up to punt with just 1:34 remaining.
In a radio call that resonates to this day, Auburn play by play announcer Gary Sanders captured the moment over joyous shouts in the radio booth:
Greg Gantt standing on his own 30, Auburn will try to block it. Auburn going after it, here’s the good snap…it is blocked!!! It is blocked!!! It’s caught on the run!!! It’s caught on the run and he’s gonna score!!! David Langner!!! David Langner has scored and Auburn has tied the game!!! Roger Mitchell blocked the kick! Roger Mitchell blocked the kick! And it’s 16 to 16!
In his excitement, Sanders misidentified Mitchell as the player who blocked the kick when it was actually Newton, but it was Langner once again scooping up the ball on a dead run at the 25 yard line and racing in untouched for another Auburn score.
Jett kicked the PAT and Auburn led 17-16.
Moments later Langner intercepted an Alabama pass to seal the victory and complete what was until 2013 the wildest finish to any Iron Bowl.
Drive around the state long enough even today and you’ll find reference somewhere to that final score. Langner, Newton and the Amazins achieved mythic status with that miraculous punt return deja vu.
Auburn went on to defeat Colorado in the Gator Bowl and end the 1972 season with a 10-1 record.
The next decade was a difficult one for Auburn football and its fans, a stark reality that only further ingrained Langner’s heroics into the Tiger psyche.
For years afterward, kids playing backyard football argued over the right to pretend to be David Langner for the day; to put on a 28 jersey and make the game-defining play. His Iron Bowl performance made him an icon.
Langner’s Auburn career was more than just that December afternoon, however.
He blocked three punts for Auburn’s freshman team, returning one of them for a touchdown.
He remains Auburn’s career record holder with 287 interception return yards, including 108 yards in a 1971 game with UT-Chattanooga.
His 12 career interceptions is tied for fifth in Auburn history.
“Anything in life you can remembered for that you want to be remembered for is a gift not many people have,” Langner said in December. “That’s something I’ve lived with and enjoyed living with. It’s a wonderful gift to have.”
The gift is ours, an unforgettable vision of Langner racing toward the goal line as the crowd roars and the Tigers cap one of the greatest wins in Auburn history. It will live on as legend in the Auburn stories we pass on to our children and grandchildren. It will endure so long as there is such a thing as Auburn football.