85 Seasons: A Tribute to Ralph O’Gwynne

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

85 Seasons: A Tribute to Ralph O’Gwynne

Eighty-five football seasons.

Eighty-four years and ten months. 

That’s how long Ralph O’Gwynne’s name was on the top line in the Auburn football record book for the longest scoring run from scrimmage: 92 yards.

On Saturday, after an Alabama State punt rolled end-over-end along the sideline and settled at the Tigers’ six-yard-line, things changed. 

Auburn led 48-0 with less than a minute to play in the third quarter when backup freshman running back Jarquez Hunter heard his number called for a first-down run off right tackle. He went untouched for 94 yards and a touchdown. In an instant, Ralph O’Gwynne—the longest-standing name in a record book filled with legends —was in second place. 

Born in 1916, O’Gwynne was the youngest of four children born to a well-known Selma grocer and former railroad man and his wife. At Auburn, he was a 5-6, 150-pound, blonde-headed, business-majoring, third-team running back who played on the 1936, ’37 and ’38 Tiger varsity teams. In his sophomore year, he was the backup to Billy Hitchcock, Auburn’s first All-American, and a bruising halfback named Jimmy Fenton.

O’Gwynne also played defensive back, as players typically went both ways in that era. He played basketball for Shug Jordan’s squad, too, and, not surprisingly, ran some track.

O’Gwynne dashed to destiny as a sophomore on November 21, 1936, in the Tigers’ only home game that season — homecoming, appropriately enough — against overmatched Loyola of New Orleans in a game API won 44-0. His second-quarter 92-yard run came after API already led 12-0. It was his first snap that day.

For most of the 5,000 well-dressed alumni, students, faculty, and townspeople gathered for the final varsity game at old Drake Field — and Auburn’s last home game for three years — it was déjà vu.

Two months earlier, O’Gwynne had taken his very first varsity carry 83 yards to paydirt in Auburn’s 45-0 season-opening win over Birmingham-Southern in Montgomery. (Those were the two longest scoring runs in Auburn lore until wide receiver/punter Connie Frederick ran into second place on this list in 1969 when he faked a punt and took it to the house against Alabama in Auburn’s 49-26 win at Legion Field.)

But, spectacular as it was, O’Gwynne’s performance against Loyola was not his most meaningful contribution to Auburn football. His one-yard touchdown run was Auburn’s only score in their first bowl win — 6-0 victory over Michigan State in the 1938 Orange Bowl, the first to be played in the Orange Bowl Stadium in Miami.

Still a backup, O’Gwynne was in the game only because Coach Jack Meagher was miffed at the starters’ lack of production. O’Gwynne totaled just thirteen rushing yards that day. But he got the points — the first to be scored by a Southern player in Orange Bowl history. That made all the difference.

O’Gwynne accomplished much as an Auburn student-athlete, initiating as a Kappa Alpha fraternity member and graduating in spring 1939 after joining the Blue Key and Scabbard and Blade honor societies. His four years in ROTC at Auburn prepared him physically and mentally for military service. He served his country in the US Army in World War II, earning a Bronze Star with combat cluster for action in the South Pacific. He retired from the Army in 1947 as a lieutenant colonel.

After the war, O’Gwynne refereed college football for a few seasons and sold cars in his hometown. He died in the summer of 1999 at age 83 and was buried in the New Live Oak Cemetery in Selma.

Sam Hendrix, an Auburn University retiree, researches and writes about Auburn history. He authored a history of the Auburn Church of Christ as well as a biography of founding veterinary medicine dean Dr. Charles Allen Cary. His next book, Auburn: A History in Street Names, will give the background stories of 400 streets as well as numerous stories about people and events of Auburn’s past. All proceeds from the sale of this book will help send youngsters from low-income Auburn homes to summer academic camps hosted by AU’s Office of University Outreach. Details on purchasing the book will be announced as the anticipated November delivery nears. Questions? Email him:

from The War Eagle Reader

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