Sunday, August 9, 2009
Ghosts of the Orange Bowl: Joe Auer
In the 46-year history of the Miami Dolphins, Joe Auer holds a special distinction that can never be erased from the record books. He scored the first touchdown in franchise history. But if you thought it was his only heroics at the Orange Bowl, you don't know Joe Auer.
On September 2, 1966 the Dolphins played their first game as an expansion team in the American Football League. The opponent was the Oakland Raiders and only 26,276 fans showed up on a humid evening at the Orange Bowl. Miami's Joe Auer fielded the opening kickoff and raced 95 yards for a touchdown. The Dolphins lost the game 23-14. But the only thing people will remember is Auer's touchdown.
As the years have gone by, Auer's legend has grown. If you saw him walking down the street, you may not recognize the 70-year-old Auer. But once people find out who he is, he hears the stories of his touchdown all the time. Auer once joked how hundreds of times people have approached him who claimed they were at the Orange Bowl that night. He said he must have heard from more people about that game than who actually attended. You would have thought the Orange Bowl was packed with 70,000 people.
The 1966 Dolphins were a ragtag bunch made of journeymen, rejects, misfits and unqualified rookies. Auer was the Dolphins best player, leading the team in rushing with 414 yards and scoring with 9 touchdowns. He was named team MVP on a squad that finished in last place with a 3-11 record. The roster was filled with colorful characters including linebacker Wahoo McDaniel, a full-blooded native American who later became more well known as a professional wrestler. Fullback Cookie Gilchrist had been an All-AFL player with the Buffalo Bills, but was well past his prime by the time he played for Miami. The team was coached by George Wilson whose son, George Jr., was also the Dolphins starting quarterback. The Dolphins were so low on the pro football totem pole, they couldn't even sign their first round draft pick Jim Grabowski, a fullback from the University of Illinois. Only two members of the entire 1966 team would survive long enough to see the Dolphins reach Super Bowl glory in the early 1970s--offensive lineman Norm Evans and receiver Howard Twilley.
Eight years before Auer ever suited up for the Dolphins, he was a schoolboy hero at Coral Gables High School. During his senior year in 1958, he was member of a state championship team at Coral Gables coached by Nick Kotys. The Miami Herald named Auer to its All City Team as a defensive back. His most memorable high school moment came in the big rivalry game against Miami High in the Orange Bowl. He returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and Coral Gables beat the Stingarees 13-12. Auer played in an era when high school football was the biggest event in town. He sometimes played in front of larger crowds at the Orange Bowl in high school than he did with the Dolphins.
After graduating from high school, Auer went on to a fine college career at Georgia Tech while playing for another legendary coach Bobby Dodd. He played two seasons with the Buffalo Bills in the AFL before joining the Dolphins in 1966. He finished his pro career with the Atlanta Falcons in 1968. During his two seasons with the Dolphins, Auer achieved another interesting trivial distinction. He caught the first touchdown pass thrown by rookie Bob Griese in 1967 in a victory of the Denver Broncos at the Orange Bowl.
When his football career ended, Auer felt he needed something to keep his competitive juices flowing. Auer had earned his degree at Georgia Tech in mechanical engineering and he was ready to put it to use. He had always been a fan of auto racing and cars in general. He founded his own company called Racecar Engineering which built race cars that would set many track records in NASCAR and other forms of racing. Auer later founded another company called Competitive Edge Motorsports which produced cars that competed in the Busch and Nextel series in NASCAR. Today he is the president of International Computer Negotiations.