Growing up in an Auburn home, I would often hear about the short-lived orange jerseys worn a long time ago. I remember my father telling me how the team warmed up in blue but ran out of the tunnel before kickoff in orange and how the crowd went nuts.
When I moved to Auburn to start class – and during the early days of this website – I continued to hear stories of the orange jerseys.
But it wasn’t always the same story. It was difficult to pinpoint what exactly happened, which games the jerseys were actually worn for, and what Auburn’s record in orange truly was.
That, in part, was something that fueled the creation of the Auburn Uniform Database and the multiple research projects still continuing on this site.
I just knew there had to be hard evidence to Auburn’s orange jersey history that was just lost in time, lost to memory.
Through my research, I’ve been able to document – with either photo or written word – which uniform color Auburn wore in nearly every game since the early 1930s. Out of the 1,000 plus games played since the 1930 season, there’s only about 50 entries that I haven’t been able to confirm or find proof of what was worn.
While it surely isn’t the first game that Auburn wore orange, the earliest game I have proof of the Tigers doing so was the 1928 meeting with Clemson. Orange was a main stay for Auburn and worn nearly every season until 1947, when only white jerseys were worn the entire season. My records of the 1934 season are missing four of the ten games, but it looks as though Auburn wore just white that season as well.
In 1948, the orange jerseys returned. For the ’49 season, Auburn wore two-toned orange-and-brown pants (a commonality of the time). Orange sweaters disappeared once again for the ’50 and ’51 seasons, but the Tigers did wear orange pants. The final stretch of orange jerseys were from 1952 through 1955, in which the jerseys were rumored to be destroyed. Shug Jordan’s Auburn squad was ranked #8 in the nation before falling to Tulane in New Orleans, 27-13. It was the only loss of the regular season, before Auburn fell to Vanderbilt in the Gator Bowl.
From 1928 until the 1955 Tulane game, I’ve confirmed that Auburn wore orange in 92 total games, with an overall record of 41-42-9. There are many games during this era that have no confirmation of uniform color, so those numbers are no doubt subject to change with further research.
The Auburn Tigers were strictly a navy and white jersey-ed team for the next quarter century. Following the 1975 season, Shug Jordan retired. He had coached Auburn’s football team for 25 seasons, was 64 years old, and had dealt with some health scares. Rather than searching the nation for the next head coach, Auburn appointed offense coordinator Doug Barfield to the position.
No doubt a tough position to follow the legendary coach, the Barfield era is not well remembered by Auburn fans. The rough five years of football were one thing, but the orange jerseys were another.
November 18, 1978 vs Georgia
It’s no secret Doug Barfield loved the color orange. During his second year as Auburn head coach, Barfield made his players wear orange belts. They were previously white and this would be the first stepping stone to orange-ify the Tigers. In 1979, the Tigers’ facemasks would change from grey to orange.
But in 1978, the Tigers would wear orange jerseys for the first time since 1955, when single-bar facemasks and mask-less helmets shared the playing field. Nearly a quarter century after Shug Jordan’s orange jersey eradication, Doug Barfield resurrected them as an alternate jersey.
Auburn’s 1978 team was not great. The team struggled to a 6-4-1 record and would miss a bowl game for the fourth straight season, the third in a row under the new head coach.
When the Georgia Bulldogs came to town in mid-November, ranked #8 in the country, Barfield decided now was the time to break out the orange jerseys. Barfield mentioned after the game that the orange tops had been in Auburn’s possession for a year at that point, just waiting on their opportunity.
Auburn took to the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium for warmups wearing the traditional navy tops. As the players were out on the field, the equipment staff placed the orange jerseys in the lockers.
“When they told us about the orange jerseys, it kind of got us up,” legendary running back James Brooks said after the game. “Nobody said anything about it until we came back in from warmups. I know I was surprised.”
The attendance at Jordan-Hare that day was just shy of 65,000. The crowd was initially shocked, confused as to what team was running out of the Tigers’ traditional tunnel, but then jumped into a frenzy, excited for what they were finally grasping.
Auburn played lights out against a top 10-ranked Georgia squad, holding the Bulldogs to under 100 yards rushing and intercepting two passes. The 1979 Auburn Glomerata cited a local newspaper, stating “Auburn wins, Bulldogs lose – 22-22.” The players, and especially Barfield, were not pleased with the tie.
“I told the players that jerseys wouldn’t win or lose the game, the guys in ’em would,” Doug Barfield said following the game.
The orange jerseys would sit at 0-0-1 after their debut.
November 10, 1979 vs Mississippi State
Nearly a full year later, Auburn hosted Mississippi State for homecoming.
“The kids wanted to wear (the orange jerseys) pretty bad so I said they could. I told them that jerseys don’t win games, it’s the people inside them that do,” Barfield said, nearly quoting himself from the year prior.
Newspaper archives fail to mention if the Tigers warmed-up wearing orange, or if they took the same approach as the year prior to revealing the alternate tops.
James Brooks added another 130 yards to his career total as Auburn took the 14-3 homecoming victory.
Auburn would finish the decade with a 1-0-1 record in orange jerseys, with the 1979 edition being paired with the new orange facemasks.
November 8, 1980 vs Southern Miss
Another year and another homecoming game for Auburn, this time against Southern Miss.
As was the case in their debut, the orange jerseys were kept in the lockers for pre-game warm-ups. The blue jerseys were swapped with the alternates just before kick-off.
Doug Barfield knew the history of his team in orange, stating “We have never lost in orange, so I decided not to hold anything back today.” Along with the orange tops, facemasks, and belts, the Tigers also included some large orange towels this time around. The Tigers were fully decked out in orange.
Auburn jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead after their first two possessions, and eventually led 21-0 at half. The Tigers would dominate the Eagles, winning 31-0.
Barfield said the team was looking for any momentum and anything to help his 4-2 team get going for the game. The orange jerseys were decided on early in the week.
“There’s a fine line between winning and losing. We needed all the momentum we could get -from the jerseys, the big plays, the cheering, whatever. I just thought we had to go out and create a little momentum,” Barfield said after the big win.
The orange jersey record is now 2-0-1.
November 15, 1980 vs Georgia
One week later, the orange jerseys would appear for the Georgia matchup once again.
Georgia came to the Plains highly ranked once again, this time as the #1 team in country. Auburn’s gameplan was to stifle one of the best running backs in the nation, Herschel Walker. Auburn’s James Brooks had the better day, rushing for 85 yards compared to Walker’s 77 on 27 attempts.
Auburn took an early 7-0 lead, but would fall behind, in part, thanks to two miscues on special teams that set up Georgia touchdowns. The Tigers would fall 31-21. Georgia would finish the season undefeated, and be crowned national champions after defeating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
The loss didn’t sit well with Auburn, especially quarterback Charlie Thomas. “I still think the best team lost,” he said after the game. For the second time in three seasons, Auburn would come away with gripes on their own play and officiating against Georgia.
Orange jerseys would now have a 2-1-1 record.
Doug Barfield would be fired as head coach following the 1980 season and replaced with Pat Dye. Shortly into his tenure, Dye contacted equipment manager Frank Cox, curious about the status of the orange jerseys.
“[Dye] said ‘I don’t like orange’ and I said ‘Don’t worry Coach, you won’t ever see them,” Cox recalled. “I knew then that the orange jerseys were history,” he said with a laugh.
Dye quickly washed the Tigers’ uniforms of Barfield’s touches. The “weagle” award decals were removed for Dye’s first season 1981. The Tigers changed from orange belts to navy for the ’82 season. In 1984, the orange facemasks would be retired.
Doug Barfield’s aesthetic changes were no longer a part of Auburn’s football uniforms.
Fifteen years later, Auburn would flirt with the addition of orange to the jerseys once more. For the 1996 season, head coach Terry Bowden would introduce orange drop-shadows to the numbers on Auburn’s jerseys. The orange blocking shifted down and to the right of the number would be a hit during the time, but, much like the orange jerseys, would not age well.
Many Auburn fans despise the two uniform tweaks, while another faction clamors for them to return in some fashion. Regardless, Auburn has continued to stick with the traditional navy jerseys at home and white on the road – for the most part.
Confusion & Misconceptions
The lack of cohesion in stories of the Auburn orange jerseys is rather frustrating. How is it that seemingly every Auburn fan that recalls this Barfield era consistently gets these games confused?
Other than being a poor time for the program, fans have consistently attempted to push Doug Barfield and his orange jerseys out of their minds forever. Any coach would have a tough road following Shug Jordan’s historic 25-years as head coach.
Barfield went 27-27-1 as head coach. During those five seasons, Auburn did not make a bowl game.
When Pat Dye took over, Auburn saw the tides turn almost immediately and reached a lot of the success Barfield dreamed of accomplishing. The Tigers went 9-3 and won the Citrus Bowl in just Dye’s second year in charge.
But still, despite the bad memories, the tough losses and seasons, why is this such a blurry era of Auburn’s history? It was only 1980, not 1890!
Even though the true stories of Auburn’s orange jerseys are laid out above, I want to address some of the misconceptions and clear up some of the confusion. These are the types of responses I often receive whenever the orange jerseys are mentioned:
“Auburn never won in orange and that’s reason enough to never wear them again!”
As discussed above, that’s not the case. Auburn has a 2-1-1 record in the modern orange jerseys.
“Orange jerseys are unlucky!”
How so? A 2-1-1 record doesn’t show any sign of “unlucky.”
“Auburn was blown out the last time they wore orange!”
No, Auburn played #1 Georgia to a tough 31-21 loss. Georgia would go on to be crowned national champions that season also.
“Auburn also wore orange against Tennessee one of those season.”
The 1980 Tennessee game program featured a photo of an orange-clad Auburn team running out of the tunnel. The image was from a previous season, as game programs are produced and printed prior to the game. The orange facemasks visible prove the photo to be from the 1979 Mississippi State game. Auburn would wear their navy jerseys against white-clad Tennessee for the game.
“Auburn changed into orange at halftime during one game.”
That isn’t even legal, let alone practical.
Future Resurrection of Orange Jerseys?
What are the chances we see Auburn ever return to orange jerseys?
My personal opinion? Not any time soon.
Auburn’s current Board of Trustees and other high ranking officials have been in place for a long time and are generally conservative in many regards. The powers-at-be are currently against any changes to the Auburn football uniforms, and I’d expect that to continue as long as they have any say.
The hope for this article is to educate the general fanbase and debunk all the previous myths, misconceptions, and rumors about Auburn’s orange jerseys, so hopefully the facts will be discussed rather than poor memories shared any further.
Hurdles aside, Auburn should to tweak the Barfield orange jersey design if it were to ever return. The large white stripe flanked with two smaller blue borders on the sleeves is a very awkward approach. While consistent with Auburn’s other two striping patterns, white should not be the predominant color. Any future orange jerseys would benefit greatly by using a white/blue/white striping pattern, if they wish to go that way.
Another approach could be the throwback design, hearkening back to even older Auburn jersey designs. The orange sweaters worn from 1935 through 1949 featured three equally sized navy stripes on the sleeves. That option would be a stronger design, albeit the most different, if the Tigers were to go this route.
In the 2020 Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game, Auburn and North Carolina are set to face off for the first time since 2001. Early information about the game stated Auburn would be the designated home team, and would wear “orange or white jersey,” as UNC will wear their “blue jersey.”
This could be sign that Auburn is planning for the orange jerseys to return, or it could simply be an instance contractual language, keeping the possibility open.
At the time, Auburn had just come off a loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship game, and would fall to UCF in the same stadium the next month. When the Tigers returned to the new Atlanta stadium to face Washington in the 2018 opener, Auburn wore white jerseys. The choice was clearly a superstitious one, as the previous two games were played in blue jerseys.
The Auburn fanbase is split regarding the possibility of Auburn changing the uniforms, even for a single game. Personally, I haven’t seen any concept art for a design I would prefer to see over the standard uniforms. I have always pushed for Auburn to go with a historical approach to any new uniform additions as an opportunity to honor the past and see the different designs worn prior to the 1960s. No need to add a third alternate uniform to the mix that follows popular trends when Auburn’s history is full of unique opportunities to wear a new design.
In 2016, Robert Clay and the AL.com Media team produced a wonderful video centering on Auburn’s first venture into orange jerseys under Doug Barfield. Former equipment manager Frank Cox is interviewed, with one of his quotes used earlier in this article. It’s only four minutes long, and surely worth your time to check out. (This site is also listed in the credits.)
Enjoy learning about Auburn and uniform history? Want to see more like this? Be sure to follow the Auburn Uniform Database, like the AUD Facebook page, Instagram page, and follow me on Twitter for even more uniform news. You can also purchase your favorite team’s merchandise through Fanatics, with a portion of your sale going to support this website.