ADAM COLE |
In many ways, this isn’t the ending Anders Carlson envisioned.
The season of super seniors is over. He injured his shoulder in a kickoff against Mississippi State and it was the second year in a row that he had injured himself at the end of the season. His team didn’t have the year they had hoped for either. Despite the late momentum, Auburn has seen a head coach fired and is fighting for bowl eligibility ahead of the regular-season finale.
“It’s just about just enduring this storm,” Anders told the Opelika-Auburn News Monday, “to deal with it as best as possible.”
Should Auburn lose Saturday and face No. 8 Alabama in Tuscaloosa — a place where it hasn’t won an Iron Bowl in 12 years — it will end both his season and Carlson’s Auburn career. It would also be the end of the Carlson era in Auburn.
Anders and his brother Daniel Carlson, kicker for the Las Vegas Raiders, form a two-man kicker line that has spanned their past nine seasons at Auburn.
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During that span, the duo was Auburn’s top scorer for eight years. They kicked 890 of Auburn’s total of 3,446 points — good for 25.8% of that total. They have amassed 39,186 kickoff yards on 628 chances. That’s more than 90% of the program’s kickoff yards and attempts. They are also #1 and #2 respectively for career goals achieved and most points in program history.
“It’s definitely a special bond because we’re not just kickers,” Anders said. “We competed at the same school and had some of the same coaches, teammates, and so it’s just a hodgepodge of many things.”
If this weekend’s Iron Bowl is the presumptive curtain call, it will be an end of the circle. The era would end at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the same place that foreshadowed the duo’s passion for football when they were young.
The Carlson family’s roots at the University of Alabama are deep and well documented. Her father, Hans Carlson, played tennis in Alabama. Her mother, Jodie Carlson, once worked for Bear Bryant. Her two siblings also went to Alabama. The Carlson brothers – Anders, Daniel and Nils – as well as their six cousins all grew up cheering on the Crimson Tide. Even the Carlson family dog was named Bama.
That was born to her grandparents, Deacon and Juanita Jones, both Alabama alumni. Juanita was a cheerleader and Deacon, who died in January 2021, played baseball. All unprompted, Jodie, Daniel and Anders tell Deacon’s story alike.
As a young left-handed pitcher, Deacon led his high school to a state championship and landed a career opportunity with the Detroit Tigers. Deacon was 17 at the time and his father refused to sign his contract. He told him to go to college for a year and then consider going pro.
Deacon tore his rotator cuff as a freshman. It ended his baseball career, but he kept his scholarship and graduated from Alabama in 1955.
“What he thought was the worst thing about his life turned out to be the best thing about it,” Jodie said. “Otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten his education.”
Eventually, Deacon became a member of Alabama’s Red Elephant Booster Club. He won the club’s Dick Coffee Jr. award in 2014, declaring it the “No. 1 Alabama fan.” When his health began to deteriorate late in life, Deacon even received a personalized message from Alabama coach Nick Saban.
“We’ve certainly appreciated your friendship over the years,” Saban Deacon said in a 2020 video message. “You’ve been a huge supporter of the University of Alabama. A great Ambassador for the University of Alabama, and I guess the only mistake I ever made was you always told me to recruit your grandchildren.
“When your grandson had five field goals down there in Auburn last year to beat us, I walked off the field and said, ‘I should have listened to you.'”
When Daniel stepped into Auburn and landed on campus in 2013, it was a pill that Deacon – given enough time – could swallow. That was not without ribs, public and private.
“I don’t hate Auburn anymore,” Deacon told The New York Times in 2016. “I just don’t like her.”
Daniel quickly came up with the nickname “Turncoat”. Anders also received the nickname. Deacon would attend street games nearby. He had gone to Starkville and Baton Rouge, but it was two years before he set foot on the Auburn campus.
Deacon’s first match at Jordan-Hare Stadium was an Auburn win over Vanderbilt in 2016. He’d worn Alabama gear in previous games, but that changed over time, Jodie said. At first his clothes were crimson, then purple, until he finally broke out a salmon shirt for the Vanderbilt game. He’s never come this close to wearing maroon clothing.
“It was part of that fun of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry,” Daniel said, “and I think that’s what we enjoyed most, playing in Auburn, was definitely that dynamic of the family rivalry.”
Both Daniel and Anders recall the Alabama memories of their youth. They grew up in Colorado and drove to their grandparents’ house in Birmingham for Christmas. They would choose an item from the Alabama bookstore catalog, a gift from “Honey and Bubba,” as their grandparents call them. Living in Sweden in 2008, they watched soccer games in Alabama at 2 a.m
But when they became Tigers, Thanksgivings in Birmingham were some of their fondest memories. Hosted by Honey and Bubba, it was a chance to see the Alabama family just before the Iron Bowl. Trash talk flew from all directions.
“He loves it,” Anders said of Bubba at Thanksgiving, “and says whatever he wants to say.”
The brothers always knew Bubba’s bickering was in good faith.
“He was just such a great fan and supporter of ours, even though he didn’t like Auburn one bit,” Daniel said.
Daniel had heard his Bubba say before, “Here’s my grandson who betrayed me,” but it was something he watched with a smile. He’d heard him brag about it to Alabama friends, and to his Auburn friends too. For her, the Carlsons’ Auburn experience made it all the more fun.
Saturday will be the second Iron Bowl without Deacon and the first at Bryant-Denny without him. Jodie and Hans make the return journey to Tuscaloosa, a visit that Jodie said is the most important reminder to her and her husband of how much has changed.
Anders said he didn’t think too much about it. But since there are many connections, he said he had to step back and appreciate it.
“After (Deacon) dies, it’s going to be pretty cool to be in that stadium,” Anders said. “And I think what that means for our family as a whole, just the whole connection — the Iron Bowl and everything — is just going to be a good way of that memory of him, and it’s going to be a good reminder of the blessings that we have here.” in Auburn.”