HOOVER, Ala. – In May 2019, the week of the final SEC baseball tournament, something wild happened. Then something tragic happened. Then, out of tragedy, there was a wonderful display of love and devotion.
Let us bring you back.
Thursday May 23rd. The LSU, which ended in the early hours of the morning after a 17-inning loss to the state of Mississippi, were on the verge of collapse and were 3-2 behind Auburn in the ninth inning. LSU put the runners behind to second and third when Auburn thrower Brooks Fuller uncorked a wild field. Catcher Matt Scheffler couldn’t find the ball and then kicked it. First baseman Rankin Woley attempted to throw an imbalanced throw on the plate. Got two runs. The LSU inexplicably won 4-3 and eliminated Auburn.
Back at their team hotel, Auburn’s play-by-play announcer Rod Bramblett and his partner, color commentator Andy Burcham, said goodbye to them. Andy and his wife Jan drove north to Huntsville to graduate from high school for their niece. Bramblett is heading south back to Auburn.
Saturday May 25th. The Burchams received a call. Bramblett and his wife Paula had been in a terrible car accident. Paula died after being hospitalized in nearby Opelika. Rod was flown to a hospital in Birmingham where he died.
Just weeks earlier, the Brambletts had finally done the paperwork to make the Burchams the legal guardian of their high school-aged son Josh. They had asked her only months earlier to do so and also to look out for her daughter Shelby, a student in Auburn.
“We’re not trying to be Rod and Paula to them,” Burcham said. “We just love them both a lot.”
What was an abstract worst-case scenario idea had become real. Two years later, the Burchams, who never had children of their own, are still serving as surrogate mothers and fathers as best they can – thinking of their close friends Rod and Paula every day.
“We talk about it a lot,” said Burcham. “We don’t shy away from it. We share a lot of stories about them. We traveled together for 25 years. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for her to go through this over the past two years. “
After the LSU-Georgia game on Tuesday afternoon, Burcham returned to the press box at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium to call for the first-round finals of the SEC tournament Tuesday night between Auburn and Ole Miss. It was his first time there without his old friend who had been calling him for a quarter of a century. Burcham planned to give Bramblett and the date a special mention.
Time goes by, and the Bramblett children have shown remarkable resilience in their troubled lives. Shelby just graduated from Auburn Elementary School with Honors and plans to begin a teaching career this fall. Josh just finished his junior year at Auburn High School. He loves to write fiction and poetry.
If you are a Tiger fan then this newsletter should not be missed. Register today.
He doesn’t love sports.
“Sport doesn’t care at all and never has,” said Burcham, now Auburn’s soccer, basketball and baseball player.
There was finally a legal closure for the Brambletts and Burchams and their families. Just last month, the young man charged with the crash that killed the brambletts was convicted. Since the accident occurred when Johnston Edward Taylor was 16 years old, he was given juvenile offender status, which means the length of the sentence was not released. Taylor was charged with manslaughter at the time of the accident. The police report said he was under the influence of marijuana and traveling 89 mph in a 55 mph zone when he hit the Bramblett’s car. Taylor told authorities he fell asleep at the wheel on the way home from a day at a lake and didn’t know he hit another car until it happened.
The Brambletts will never again spend a day at the lake with their children. Shelby will never let her father walk down the aisle on her wedding day. It’s a tragedy with no real ending date, though Taylor’s condemnation brings some comfort.
“We’re glad part of the story is over,” said Burcham.
Andy and Jan went to dinner Sunday night. All of their conversation revolved around Josh. How will his summer be What are his college plans.
Just like Rod and Paula probably would have.
What they don’t talk about are the what-ifs of this LSU Auburn game. What if Auburn wasn’t eliminated from the tournament? What if the brambletts hadn’t been at that intersection that day?
“I just don’t allow myself to think about it honestly,” said Burcham.
That has to be the best.