Sunday, November 21, 2010
Iron Bowl! The only game I wish I could suit up one more time and run into someone wearing crimson! It's the game I grew up playing in my front yard for hours on end and lucky enough to experience as a four year starter. My record was 2-2 against Alabama and each game carried historical significance.
1997- My freshman year...the Ed Scissom fumble! I was on the field when Freddie Kitchens play-faked right, rolled left and hit Scissom in the left flat. A big hit, a fumble, an Auburn recovery, a Jaret Holmes kick and Auburn is off to Atlanta as Western Division Champions...first time Auburn represents the west in the game!
1998- Coach Bill Oliver our interim coach. We jump out to a 17-0 lead having no business even being in the football game. Bama roars back behind the legs of Shaun Alexander and Alabama wins the final Iron Bowl ever played at Legion Field.
1999- Bama playing for the SEC West Title. We were playing for a bowl bid and pride. We outplay a much deeper Alabama in the first half and take the lead into the locker room. We take the opening drive of the 2nd half inside the Bama 10 and miss a chip shot field goal. Alabama drives inside our 2 and we stuff them on 4 consecutive plays. Next play...safety! We run out of gas and Alabama wins in Jordan-Hare for the first time ever.
2000- Senior Year. Freezing sleet. Miserable conditions. We take an Auburn team into Tuscaloosa for the first time in over 100 years. Alabama crosses midfield on their first possession. Andrew Zow throws a pass into double coverage in our end zone...I pick it off. We go down the field and kick a field goal. That's all the points we need. Alabama never crosses midfield again! We go back to Atlanta as division champs! I never forget sprinting towards the Auburn faithful in the endzone and saluting a fan base like no other!
What did I learn from my four years in this game? A few things. The first...the best team usually wins. In my era, the team with the best record, the team with the most at stake, the team that should have won did, all four games. The second...the game was always closer than it should have been. In 1997, we were at least 2 TDs better than Alabama...they led 17-6 in the 4th quarter. '98 and '99...we had no business being in the game with Alabama, but we scared the hell out of them in '98 and should have beaten them in '99. As close as the games end up being, the better team usually prevails however. Third...Emotions were sky high, particularly for the guys from the state of Alabama. Think about how you yourself live and breath this game year round. Now imagine running through the tunnel, hearing Rammer Jammer, listening at field level to the culmination of Roll Tide and War Eagle as the kicker approaches the ball, running onto the field and taking part of something you pretended to do every single day of your youth. I would literally have tears in my eyes right before these games because I wanted to win it so incredibly bad, I wanted to play the game of my life, I wanted to play for my high school teammates that never had the opportunity, I wanted to win for the Auburn people and give them the satisfaction and pride in their team. We wanted to beat Alabama and we prepared year round for it.
This Auburn team is better than Alabama. Maybe not in talent at every position, perhaps not even at most positions. It doesn't matter. It's not about talent...it's about unity, it's about cohesiveness, it's about loving one another and knowing when you look at the guy next to you in the huddle he's going to do everything he possibly can to win his small battle within the war. This Auburn team is the epitome of a team united. They've been battle tested and prevailed. They've been overlooked and underrated and took care of business. They've been galvanized and rallied around their leader as he's undergone an all-out media assault on his character like no other college football player in the history of the game. These things have only made them stronger. As the saying goes..."Good timber does not grow with ease...the stronger the wind, the stronger trees". This is as mentally a tough team in college football and they'll need every ounce of it to get out of Tuscaloosa a winner.
I expect this environment to be the most hostile in the history of AU football. Alabama will play with a passion they've lacked all season and Auburn must match it. I hope Auburn can play as loose as they possibly can considering all that's on the line. It's a tall order...think about it. I know I may have to start smoking Friday morning till the game starts just to calm down...and I'm allergic to smoke! Can you imaging what Cam Newton, or Lee Ziemba, or Mike Dyer feel like?! Better yet, how bout the guys from this state like T. Zachery, Ryan Pugh, or Zac Etheridge!
I do believe Alabama will be successful many times offensively (in spite of their QB...kind of like LSU winning in spite of Les Miles). I just can't see their defense stopping the Malzahn attack. The only way we get stopped offensively is if we stop ourselves. We must take care of the football and treat every offensive possession delicately. If we don't turn the football over we win this game. If we give them extra possessions, we give them life. Prediction...Cam Newton puts the Heisman talk to rest by taking this team into Tuscaloosa and coming out a winner!