As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Jordan-Hare Stadium, the unbridled joy of the moment came cascading down onto Pat Dye Field. The Auburn Tigers had just defeated their oldest rival 49-31 and wrapped up the SEC West Division Championship. All the emotions left over from the debacle of 2008 as well as the 0-4 record against Georgia were released in those exhilarating minutes after the game.
From the first row at field level to the top row of the upper deck, no one seemed to want to leave. It was the best celebration that I can remember since the '89 Iron Bowl win over Alabama. In both instances the Auburn family had a lot of pent up emotions that made for a particularly loud and tough environment for their opponents.
In '89 it was the culmination of finally getting the Tide to play in our house. An event that Tide coach Ray Perkins swore would never happen. In 2010 it was having to endure eight days of what most of us considered unfair tabloid journalism about our star player and our school. And probably of more significance was the frustration of losing to the dogs for four years straight.
The exuberance of the players as they ran around the field thanking the fans, the video on the jumbotron of great plays from this season, the band playing ‘Lean On Me' and the words echoing around the stadium as it was sung by the Auburn faithful made for a night to remember. Yes, it was a great night to be an Auburn Tiger. I just wished the entire family could have been there.
Standing there and soaking in the moment, it was hard to believe that it was just two years ago when the Tigers were at a very low point. With losses to both of their two biggest rivals came the realization of not qualifying for a bowl bid. Now in 2010 Auburn is undefeated, SEC Champions of the toughest division in college football, and headed to the Georgia Dome to play in the SEC Championship Game.
Offensive tackle Byron Isom said that "Two years ago if you told somebody that we would be in this position we're in right now, they would have called you crazy. And to be here now, we've just got to bask in the glory and rise to the challenge."
There were several former Tigers present to witness the clinching of the West Championship; including Hall of Famer Ben Tamburello, former running back Kenny Irons, and Heisman Icon Bo Jackson to name a few. While 80,000 fans were having their noisy postgame celebration, Irons told a reporter, "This is one of those special teams you just have to watch to believe. You have to see it. This is where the magic is happening."
Make no mistake about it; the coach that many did not want is the man responsible for that magic. He had a blueprint for success and hit the ground running to see it accomplished. The first thing on his list was to hire an excellent staff. Then his priority was to heal a hurting team and restore the spirit of ‘Auburn Family' to the program. Finally he and the new staff aggressively recruited some of the nation's top players.
After Saturday's game, Coach Chizik said "When trying to take our goals one at a time we didn't know when ... (qualifying for the SEC Championship game) would happen. We were blessed to be in a position tonight, where if we won, we‘d have a trip to Atlanta. There were a lot of incentives out there. I couldn't be more proud of these guys. Just the way they persevered through a lot of stuff over the last few years, the way they responded and the way they just kept playing. I'm just happy for them, because I wanted their experience at Auburn to be a great one."
Chizik acknowledged that the ultimate Championship goal has not been reached yet. However, as Byron Isom pointed out, who would have thought two years ago that Chizik would even have the Tigers in this position?
For this week though Auburn can enjoy the SEC West Division Championship. Next week there is unfinished business in Tuscaloosa before taking on the SEC East Champs, South Carolina in Atlanta. But for now Auburn fan enjoy the moment, for the first time since 2004 ...
Your Tigers are Champions of the West!