My girlfriend is an Alabama fan.
I don't know what comes of it all -- I suppose none of us ever do -- but for all of her almost 30 years, the lady that currently holds my attention has rooted for the Tide.
Months ago, probably six, the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Ga., announced a show with Kevin Kinney of Drivin' 'n Cryin' headlining and R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck opening. Tickets were $5. I didn't look at what was happening that day, or weekend, on the calendar. I just grabbed them. Something special would happen at Buck's return to his home club, the club owned by his first wife.
"Who does Georgia have that weekend?" I eventually thought. "I can just make a weekend of it -- see whatever may happen, eat at Weaver D's Delicious Fine Foods, buy some records at Wuxtry, see the Dawgs play.
It was Auburn. In Auburn.
So what this weekend would become began to unfold months ago. Likely before Bonnaroo. Before another trip to Athens for Neutral Milk Hotel. Before VooDoo Fest in New Orleans. Before all of it. This weekend would be the weekend that I introduced the lady I court, an Alabama fan, to two of my favorite Southern cities. She had never been to Athens, and she had visited Auburn just once for a summer wedding.
We headed to the Classic City on Thursday and arrived in time to have a drink at the Manhattan Bar before walking over to the show. About 40 minutes into his set, Buck said, "I'm going to invite someone up that can sing a little better than me."
It was Mike Mills. And original R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry followed suit. Word spread quickly within the sold-out venue that Michael Stipe was roaming amongst us wearing a beanie, but alas, he never showed his face. The trio played "Don't Go Back to Rockville," a song with lyrics written by Mills but originally performed by Stipe. Mills took over lead vocals as the band grew older.
The three band members stayed much of the night, playing unfamiliar tunes with a collection of other artists including Kinney, R.E.M. touring and recording drummer Scott McCaughey, Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood and others. There was no way anything more amazing could happen to me during the course of this weekend.
It was a weekend, man. We went to the basketball game on Friday night and watched Auburn allow 72 second-half points to Northwestern State. We got to campus early on Saturday and hopped around some tailgates. We secured two tickets in the student section from War Eagle Sports Radio host @Bobby_Barkley. And I made damn sure that we were inside, regardless of how uncomfortable it was, for her to see Nova's flight.
I'm not sure that it was electric. That would be painting a tale suited for the movie. It was "workmanlike." The most electric I saw the stadium get prior to the final 36 seconds was when the tunnel video was switched back to "All I Do Is Win."
I once went and ordered three hots dogs, and I was given three hots dogs and three bags of plain Golden Flake chips. What is that about? I get that you want to offer a "combo" to the folks, but does it not occur to anyone at Sodexho that maybe I might want multiple hot dogs without multiple chips? Whatever. I ate my two dogs and my two bags of chips.
There was a modest cheer for PGA Tour Championship winner Jason Dufner when he was recognized in the first half. He had a street named after him. That's cool. There's a funny story where I am driving around a neighborhood really late on Friday night looking for a friend's house and I can tell that a guy is wondering why I am driving around his neighborhood, so I stop and talk to him and find out he bought his house from Dufner. That's most of the "story," but I can save the rest for another time.
It began to unravel in the fourth quarter, and somehow, I managed to simply stare in disbelief. I was never angry. I may even qualify my mood as "quiet confidence." I thought that 1:49 was too much time for Georgia to leave on the clock, and even when it reached fourth-and-18, I just stared. Even as that ball dangled in the air for an eternity and the widest range of emotions that sports can offer unfolded, I watched patiently, knowing that the ball was still in the air, knowing that Ricardo Louis was still in stride.
I'm not going to say that I foresaw it happening, but not even in that split second when it all felt lost did I lose confidence in this team. Not even then.
I'm not going to try to describe that moment, because I'll not come close to achieving what Chris did in his post on Sunday. What I'll tell you is that even after surrendering a 20-point lead and even in that moment, I didn't give up.
It felt like 2010. When All Auburn Did Was Win. No matter what.
It certainly didn't feel like 2012.
Nothing will ever allow people that weren't there an opportunity to feel what that moment in that stadium felt like. I tried to think of the loudest that I have ever heard that stadium:
Go Crazy Cadillac.
The Tre Smith blocked punt.
The Courtney Taylor catch.
Nix to Sanders.
The Damon Duval kick against Florida.
None of them came close to this. I've become a jaded soul in the 32 months since Wes Byrum's kick sealed Auburn's first national championship in 53 years. I've become much more worried about music. About writing. About the radio and podcast projects that I now call a hobby. About music festivals.
But for that moment, sports allowed me to remember why we cheer. That moment was the most authentic joy and elation that I have felt from something that I wasn't directly involved in or responsible for in, at least, a decade. More than the national championship. And yeah, as difficult as it is to admit, probably more than I had felt just two days prior when I saw three-fourths of R.E.M. reunite on a tiny stage in front of about 1,000 people.
Christy leapt into my arms, decked in orange and blue, as she shook her orange-and-blue shaker with fan fervor. I squeezed her entirely too tight, and by Sunday morning's replay that we gathered around to watch on CSS, she was calling Auburn "we."
She and I spent our post game celebration at The Hound, where an older gentleman who owns a large veterinary practice in Birmingham rolled shot after shot of Fireball and Jaegermeister my way. We talked about life. And those tales and conversations were for us, but they weren't really about football. They were about family. They were about Birmingham. They were about things that we enjoy. I hope that it was the beginning of a long friendship, as he was one of the most interesting fellows I have met. And that was all sparked by The Play.
I don't say that to insinuate that The Play or that the friendship it struck up is a "family" thing or a "God Thing" or a thing that is uniquely Auburn. I say that to say that it was a "sports thing." Moments like that in sports demolish barriers that we build because of age or race or gender. They are honest. They are basic. And they are a thing that unites. Even more than film or music or art.
Everyone has a team. And while society has made cynicism easy through oversaturation, moments like The Play remind us why we're all fans.
I hate the University of Georgia. I love its town, but I hate its fans. I hate the miserable moments that its team has put me on the receiving end of.
But I hate that someone had to be on the losing end of The Play. It was truly, without hyperbole, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And I was there.
More from College and Magnolia:
- BCS standings: Auburn up to No. 6
- Jordan-Hare Stadium might never have another moment like that
- College football rankings: Week 13
- Highlights of the Tigers' improbable win
- Auburn 43, Georgia 38: Postgame quotes