To the men who wore burnt orange and navy blue in 2012:
There are so many things we as fans don’t know and will never know about the 2012 season. We can speculate about where things went wrong, but no amount of "insider information" will provide us with even a glimpse of what it is really like in your locker room. We aren’t there everyday, in the trenches, like you. We can only stand behind you on your journey, through thick and thin, ever to conquer, never to yield.
But your journey in 2012 hasn’t gone as planned. Two years after you stood upon the mountaintop, you’ve found yourselves at the bottom looking up again. In some ways, the descent seems to have taken a lifetime. In other ways, it has been a free fall. And no one can seem to put a finger on why. You’re talented, full of top-5 recruiting classes and hungry players waiting to prove their mettle. You’re looking for a leader, and adversity often forges great ones. But none have emerged. Despite your potential, you’ve still faltered.
Your journey has been riddled with pain, both physical and emotional. We’ve seen you stumble and then fall. You’ve gotten up, only to be knocked back down. But after 12 weeks of getting knocked down, it’s hard to blame you for not wanting to get back up again.
Your journey has been difficult to watch, especially for those who love you. Admittedly, fans are fickle people. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that you all are 18-to-22-year-old student athletes with the pressure of an entire state’s expectations bearing down on you. To see Auburn Men struggle, to see you lose faith in yourselves and each other, to see the fight go out of your eyes, that has been the hardest part for those watching. But what we have experienced pails in comparison to what we’re sure you’ve felt.
Your journey’s logical end was bloody. By the time the 2012 season came to a close in Bryant-Denny Stadium, everyone was numb. That you were merely a speed bump on the Tide’s own journey to their second consecutive national championship two years removed from your own could only have felt like a kick in the gut. When your head coach was shown the door, you probably wondered if things would ever get better.
If you could only see yourselves now.
What you thought was an end to a miserable journey was only the beginning of something unbelievable. I don’t mean that in the hyperbolic sense. What lies ahead of you truly defies comprehension.
When your next head coach walks through that door, he is going to change everything you know about Auburn football. Except that he isn’t really going to change anything. He’s going to remind you what it means to be Auburn Men. He’s going to remind you what it feels like to put in work, hard work. He’s going to remind you what it feels like to be champions. What he’s going to do is right the ship.
When you take the field in 2013, you’ll spend most of the season earning the nation’s respect. It won’t be easy. Everyone will have already written you off as a team who will be lucky to go bowling in Birmingham. You’ll struggle. You’ll lose. But like Rocky Balboa, you’ll get back up.
On your way, you’ll take down a Heisman winner in his own house, you’ll witness a miracle and then you’ll slay a giant.
And that’s just during the regular season. One year removed from 3-9, defeating Alabama will win you the West and a chance to play Missouri (no, really) in the SEC Championship Game. You’ll win by 17 points.
And as if 2004 was some cosmic joke, in the year of the BCS’s swan song, through a series of fortunate events, somehow an Auburn team that got zero preseason votes in any poll will end up playing for it all because that’s just how it was meant to be. You’ll hear talk of destiny and of luck. Don’t let it cheapen what this season will mean to you. Those words imply that you were not the masters of your fate. You played the cards you were dealt, but you had the necessary skills to play them right.
Your coach will tell you that it’s a new day, and you will believe him. We all will. And we will be with you every step of the way. People will sneer at our "cheesy imaginary family," but at the end of the day, we will always believe in Auburn and love it. You will be able to see that love in the stands of Jordan-Hare and lining Donahue Drive at Tiger Walk. You will be able to hear it before third down stops and in every recitation of "It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger." And that love will be written plain as day on the face of every Auburn Man and Woman who has ever let him or herself believe.
As you await the opportunity to stand atop the college football world again, it’ll be hard to imagine that this "Team of Destiny" is largely the same team whose season ended in November just one year prior. Except that it isn't such a stretch -- not really. You know the unexplainable athletic umami that has gotten you this far was there all along. You just had to believe.
Onward and upward, Tigers. Go forth and become champions.