This is where I start leaning a bit away from "games that mean the most to me for personal reasons" and more into just "hey, wow, best games I've been to." Perhaps I should have split the series into two Top Fives, but oh well.
I set a goal when I arrived at Auburn in the fall of 2000. I would graduate in four years. I would finish everything on time. It was in my best interests to do so anyway, since going an extra semester would have required me to file an extension for my ROTC scholarship. The Army is not a fan of spending more money than they planned on. So I worked hard, took classes in two summers to make up for some hours that wouldn't count as electives due to all the ROTC classes, and I was all set to graduate in the spring of 2004. I thought my final football season as a student (2003) was going to be awesome before it began. By the end of the USC game it was clear that wasn't going to be the case. So I graduated and left Auburn. Little did I suspect then how much I would regret not going the December graduating route to "stick around for one more football season."
The end of 2003 gave us Jet Gate and all the fall out that came with it. We'll get to that in another article. Going into 2004 there were definitely no expectations along the lines of 2003. The season started as we would have expected with a thrashing of Louisiana-Monroe, and then a pretty convincing win against Mississippi State. Then LSU came to town.
I remember Hurricane Ivan was rolling up the Gulf the week prior to the LSU game. I wondered during the week before whether the game would even happen. But Ivan was never that strong around Auburn and that late Summer Saturday was as pretty as you could ask for. And the football game that was played that day was as hard fought as I've ever seen in person.
That was the only 2004 football game I watched in person. I was able to snag tickets from some ROTC friends, so I was back in the Student Section one last time in my old spot: about 15 rows up just on the edge of the left upright of the goalpost (looking from the field into the stands). Looking back on it now I really don't remember being as nervous as I was for something like the 2013 UGA game or Iron Bowl. I think that's because this was still just the third game of the year. I had no expectations of an undefeated season at that point. It was still a big game since it was an SEC West match up, but losing it would not have completely ended Auburn's season.
The two passes to Courtney Taylor are two of the most clutch throws I've seen in person. The touchdown happened right in front of me. I was screaming my head off. And then my heart just DROPPED when the extra point was missed. Overtime?!? I didn't think I would be able to take that. Then it went from my heart in the pit of my stomach to elation again with the penalty. It was the first time I had seen the new penalty against hitting the snapper with his head still down, but I didn't have time to worry too much about it. I was too busy celebrating John Vaughn's second attempt that went through the uprights. What an amazing swing of emotions those few brief minutes were.
The game wasn't over from there. As I seem to end up saying so often "we left them too much time!" I said that four times this past football season. Three times we pulled it out. The fourth time we did not. I remember the 2005 UGA game and being so thankful for the fumble and then kicking a FG because I'm convinced that with the way THAT game was going, UGA would have driven down and scored to win had we not been able to run the clock out. LSU attempted to mount a drive, but Junior Rosegreen ended it with nine seconds on the clock. Auburn won one of the hardest fought football games I've ever seen and would only face one real challenge the rest of the year in the Iron Bowl.
This game is special to me because it's the only time I saw the 2004 squad play in person. And it was probably the best game of that season. I was a part of witnessing perfection and one of the best all-around Auburn teams that have ever worn the Orange and Blue. What a game and what a season that was.