The picture is one of the most iconic in Auburn football history. The shot sums up Auburn's domination over Alabama this past decade. The mere mention of it conjures up the image of big Stanley McClover standing over Alabama's Brodie Croyle while he assumes the fetal position.
McClover's dominating Iron Bowl performance back in 2005 seems so distant now.
In what looks like a flurry of hatchet jobs on the Auburn football program since winning the national championship last month, HBO is the latest to enter the sweepstakes. The network has confirmed that Real Sports will be airing a segment on the school's football program March 30th.
The angle of the story is the million dollar question.
What we do know is HBO has reached out to a number of former Auburn players in an effort to find one who will admit to receiving improper benefits while being recruited or playing at Auburn.
In recent days, it seems the storyline has expanded to include the University of Alabama. With the recent happenings at Toomer's Corner, some speculate the story will now center on the Auburn-Alabama rivalry, with an emphasis on the negative.
At this point, no one is quite sure.
What we do know is that McClover has a starring role. According to multiple media sources, McClover admits on the program that he received money while being recruited to Auburn.
The problem for McClover is the story has more holes than Sonny Corleone at the toll booth. News services have reached out to him multiple times this past week and despite being given the chance, McClover refuses to deny making the allegations, instead making cryptic comments about taking care of his charity.
Speaking to former Auburn great Ronnie Brown, McClover insisted the story is not about Auburn. "This has nothing to do with the school" he told Brown. "This is about me and my story and trying to help kids."
Brown pressed McClover further, saying to him, "You can't implicate a school eight or nine years later. Why would you say that anyway?"
Brown said McClover didn't respond.
The anti-Auburn site, Sports By Brooks indicated last week that McClover was being paid for his story. Anything’s possible, but HBO is a Time-Warner owned company and paying for interviews is widely frowned upon in the journalism community.
McClover’s allegations have put him alone on an island with his former teammates. Former Auburn player Jeris McIntyre says the story doesn’t add up.
"He was a good player, don't get me wrong," McIntyre said, "but I played with Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Jason Campbell, Karlos Dansby, Dontarrious Thomas, Marcus McNeill, Quentin Groves. The list goes on, and all the players I talk to are saying, 'No way.'"
Former Tiger Bret Eddins had the best line, saying, "If he had money, it must have been in a Roth IRA or something."
Even McClover’s former high school coach has questioned the charges. Ken Scott has been at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale since 1979. The connection between Auburn and Dillard has become legend over the years.
"I've been involved in every athlete they recruited here, either as an assistant coach, but mainly as the head coach, and, no, I've never had any inkling of anything out of the ordinary, and that includes the players who had a much higher standing than Stanley," said Scott.
McClover left school early following the 2005 season hoping to make it big in the NFL. Despite being advised by most to remain at Auburn another season, McClover was anxious to take his talents to the next level.
This is where the story turns bad.
He was taken in the seventh round (237th pick) of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers and saw action in only two games his rookie season. The following year, he played in 11 games, but was waived by the Panthers after the season.
McClover then hooked up with the Houston Texans, but never saw any playing time and was waived again in 2009. He’s no longer part of an active NFL roster.
In the last few days, McClover has lashed out at those writing about him.
From his Twitter account, he wrote, "READING ALL THESE RUMORS BLOGS ABOUT ME.. AND ALL I CAN SAY IS WOW..HOW YOU WRITE A STORY WITHOUT FACTS IS BEYOND MY MIND."
While few facts have come yet, McClover has had every opportunity to set the record straight and so far has refused.
Auburn continues to be dogged by the Cam Newton case and a recent story by Auburn-basher Thayer Evans of Fox Sports.com. The story questions Auburn’s recruitment of former Thibodaux (La.) High School players Greg Robinson and Trovon Reed.
Despite the article, those close to the Auburn program say there’s nothing to worry about and the NCAA was simply doing their due diligence when they visited the high school a few weeks back.
Many Auburn people question the timing of these allegations, some suggesting they are orchestrated. Auburn Undercover senior editor Phillip Marshall has been one of the sharpest critics of those calling Auburn out.
“Auburn’s image has been smeared, and why?” Marshall wrote recently. “Because it won the national championship? Because it had the audacity to defy expectations? Because it stripped away the myth of invincibility surrounding Alabama coach and ESPN favorite Nick Saban?”
Marshall’s questions are logical ones to ask. The answers may be hard to get. There’s no arguing Auburn is the biggest name in college football today. All national champions enjoy (or not) that kind of coverage following a title.
Cam Newton is also the biggest name in college football. He may be the biggest name in collegiate athletics in 30 years. Unfortunately, the off-field dramatics surrounding his father were every bit as entertaining to fans as Newton’s on-field exploits.
Like it or not, it’s hard to see Newton’s story being covered any other way regardless of what school he attended.
What makes Auburn’s situation different is the witch hunt mentality that people like Evans has shown in trying to bring down a program. Unfortunately for Evans, his credibility has dropped faster than Steve Spurrier’s tits at the Daytona 500.
He’s crossed the line from a somewhat credible writer to a guy with an ax to grind. He may not see it now, but his career will likely suffer. But fans don’t care about Evans; they do care about Auburn – for better or worse.
So what can Auburn do? First and foremost, they can remain innocent. Despite all the articles and false reporting over the past six months, Auburn remains clean. Nothing has stuck. People inside the athletic department say it likely will remain that way.
Let’s hope Stanley McClover tells HBO the truth. Let’s hope he’s right about waiting until the story comes out. I want to believe he told the truth.
Unfortunately, I have my doubts.