It's all been so incredibly overwhelming.
There aren't a lot of words to add which haven't been said, but I'll try. Captivating. Enthralling. Mesmerizing. Moving. Inspiring. Reassuring. Stunning. Spectacular. Fun. Hopeful.
While the 2013 Auburn Tigers weren't recognized as college football's best team by anyone, they'll forever be recognized as my own favorite. More than 2010. More than 2004. More than 1993. And when we crawl deeper into the annals of time, we reach a point where I, myself, am crawling and can no longer offer personal context.
But this one was the best. For me.
Against all odds is an easy, blanket concept, but I don't believe it true. While I spent the coaching search of 12 months ago grandstanding for another candidate, I believe that everyone, myself included, knew in their hearts that when Gus Malzahn was hired as Auburn's next head football coach, things were going to change. No one realized change could come so quickly and so drastically, but Auburn's darkest days were going to be short-lived, and it was going to be on the right track.
But it did more than simply get on track. That is well documented. I'll add nothing to that discussion.
I will turn 32-years-old in August. When the BCS became the chosen method to determine college football's greatest team, I was 16. The year after I graduated from Auburn, my alma mater became the first team to complete a season worthy of inclusion in the BCS National Championship Game and be left out. It began a lengthy discussion about the system's adequacy. In 2010, Auburn was led by a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. And while Cam Newton isn't the only reason that Auburn had that season, he helped. Just a little.
In 2011, Alabama returned to the game without winning its own division, a moment which really opened discussion of the system's adequacy once more.
Regardless, it was the system. "Two best teams," they said.
And by the time we reached the 2012 game, we knew the fate of "the system."
Still, it's a system that has determined the greatest team in this state's favorite sport for half of my life. So it's a little surreal to see its conclusion. While Auburn was a casualty of the system in 2004, I was never a detractor. Why? Because the system worked exactly as it should, within itself, and the system created one big game.
And how did that end? With one of the most memorable games in its history. One for the ages. And not only did it end with one of the most memorable games in its history, it allowed Auburn fans the trip of a lifetime. I realize my great fortune in being able to attend this game. I'm grateful. I'm humbled. And because of the system, I had a Los Angeles experience that can likely never, ever be repeated.
There was a Lakers game and Dane Cook doing standup in a room that held 200 and an aimless drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to find Tom Petty's house and a walk down Rodeo Drive where Bobby Lowder was shopping and too many gin and tonics on the rooftop of The Standard and Kiefer Sutherland staying at our hotel. There were In-N-Out burgers and top notch Mexican food and a walk through Universal's City Walk. There were great friends and great memories created. Cliche, yes, but "blessed" doesn't begin to describe it.
And while you don't care about that, I paint that image to solidify: The death of the BCS is the death of that experience.
Now, fans will be forced to hedge their bets between the semifinal and the championship. Fans can't take two weeks off of work to travel cross country to exotic locations suited for B-Roll. What the system quietly best created was this: an unbelievable fan experience. Yes, I also believe that it did what it was supposed to do. Yes, I believe that it made every game count. Yes, I believe that Auburn was also its biggest casualty. But yes, it allowed fans one month to prepare for a destination bowl game - to make travel arrangements, to obtain tickets, to consider things that they wanted to experience in addition to the game between the nation's top two teams. The playoffs, for most, take that away.
That Auburn began this discussion, now, what seems like a lifetime ago, and that it has now given Auburn fans the best trip of them all with its most memorable team is why 2013 is my favorite Auburn team. Ever.
Call 2013 "The Team With All the Heart" -- it was different. It was a team effort led by guys who had completely given up just one year before. Sure, Nick Marshall was new and was vitally important to this team's success, but otherwise, the 2013 Auburn football team looked a lot like the 2012 team when it put on pads. The final four games of 2013 will likely never be matched. And as I walked away from the Rose Bowl on Monday night, I had the same feeling that I had as I walked away from Paul McCartney's set at Bonnaroo this year.
"Let's quit while we're ahead."
It's difficult to imagine how moments like these can be topped. It's impossible to fathom that I can experience the joy that I felt when Ricardo Louis made that catch or when Chris Davis turned that corner. And while this team didn't win a national championship, it won the SEC. It started from the bottom, now it's here.
I landed in Birmingham on Wednesday morning at about 1 a.m. I returned from 75 degrees and palm trees to an apartment without working water caused by 17 degree temperatures. I've barely been able to shower, and it's remained cold. It's led to a lot of introspection. And I'm not sure that my own 2013 could have had a more perfect conclusion, but more importantly, that the BCS could have.
In 2010, I was convinced that Auburn had simply exorcised a demon. It had done something that lifelong Auburn fans experience once-in-a-lifetime. But after 2013, and after the death of the BCS, I now know that Auburn can and will do this again. And, as I experienced 2010 as a newbie is wont to do, I experienced 2013 like I had been there. It made it more memorable, more special.
This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife.
I suppose my high school coach would be proud that even at 32, I can still learn valuable life lessons from the game. War Damn Eagle. Forever.