Auburn family. We need to talk. This letter is in response to the fans in my section the other night, but I don't think they're alone so let's all talk.
Saturday night, Auburn lost to a young Texas A&M team. It was the first game Gus Malzahn lost as head coach that we were supposed to win. The people in the stands were upset. So was I. But I was upset for different reasons.
First, Auburn fans: stop booing injured players. Stop that now. Auburn men and women shouldn't do that. Our offense goes so fast that marginally nicked up players can't get off the field fast enough. So, rather than get a penalty for limping off the field as the ball is being snapped, they go to the ground to stop play. This isn't faking an injury. But even if it were, STOP BOOING! Young men regardless of uniform color deserve respect for the sacrifices they endure to fight for their glory and our enjoyment three hours a week in the fall.
Second, based on the reactions in the stands around me, I'm afraid that Auburn fans have started to believe that winning every game is our right. People who believe that will never enjoy football again. Winning brings no real pleasure because you're merely doing what you're supposed to do. Losing feels like betrayal.
I grew up in an Auburn where Pat Dye said after a loss in 1981, "There's going to be a lot of days where you lay your guts on the line and you come away empty handed. Ain't a damn thing you can do about it but go out there and lay them on the line again. And again, and again . . . You keep fighting like you did today, you keep playing like that, we can build a foundation we can live a long, long time on here at Auburn." Even near the peak of his program, after winning his third straight SEC title in 1989, Pat Dye said, "Sure, I'd love to be 12, 11-0, but I'm gonna tell you something, I wouldn't swap this year for any year that I've been at Auburn. I wouldn't swap it men, because I've watched you struggle, and I've watched you wrestle with them angels, and I watched you grow up and become men." What I took that to mean (and what I believe strongly) is that having a team and coaches that represent Auburn well on and off the field is more important than wins and losses.
Being an Auburn fan has never been about national titles. Being an Auburn fan hasn't even been about conference titles. Being an Auburn fan is about wanting a team that will play any team in America on any field in America on any Saturday and represent our school well. It's why we begged Tennessee to play us annually in the 50s even though they were a significantly better program. It's why our Amen Corner traditionally involved three SEC bluebloods, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. If we wanted titles, we could have scheduled Kentucky, Vandy, and Ole Miss every year instead.
This year's team wasn't about a title either. We saw that schedule at the front of the year and knew what was ahead. Impossible looking road trips to Georgia and Alabama, with difficult road tests at Miss State, Ole Miss, and Kansas State. South Carolina, LSU, and Texas A&M rounded out the toughest schedule Auburn has had ever. We all knew that no matter how good this team was, it would take an amazing amount of luck to navigate that schedule unscathed.
What we expected was this: a marquee matchup every week with an exciting offense, good coaching, and (we hoped) an improved defense. We've gotten that.
This year's Auburn team is not perfect. We have a talented but inexperienced secondary prone to blown coverages and miscommunication. Our defensive line is generally fine against the run, but (due in part to Lawson's injury) have no pass rush ability. Our running backs are very good, but we don't have a Ronnie Brown or Cadillac Williams in the group. Our offensive line has been injury prone and isn't as dominant as last year's unit. None of the H-Backs are bad but they aren't Jay Prosch. But despite all the injuries and limitations, Auburn is 2-1 in three games against top national competition on the road.
Last year, during the Iron Bowl, whenever the game was in danger of slipping away, you could hear the crowd start. Softly at first then growing in intensity, "I said it's great to be, an Auburn Tiger, it's great to Be AN AUBURN TIGER! I SAID IT'S GREAT TO BE AN AUBURN TIGER!" Auburn won that game in part because every time the team could have quit, the crowd wouldn't let them.
Saturday, at least in my section, I heard scattered boos when drives stalled. I heard people cussing Coach Malzahn and Johnson. People calling for Jeremy Johnson. People who wouldn't stop calling Brandon Fulse worthless even as he laid one key perimeter block after another in second half drives. Not once, not even after the last fumble did the students start the chant to let the world know that it's great to be an Auburn Tiger.
If you want a well-oiled, predictable killing machine with a strangling defense and to be surrounded by fellow, entitled fans who expect perfection each week, we have another rooting option in this state that may suit you. If you want to continue watching a team held together with chewing gum, bailing wire, and an unorthodox offense scatter, smother, dice, and pepper the best teams in college football each week, you belong at Auburn.
These players aren't perfect. The coaches aren't infallible. But watching them over the last two years is the most fun I've ever had in a football stadium.
It hurts to lose when you have a wide open path to the title with a month of football left. But Saturday night in Jordan Hare, I saw a team that didn't quit. Texas A&M scored five touchdowns in the first half and six points in the second. Auburn's offense was four yards and two fluke fumbles from completing a remarkable comeback. This team doesn't quit; it deserves fans that won't quit.
Maybe the problem is that Gus and the boys have made the miraculous look routine for so long that we were actually surprised and disappointed when they didn't do it again Saturday. Please do not take this remarkable run for granted.
Auburn matches up well against Georgia on both sides of the ball. We have no worse chance against Alabama this year than we had last year. We may win nine games. We may win ten. All hell may break loose like it did in 2007 and Auburn may wind up in the playoff. But no matter what happens, it will always be great to be an Auburn Tiger.
Act like you believe it.