I’ve been staring at a blank screen for the better part of an hour. It’s a fairly representative sample of my feelings since last Saturday.
Last Saturday’s game didn’t even seem real once the second half started. That’s probably why I didn’t get emotional. As sad as it sounds, it kind of felt inevitable, that loss. Where the 2013 team was able to bounce back from a loss with vigor and renewed purpose, this team has seemed to wither.
And we may never know why. We’re not in the locker room. We don’t know what happens behind the scenes. If someone not-named-Gus tells you he knows "what really happened," he’s lying. Two years ago, we picked apart the 2012 season a thousand times, trying to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. Rumors flew, but we never got definitive answers. I think that’s going to be the case here, and we just have to live with that. Despite returning a quarterback, this season is a different animal than what fans got used to seeing last season. There's a different dynamic. There’s a realistic chance Auburn will lose 4 games, assuming it beats Clemson in whatever bowl it lands. It’s far from predetermined, but as far as I saw, the team gave up against Georgia. Nothing about that performance tells me they can go into Bryant-Denny with Alabama on a hot streak and upset the Tide. Maybe I’m wrong. It’s all speculation at this point right now anyway. I’ll probably change my mind in a week. That’s not the point of this column.
To be honest, this has just been a bad sports month. Auburn lost to Texas A&M at home while my best friend and I got Rammer Jammer'd in Tiger Stadium. Georgia unceremoniously destroyed Auburn’s will while my last undefeated Cam Newton jersey bit the dust. Carolina keeps letting Cam down. The USMNT lost another game in the final minutes. And yesterday, the Atlanta Braves traded their best player to a team who will probably help him see a World Series long before the Braves would have.
But one of the things I didn’t want to talk about last week was that Rammer Jammer moment, when you can’t help but ask what you did wrong to deserve such a gut punch or what they did right to deserve such glee. And I guess that’s the illusion: we’re all stars in our own Truman Shows. But there’s a bigger world out there. I didn’t do anything to deserve getting Rammer Jammer’d. I didn’t do anything to deserve two excruciating back-to-back Auburn losses during a season that began with talks of championships. I didn’t do anything to deserve November because it’s not about me. Sometimes your team just comes up short. But it’s not about karma or lucky shirts, it’s about dealing with the fact that sometimes the ball doesn’t tightrope walk all the way down a sideline and allow your team to recover it for a touchback, thereby setting in motion the greatest comeback in Auburn history. Sometimes it goes out of bounds. And that’s okay.
The fact that we’re so disappointed with three losses, to the point that it’s being labeled "unacceptable," is a testament to the mentality that Gus Malzahn brought back to the program. But don’t forget about the other side of that coin. Don’t let expectations take the joy out of this thing we love so recklessly. My emotions perpetually adorn my sleeves so I’m not really in a position to tell anyone how to be a fan, but when a game-winning field goal comes up short, only to be returned for a game-winning touchdown, sometimes you’re Chris Davis and sometimes you’re Nick Saban. Celebrate the joy, allow yourself to feel the pain, but don’t let it haunt you.
Auburn Football, big picture-wise, is going to be fine. It always was. Whether this season ended in heartache or triumph, Auburn still played one of the toughest schedules in the nation, boasts a stable full of talent, and employs of the best offensive minds in the game. Auburn plays in the best division of the best conference in college football. Its special teams and defense need a lot of work—there’s no question about that. You have to think those will be two of the first things Gus addresses at the end of the season. But as fans, all we can do is put one foot in front of the other. Keep saying War Eagle. Keep wearing burnt orange and navy blue. Keep believing in Auburn and loving it.
Gus took us to the mountaintop. He remembers the way.
Until next time—War Eagle.