I've never minded being wrong about football. Or anything, really. It happens a lot.
I told anyone who'd listen last week that Auburn was either going to get run out of Bryant-Denny Stadium or take down the Tide because I genuinely believed it. After the Georgia game, I didn't think Auburn had the heart anymore to go into a hostile environment when they had nothing to play for and take down a title contender. But I also thought if Auburn showed even the tiniest spark of life, they'd walk out into the Tuscaloosa night victorious.
I was half right. Aside from the early miscues, the first half of the 2014 Iron Bowl was glorious.
But half right is still wrong and the first half isn't the half that matters.
So Auburn lost, falling to 8-4 in what we all see as kind of a disappointment. I mean, this season started with title hopes. But the stars don't always align and some things went south and here we are, sort of parallel to 2011. Or maybe 2009? I love fitting things neatly into boxes and forcing them to make sense, so I may have indulged a little in this thought progression. The disappointment this season feels like 2011. 2014 had the potential to be even better than 2013, until the injuries and brutal schedule took their toll. But the hope, the hope reminds me of the end of 2009. The life that we saw in their eyes on Saturday feels like that team from five years ago that gave Alabama all it wanted and then scratched out a win in Tampa.
Auburn scored 44 (36)* points on the road in Bryant-Denny Stadium. What a beautiful freaking thing. 2014 is almost in the books. I don't know what 2015 has in store but I'm confident it will resemble 2010 a lot more than 2012.
But because Auburn scored 44 points and managed not to win the game, some things about the defense** had to change. Fast.
I believed Ellis Johnson was the right man for the job when Gus hired him and I still believe that today--that he was the right hire. Things are different now, but Ellis was what those boys needed after 2012. From all indications, BVG didn't connect with the players, he didn't teach them. He coached like an NFL coach, which is fine, but it doesn't translate well to amateur athletes who are still learning. Ellis took the players he had, players with raw talent and bad fundamentals and instead of yelling at them, he taught them. Admittedly, not all of the lessons stuck or were even very good, but he helped heal their wounds, and I will always be grateful to him for his part of 2013.
That said, giving up 41 points to that Texas A&M team in Jordan-Hare Stadium, giving up 55 points--18 to Amari Cooper*** alone--to a Nick Saban-coached team, and giving up 30 or more points in five straight SEC games for the first time in Auburn history is practically spitting in the face of every Auburn defense to ever take the field.
Thank you for healing old wounds, Coach, but it's time to move on. Best of luck to you and your beautiful family.
I won't say this anywhere else, but since we're all friends here, here goes:
One of the benefits of being a self aware Barner is being able to laugh at yourself, not only as a person but as a fan. It keeps you from taking yourself or any of this too seriously. It also allows you to be really honest with yourself. And if I examine my heart, deep under all the disappointment of another second half collapse, I don't find anguish or heartbreak about that Iron Bowl. Auburn, for whatever reason, wasn't good enough to play for a national championship this year. That's just the truth. But I got to watch that game with two of the most gracious human beings on the planet and snuggle with large dogs****. I got to cheer for a team I thought had given up on themselves. I got to believe, which is the most magical part of all of this. You see, the reason I've never minded being wrong about football is that I've never once in my life been sorry for believing. Believing in something keeps our heads out of the sand and our hearts on our sleeves. I wouldn't trade the part of my heart that belongs to Auburn--the city, the university, the family--for anything in the world. I believe, not just in a football team, but in the human touch and in a spirt that is not afraid.
Auburn didn't go gentle into that good night, and neither should we. Ever to conquer, never to yield.
Until the bowl game--War Eagle. Always.
*I legitimately don't care that we scored those last 8 points in garbage time. 36 is fine. My point remains the same.
**I will always love the individual guys on this defense, not necessarily for their product on the field but for the fact that they stuck with Auburn through 2012. They were painful to watch at times, but they were also scrappy and opportunistic. To the seniors on both sides of the ball who'll leave us, thank you for wearing orange and blue. Thank you for being Auburn men.
***The decision to treat Amari Cooper like any other player nearly gave me a stroke. He's the best wide receiver in the country and he's Blake Sims' safety blanket. He's their Darvin. Burn it down.
*****BONUS FOOTNOTE: It's going to take a long, long, long, long, long time to erase the memory of THERE GOES DAVIS! And I'm not entirely convinced the other side of the state doesn't feel the same way.
******ANOTHER: Corey Grant scored a touchdown in a stadium where he was told he was a DB. Stand up, Opelika. War Eagle forever, Corey.
*******AND ONE MORE FOR GOOD MEASURE: I named this article Penultimate Goodbyes because the next one I write will likely be my last. This is my last football season as a true Undercover Barner, as I HOPE to graduate in May and leave Tuscaloosa. I may write another after the bowl game, but even so, we're wrapping things up here. I'd really like to thank you all for taking the time to read these every week. It hasn't always been easy but it's always been fun. Thank you for loving Auburn.