August 31, 1991 was a monumental day in my life. It is the only time I - yes, I will admit it - pulled against the Auburn Tigers in football. Please don't revoke my Barn Card and ostracize me. At that point I was still predominantly a fan of the Tigers' opponent for the opening game of the 1991 season: the defending 1-AA National Champion Georgia Southern Eagles.
Georgia Southern had started the previous season 1-3 under first year head coach Tim Stowers. They didn't lose another game en route to their second consecutive (and fourth since the program restarted just barely a decade earlier) 1-AA Championship. Gone were a number of key players from their previous year's offense such as 4-year starting QB Raymond Gross (still one of the greatest triple option QBs I've seen in my 32 years). This was a strong team, but still a 1-AA team. Auburn had second year starter Stan White at QB and were coming off an 8-3-1 season that ended in dramatic fashion with Stan White's one yard touchdown run with 00:39 on the clock against Indiana in the Peach Bowl. While it was a disappointing season for Auburn given the success of the previous years, it wasn't a bad one under first-year QB White.
If the 1990 season was a disappointment, the 1991 season was disaster. It would end as the first losing season under Pat Dye since his first year as Auburn head coach (1981). Signs of what was to come were noticeable by the score in the picture headlining this article. With 6:31 to go in the second quarter Georgia Southern led 17-0. At the half the score was 17-3, although it was within a heart beat of 24-0. Shortly before the half Stan White threw what should have been a pick-6, but the Georgia Southern DB dropped the football. Perhaps he lost concentration at dreams of glory from the wide open green space in front of him. Whatever the case, Auburn went on to kick a field goal and entered the half down 14 instead of 24.
I have a lot of memories of that day, though in the 23 years since most of them have faded a good bit. I remember arriving on campus much earlier than we ever did for Georgia Southern games due to needing to snag a tailgating spot. We met in the parking lot of the old Wal-Mart where the J&M II bookstore was located. We tailgated somewhere in the region of Chemistry building today. It was a long and dragging afternoon waiting to go into the stadium. The first half of that football game was just about the greatest experience of my football loving life to that point. The national championship games my family attended in 1989 and 1990 were big, but even then I understood the difference in 1-A and 1-AA football and what a victory would mean for Georgia Southern. I recall going to get a drink from the concession stand with my dad at the half and listening to the amazement of the Auburn fans discussing how little Georgia Southern could be doing this to the Tigers.
The second half told a completely different story. If Georgia Southern had capitalized on the dropped pick-6 and entered the half at 24-0, then perhaps they would have played differently in the second half. Perhaps Auburn would have been too deflated to fight back. Whatever the case, Auburn came out on fire and scored 29 unanswered points to win the game 32-17. My dreams of Georgia Southern defeating a 1-A football team, particularly an SEC team, would have to wait for 22 more years.
So what would happen today if Georgia Southern played Auburn? I love the Eagles, but I would never pull against Auburn again. The stakes would not be nearly as high since Georgia Southern officially joins the Sun Belt and FBS football tonight at midnight, but the hit for Auburn to lose to a non-BCS opponent (or equivalent "Big Five" now that the BCS is dead) for the first time in years would be too much. Plus, as much as I love Georgia Southern, Auburn holds a much larger place in my heart now. I attended graduate school at Georgia Southern (where I still need to finish), but Auburn is my home. I look back on that day now remembering the conflict of my fandom. I'm proud of the way Georgia Southern fought that day. They have a history of giving FBS teams more of a struggle than was bargained for. But in my heart I am now an Auburn Tiger more so than a Georgia Southern Eagle.
In terms of Auburn history, that game is an insignificant blip. A herald perhaps of troubles to come over the next two years. For me it also began the transformation of my fandom. It is one of the few college football games from that time frame that I have clear and distinct memories from because of how special it was to see my two favorite teams play. Over the next few years my Auburn fandom would grow exponentially. Especially with the 1993 season. I'm sure this game would not make any other Auburn fan's top ten list of games they attended, but it does mine. It's a day I'll always remember. And honestly it's one I hope I never have to relive.
Next up will be a much more recent game. #8 on my list is one of two losses we'll discuss. And I can guarantee that it is one that will come out of left field and be completely unexpected when you see the title. So what's #9 on your own list?
And just to allay any fears that I am going to be talking about Georgia Southern as much as I talk about Auburn, I promise that there is only one other topic I can discuss that will involve GSU. It also involves an Auburn legend as well and how I think his time at Auburn can possibly be used to fix an injustice, but I haven't decided if I'm going to write that one yet. It may come down to it, though. For the offseason is long and full of terrors.
Until next time!