The CEO of one of the world's most successful companies spoke to Auburn's Football team before the 2017 Iron Bowl*. Tim Cook has never been shy about or made a secret of his love for Auburn University. He believes in Auburn and loves it, and you can see it on his face. Cook grew up in Robertsdale, Alabama, and earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Auburn in 1982. Who better than an Auburn Man who's risen to the top of his profession for Gus Malzahn to have deliver a pre-game speech to his team? The announcement that he would speak to the team before the Iron Bowl made perfect sense and hit all the right Auburn #feels. But I wasn't prepared for just how great of a sports speech the tech executive would give. In part, he said:
This is one of life’s rare times that you can create a memory that will last a lifetime. For you. For everyone who’s worn that jersey before. For everyone in the Auburn family – and for every underdog out there who’s ever come against the establishment. You’ve earned it. You deserve it. You worked hard. You prepared. You fell down but you got up.
… Our biggest obstacle today is not the team in crimson. It’s that little voice in your head that tells you you’re doing 100 percent when you’re actually at 85 to 90. We all have that. Extinguish it! Expel it! Expire it! Tell it you are not giving up your shot. You have worked too hard and come too far to only come this far.
Before you leave the locker room today, close your eyes. Take one moment. Think about the best version of yourself. That is who you really are. That person has everything you need to win today. Fall down seven times, get up eight. Rise like the wave and never let them forget today.
They have had their time! Their time is over! It’s our time!
This passage was taken from this USA Today article about Saturday's win and all of the tangents springing from it. I don't know if a video of this speech exists so I don't know how much more he said, but the quoted portions remain moving a full three days after time expired on Pat Dye Field.
And I think the team listened. On Saturday night, Auburn was the best version of itself. When presented with obstacles, it found ways to overcome them. When Alabama came out swinging at the beginning of the second half, Auburn punched back harder. When a crucial fourth down stop was erased by a penalty on replay, Auburn just stopped Bama again, this time with feeling. Auburn wasn’t intimidated by Alabama. The Tigers knew if they played their game their way, the Tide would fall short.
Sports fans, humans that we are, like for narratives to fit neatly along lines and into pretty boxes. Cinderella. Goliath. Rudy. It makes us feel better when we can make sense of seemingly random things. We draw from what we know.
"Feels like 2007 around here!"
In a tale as old as time, unranked 4-7 2007 Pitt knocked off second-ranked West Virginia to set in motion a series of events that put a two-loss LSU Tigers** team into the national championship game. LSU took care of the rest on its own. Ten years later, in 2017, when unranked 4-7 Pitt knocked off second-ranked Miami, it was so tempting to think about chaos catapulting a different two-loss Tiger team into national title contention. But the BCS is dead, and the Playoff reigns supreme. For Auburn to make it to the national championship game, it's going to have to outwork every other team in the county. Auburn will have to earn it.
"It's 2013 all over again!"
Well, it's hard to argue that a team that wears orange and blue, lost to LSU in Baton Rouge, and then knocked off number 1 Alabama in Jordan-Hare to steal the SEC West crown doesn't bring the 2013 Tigers to mind. Or even other successful teams like 2010. But Cameron Netwon was a bright comet streaking across our sky then, and in 2013, Auburn's unstoppable freight train offense was often hamstrung by a defense that was spotty at best. But the 2017 Tigers have been better on both sides of the ball than anyone they’ve faced in the latter half of the season. Probably the most apt comparison to a team from recent memory would be to the 2004 Tigers, but even that one is flawed. As they've shown us time and again, circumstances and window dressings don't define this team, and we do them a disservice by trying to fit them into someone else's mold. Unlike in 2004, this team has been down for the count. It's taken blows from which it couldn't recover. Twice. Those man have been flat on their backs, staring up from the mat at triumphant opponents, knowing victory was once within their grasp. They're not going to listen to the voice in their heads that tells them they're doing 100 percent when they're actually at 85 or 90. They will extinguish it! Expel it! Expire it! Jubilant LSU fans celebrating a dramatic 20-point comeback, frenzied Clemson fans rushing their field--those memories are burned into their brains, and this team is going to do anything and everything to avoid feeling like that again. They’ve fallen seven times, but they’re going to get up eight.
You know what happened this past Saturday night. Auburn soundly and confidently defeated number one Alabama to win the SEC West. Since Saban took the reins at Alabama and fully implemented his #Process, there have only been a handful of games in which his teams were simply outplayed on both sides of the ball. Maybe one, maybe none. Except for Saturday. The 2017 Iron Bowl probably won't get a name like the Camback or the Kick Six. "Better team wins by score you'd expect" doesn't jump off the page and grab readers or sell t-shirts. That game was won in the trenches. It didn't take a miracle or cosmic justice. It took Carlton Davis making a huge fourth down stop. It took Jeff Holland chasing Jalen Hurts*** around the backfield all night, rattling the notoriously cool quarterback. It took Deshaun Davis, Marlon Davidson, Stephen Davis, and Nick Coe wreaking havoc everywhere they turned. It took Jarrett Stidham standing calmly in his pocket and exploiting the seemingly never-ending series of blitzes Jeremy Pruitt threw at him. And it took Kerryon Johnson, a freaking warrior we don't deserve, sacrificing his body for a team that has sacrificed so much for him. Alabama made some uncharacteristic mistakes, sure, but as the fourth quarter ticked away on Saturday, Auburn took that game and they won it.
They wanted Bama, they got Bama, and they beat Bama. Their time is over. Now it's Auburn's time.
So where does beating Alabama in the trenches leave us? Staring off the side of a sheer cliff, basically. Our reward for such a satisfying victory is a rematch with a team itching for revenge. The prospect of actually having to play Georgia again was just a little too rich for me to fully consider before the Iron Bowl. Beat one number one team in the county, and then play another one just for the privilege of playing the first one again the following week! If you rise to that challenge, you may be rewarded with more rematches continuing on into perpetuity ad nauseam. Good luck! But it didn’t have to be this way. Auburn’s gauntlet is the price it must pay for losing two games for really stupid reasons. If you want to win a championship, you gotta earn it.
Since we're officially committed to a rematch with the Georgia Bulldogs in a few short days, I do want to say one thing: I'm not sorry, Georgia. I probably should be, but I'm not. I'm not sorry that we beat you so thoroughly and then danced about it. I'm not sorry for singing "Goodbye" at those troll fans in front of us. I'm not sorry Nick Fairley was the honorary mic man. I'm not sorry that we enjoyed it. However, I AM sorry we have to play you again so soon after poking the bear. I expect there to be a considerable chip on your shoulder, and it's not unwarranted. I'd be mad too. I know there's a good chance you could beat us because I know you'd love nothing more than to FINALLY win your first SEC Championship since 2005 and land a spot in the Playoff. I know you want it because you fired Mark Richt about it.
What I'm saying is that I don't expect the SEC Championship game to closely resemble the last meeting between these teams. For starters, Georgia is maaaaaaad at us, and the game will be played in their own backyard, rather than in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare****. But for the record, Athens is only about 35 miles closer to Atlanta than Auburn is, and travel has never been our problem. I think the final score will be much closer this time around, due largely to Auburn's injuries and Georgia's ire. They really want this one, and I can't blame them. They've been given a chance to salvage their season in the sweetest of ways, and they can taste it. All of these things terrify me about this game, and believe me, the heartburn has already started. There's a million and one reasons why we shouldn't win. But did you see Jeff Holland's reaction to Rashaan Evans***** botching his sensei bow? Georgia ain't us. They can't be us. This team believes in itself. They’ve stared down statistically superior competition twice and proven that no opponent is too formidable, no moment too big. Auburn will stare down Georgia once again on Saturday, and they're going to make it rain SEC confetti in Mercedes Benz Stadium.
If you're heading to Atlanta to support the unlikeliest of Western Champions since 2013, make some noise. Be loud and proud, and take away Georgia's de facto home game. Auburn has the best fans in the country, and that's not even hyperbole. We’re playing with house money, you guys. Let it ride. This is our time. Let's bring home a big trophy and then take it to Toomer's.
Until next time--War Eagle!
* That in and of itself would be noteworthy, even if the game hadn’t played out the way it did. Some of the world’s best and brightest love Auburn. Never forget that.
** It always goes back to LSU, doesn't it?
*** For what it's worth, Jalen Hurts seems to be an incredible athlete and a nice person. I wish people would stop comparing him to Cam Newton for his own sake.
**** Tell me we don't have the best crowd in the county.
Auburn student section Swag Surf so lit pic.twitter.com/Lc1lNBNJbR— Football Is Life (@FootbaIl_Tweets) November 25, 2017
***** Speaking for Rashaan, if you take someone's helmet off in hopes of getting them tossed off the field for the next play and you get caught doing it, you should be the one tossed off the field for the next play. Someone get me Mark Emmert's number.