Dallas Kickoff Classic

The first game of the 2019 Auburn Football season seemed destined to be memorable. While a home and home series between Auburn and Oregon would have been interesting, being the premier game of Week 1 at a neutral site in Dallas offered a great opportunity for both sides. A National Championship Game rematch, one team starting a top NFL draft pick at QB while the other started a true freshman at the same position. The Best Game of Week 1 rarely lives up to the hype, this game surpassed all expectations.

My trip to Dallas began on Friday, with a trip from Georgia to Alabama to visit an old family farmhouse in which I have spent so many Christmas Eves. August 30,2019 wasn’t Christmas Eve, but it was Football Eve and anticipation of the next day made it equally as difficult to sleep. Upon early morning arrival at the always busy Atlanta airport, the amount of orange and navy blue seemed to multiply. Plenty of head nods, War Eagle, and even some shakers scattered at boarding. It was Game Day! There was only one Oregon fan in their team colors on our flight from ATL to DFW, bless his heart.

Landing in Dallas with about 6 hours until the AT&T stadium doors opened, there was a single priority, Barbecue. In the South, we know that barbecue is a noun and not a verb, and it is usually the best where you can smell the smoke before you open the door. For me, Texas barbecue means brisket and sausage. We found what we were looking for just a little north of Dallas-Fort Worth airport in Hard Eight BBQ. Plenty of smoked meats and folksy signs with phrases like "We don’t have Wifi. Pretend is 1995 and talk to each other." I was pleased the televisions were showing college football, but they all happened to be tuned to the same 11 AM central game. That was the game featuring Nebraska. The Cornhuskers may currently be in the Big Ten, but it appears they will always be a Big 8 team deep in the heart of Texas. We had to relocate after lunch to find a television showing any early SEC matchup.

When we make it to our designated parking area at Jerry World it was abundantly clear we were at the home of the Dallas Cowboys; shiny silver and blue with the ever-present star. This wasn’t a lovely village on the plains, this was a corporate cathedral that just happened to be hosting a college game. Breezing through security and entering the Miller Lite Plaza on the west side of the stadium the first surprise was the number of Oregon fans in attendance. Every fan base is unique, Oregon fans seemed significantly different than the Auburn supporters who made the trip to Dallas as well as typical fans of teams on Auburn’s conference schedule. Taking a cue from their team’s uniforms, Oregon fans seemed more brightly colored. My perception is their fans were younger on average, with a Northwest vibe echoed by the amount of ink and facial piercings. Oregon fans were excited without being rude, and even after the game I didn’t witness any anger or hostility towards Auburn fans. I did not see any yellow and green shakers but did see a LOT of Oregon jerseys on people of all ages. Watching the games on the televisions in the plaza, Oregon fans seems to be rooting for Alabama to beat Duke and UNC to beat South Carolina, exactly the opposite of Auburn fans. The doors to the stadium were opened at 2 hours before kickoff and the first item of note was the cool flow of air conditioning. This was a stark contrast to the searing Texas summer heat. AT&T Stadium is enormous while maintaining great sight lines. It is not, however, easy to navigate. We entered on the 200 level of the stadium, but fans are not able to walk the circumference of the stadium on the 200 level due to restricted suite and club access. There was a clear Auburn side of the stadium and Oregon side of the stadium, but just because you knew where your seats were located did not mean it was easy to reach those seats. Thankfully there was plenty of staff ready to help and we had plenty of time to explore before getting settled.

As for the game, Auburn brought their band, Oregon brought their cheerleaders and the Duck. The big screen above the field was frankly a distraction, the screen being so large and centrally located acted like a black hole to draw your attention away from the field of play. The only benefit seemed to be that if the person seated in front of you stood up quickly, you had the option to just look at the big screen rather than standing up quickly as well and not miss any action. The start of play began poorly for Auburn and the first half could have been much worse than the 8-point deficit. Both teams had opportunities to execute in the first half and the missed chances seemed to hurt Oregon more than Auburn. The grind of the 3rd quarter seemed to have a greater impact on the Ducks performance. The ability of the Auburn defense to not give up a single yard on fourth down with 5 and a half minutes to play appeared to steal the hope of the entire Oregon side of the stadium. Up to that point in the contest, the Oregon fans were as loud as any group in the country. Even though their team still held a one-point lead, they sensed their bubble was about to burst. The final two minutes of the game in Dallas were as exciting as any in Jordan-Hare. Bo Nix had shown flashes of greatness and the frustrations of youth throughout his first game, the crucible of the final drive showed why he was named as the starting quarterback. Nix to Williams for a 26-yard TD to take the lead with less than 10 seconds to go wasn’t Nix to Sanders in 1993 or ’94. The opponent wasn’t Alabama or a #1 ranked Florida. At that moment, Auburn fans in Dallas didn’t care about history. The Tiger fans in that grand stadium expelled all the air in their lungs that had been held in anticipation with equal parts excitement and relief. Later, as the pass from Oregon QB Herbert, 6 ft 6 inches, laser, rocket arm fired harmlessly through the back of the endzone the roar from the Tigers went up again. Somewhere between Triumphant Victory and Great Escape, it was over!

Our flight from DFW to ATL left around sunrise the next morning. That flight was mostly filled with Auburn fans, some of whom had clearly not slept since the game finished a few hours earlier. The first loss of the season is always tough, and luckily the Tigers did not have to experience that the first week. The two brightly clad Oregon Duck fans on that flight masked the darkness of loss with their team’s highlighter color. Auburn soared into a sunrise of orange and blue hope after a memorable trip to Dallas.

We're all just trying to have a good time here. Don't be a jerk, and we won't have a problem with you. War Eagle!