Tomorrow, Auburn football returns.
We’ll have the pregame videos. We’ll have the band. We’ll have the crack of helmets, the pop of pads. You’ll see blue jerseys with the familiar (or upgraded) interlocking AU on white helmets. Gus will probably chew gum. And after all of that, Anders Carlson will kick the football off of a tee and we’ll actually get to see the Auburn Tigers engage in Season #128 of their storied football history.
The trimmings will be much different, however. Think of a Christmas with a tree and presents, but no ornaments, no wreaths, no stockings, no eggnog, and no carols. Home Alone is nowhere to be found. Imagine a Thanksgiving with a turkey but nothing else. Picture yourself sitting down on a muggy July 4th night with a hotdog and a beer and you see two minutes of fireworks. Sparklers are persona non grata.
In essence, that’s what tomorrow will be in many regards. The spirit of Auburn football (one that’s definitely not afraid) will be present in the fans that will be in attendance, but for some people making their way into the stands, actually going to the game will make them feel like that uneasy couple in Jaws that gets coerced into swimming. And sure, there will be some Chief Brodies and Matt Hoopers in the bleachers, as well as Mayor Larry Vaughns and Quints. If you’re there, celebrating or commiserating will certainly be unfamiliar. No high-fiving random strangers. You may, however, be better able to hear a shrill “Get him!” or “That’s HOLDING!” emanate from another Tiger fan due to the reduced number of ticketholders.
As sad as it is, this is going to be a lost year in many regards. Going from the wild euphoria of last year’s Iron Bowl victory to the sanitized event we’ll see tomorrow isn’t going to be easy to stomach. We should’ve already seen a fun matchup in Atlanta with North Carolina. There should’ve been non-conference games to take your kids to see. Low stress and easy fall weekends. Now, everything is high stress.
The last time we were all in Jordan-Hare Stadium, we still had two immortal legends among us. Pat Sullivan passed away the day after that epic Iron Bowl win, and Pat Dye left to join him exactly six months later. Both men deserve to have nearly 90,000 folks locking arms and shedding tears with a heartfelt tribute before tomorrow’s game, but they’ll have to settle for less than a quarter that amount. They’ll still know what they meant to us.
When Auburn and Kentucky kick off, you can bet that the play on the field will likely look a little less familiar as well. Neither team got to have spring practice, and summer workouts/fall practice were chopped up at times by positive tests. Play won’t be as crisp as it could be, and that’s evidenced across the country with the quality of competition so far. Different teams have had different ideas. Navy didn’t tackle at all throughout camp, and it cost them. Obviously, Auburn wasn’t going that far, but who knows what precautions certain groups were taking that may impact what happens tomorrow when you’re not in the safety of the practice field. It’s live ammo now.
Perhaps all of that goes out the window once the first crashing tackle happens, or you witness the sheer beauty of a perfectly-arcing deep ball. Maybe it’s as simple as taking that first step to get back into the groove. Uncertainty is our enemy now. Remember when going to the grocery store seemed like swimming in shark-infested waters back in April? You’re still aware of the risks, but you’re smarter now. We went through an unprecedented sportsless chasm that we forgot how to ride the bike. You’re back on now, and your dad is giving you a kindly push from behind until you regain balance and pedal on your own. The NBA bubble, MLB with no fans, even the first couple of weeks of the NFL — training wheels. We’re about to graduate to the big boy bike. The sterilized atmospheres of the pro leagues, and even the unfortunately amateur state of a Middle Tennessee-Marshall matchup were just the amuse bouche. Even though it’ll look a little different, when you walked into that socially-distanced restaurant, it was the same meal. We’re walking into Peter Luger’s now. That’ll be $57.45 for your steak sir, I know you’ll enjoy paying every red cent for it.
Tomorrow’s a return to normalcy. It’s a hug from an old friend. Strike up the damn band, please. We’re all ready to feel something again. I can’t wait to experience it with all of you. War Eagle.