Above all else, Auburn was fun.
Jabari Smith, the highest rated recruit in Auburn basketball history, was blowing past his sky-high ceiling, looking more and more like the best player in the country instead of *just* a potential lottery pick. Walker Kessler, the transfer from North Carolina whose departure may have played a part in Roy Williams’s retirement, was a one-man wrecking crew around the rim, building his case to be National Defensive Player of the Year.
But, as I told myself as the season transitioned into conference play, this was Auburn. Sure, there was talent, and sure, the roster was full of some of the most likable (or hateable, depending on your allegiance) guys in the SEC. But the good things had to come to an end eventually, and probably in a heart-breaking way, as Auburn sports is wont to do. It would be foolish to invest *too* much heart into enjoying the run they were on.
On January 10th, 2022, Auburn was sitting at 14-1, and #4 in the country. An upcoming game at Coleman Coliseum loomed the next night, but on the Monday before the spring semester was set to begin, Auburn basketball was must-see television. And at the end of the workday, before packing up and heading home, I had a change of heart.
Everyone lost during the years of the pandemic. Whether it was losing out on life experiences, a job, finances, mental or physical health, or even a loved one, everyone lost something. We will each carry scars for the rest of our lives from the trauma we experienced, and those scars are going to be unique.
My scars are relational. The world outside turning upside-down eventually turned my world inside upside-down as well. In doing so, it revealed the path in life I was laying out with my partner wasn’t what either of us thought it was going to be. And so, after nearly six years together and around a year after COVID took hold, we went different directions.
I don’t have to tell you, reader, that it was hard. The natural loneliness that one would feel after a divorce was compounded by a job that had gone fully remote (at the time), and not really having a consistent social outlet without Auburn sports to go to, to travel for, or to host friends for a tailgate.
Eventually, there was light at the end of the tunnel. I went on a vacation I had no business being able to afford (flights were cheap in 2021!), and by the fall, Auburn (both the town and campus) started looking like its old self again. I know for a fact that I was not the only one who shed a tear of joy at the cracking of the first tailgate beer before the Akron game. And although football season didn’t play out the way we had hoped, it set the stage for me to personally enjoy what was to come.
“PEACOCK” posted at 11:30 AM CST on Collegeandmagnolia.com. I remember telling the rest of the C&M staff that I thought I had something special, that even if it didn’t get much traction, it was the best thing I had ever written. And quickly, a handful of readers agreed.
this is some strong blogging by @RyanSSterritt— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) January 11, 2022
Auburn fans shouldn’t be scared of high rankings or worried about how excited they are about this basketball team
y’all should have as much fun with it as you can and roll with the punches when they come
peacock > chicken little https://t.co/IpV8tpcoOE
Still, I knew it would get swept away as little more than a hype piece if Auburn didn’t handle business at #24 Alabama, the biggest game on the schedule yet. A tight game through the first 30 minutes turned into a late 13 point lead for Auburn, which immediately disappeared after a 14-0 Alabama run. Luckily, Allen Flanigan iced the game with four made free throws in the last minute, and from there the Auburn Peacock was off to the races.
The next few weeks were a blur. What was ultimately just over two months felt like it was both a few days and a full year. Auburn raced up to #1 in the rankings, every few days was another deep fried meme war in the replies to an opponent, road trips were had, new friends were made, Homefield t-shirts were delivered.
I sat courtside for the Oklahoma game, thanks to the generosity of a friend immensely dear to my heart.
When College Gameday came to Auburn for the Texas A&M game, the Peacock theme had been fully embraced by the Jungle.
And during the under-4 timeout of the second-half, I got to be a celebrity letter holder in a sold out Auburn Arena, which still doesn’t feel real.
At the last home game of the season, where Auburn clinched the regular season SEC title outright, NBC sponsored the entire afternoon. Peacock-branded shirts were given away, and Cameo-style appearances from Jabari Banks of “Bel Air” and Kate Flannery of “The Office” left my jaw on the ground. I didn’t know about any of that day.
By the time the NCAA Tournament rolled around, I can honestly say those two months were the most fun I’ve ever had. And the weekend in Greenville, for the first two rounds of the Tournament? Perfection.
Everything that happened with last basketball season, and the Peacock, left me more emotionally fulfilled than I could’ve ever imagined. I didn’t make a dime off of any of it, and I didn’t want to – just soaking it in and enjoying the experience was more than I could’ve ever asked for. Of course the wins, and the brief internet fame, and all of that was fun. But the way so many of you embraced the message, whether friends of mine or complete strangers, of just going all-in and full-throatedly supporting something that brought us so much joy, still brings a tear to my eye to this day. And I suspect it always will.