Over the course of the 2013 season, no team covered more ground than the Auburn Tigers. This is true, both literally (led the nation in rushing yards) and metaphorically -- and although the former is great, it's the latter that I want to discuss.
Not long after the final seconds ticked off the clock Monday night, several Auburn football players interacted with the outside world. Some via the excellent men and women who cover this team professionally, others through social media. Two notable examples were junior running back Tre Mason and freshman defensive end Carl Lawson.
They spoke of failure. They apologized to us.
On behalf of Auburn fans all around the world, I resoundingly reject their apologies and notions of failure -- only because the inference of either of those things is misplaced and undeserved.
This team, perhaps more than any other, truly embodied what it means to be Auburn men and women. With special apologies to Tre Mason and Dee Ford, there were no transcendent superstars who propelled this team to success. Rather, this was a collection of young men who worked together with one mind to accomplish their goals. As one unit.
As one family.
They were overlooked, doubted and disrespected all season -- often thought of as "lucky," "pretenders," "frauds" or "overrated," but this team did not care. The players loved each other far too much to let personal slights keep them from lifting each other to new heights every damn Saturday. Team of destiny? Destiny is bullshit. This was a team of hard work, meticulous preparation and a stubborn refusal to acknowledge all of the reasons they should fall short. You want to see "destiny"? Go to a strip club; she goes on at 11:30.
It was no fluke that this team was winless in conference play last season, and it was no fluke that they won the whole damned thing this year. The fact of the matter is that they worked their asses off to get to Atlanta, and then to Pasadena. They did that for each other, and they did that for us.
Don't apologize to the fans, Auburn football players. We should be apologizing to you.
We have directed our fair share of vitriol toward all the "haterz," but truth is that most of us doubted what you could accomplish, as well. Most of you know that I co-host the College and Mag Show on War Eagle Radio with the editor of this blog, Chris Fuhrmeister. You know what we thought this team was hopefully capable of at the season's advent? Six wins. Six. This wasn't Pete Thamel or Pat Forde giving predictions -- it was two guys who love Auburn and see the world through orange-and-blue-tinted glasses. Even as the team racked up improbable win after improbable win, Pasadena never entered our minds until Mizzou week -- and even then, only as a long-shot "what if" scenario. Hell, going into Monday night's title game, we believed that our defense would probably be embarrassed and that our only hope was for the offense to run wild. We were wrong. We were wrong about you all season, and we apologize.
At some point during the dreadful 2012 season -- I think it was during the Texas A&M game -- I stopped being emotionally attached to the Auburn football program. Don't get me wrong, I still loved Auburn football. I still watched every game, and I still hoped for the best. The heart, though -- it has a way of protecting itself from experiencing repeated trauma. Mine had built a wall around itself so that it couldn't be hurt by football, or anything else for that matter. The losses kept piling up, but my heart and emotions were protected by the wall of numbness I had constructed. Coming into this season, I thought that the wall would probably still come in handy as this team took it's lumps and struggled to get back to mediocrity. Even though there were glimpses of hope in Baton Rouge, it confirmed what I knew to be the best course of action: keep your heart guarded. The thing about guarding your heart, though -- it keeps you from feeling pain and joy. To love something or someone means that you have to open yourself up to that thing and pray that it doesn't destroy you from the inside out. For the first half of this season, I wasn't willing to run that risk.
Damned if it wasn't the Texas A&M game again that changed my heart again.
These Tigers went to College Station and defeated the best quarterback in the nation in his own stadium. "Yeah, but that Aggie defense, though," the doubters said. But we knew. Something was different. This team was special, and it continued to prove it with convincing performances against middle-of-the-pack conference foes in the coming weeks.
Then came Georgia.
Many words have been typed about that game, and I'll not try to do it justice with more. I'll just admit that most of us thought our season had reached its apex with Ricardo Louis' miracle, and that this turned out to be a nice little season indeed. After all, mighty Alabama was coming next.
Space was used on this very blog to warn Auburn fans that they shouldn't be expecting an Iron Bowl win. Many were outraged, even though the majority probably agreed. The task was just too large for a team less than a year removed from being shut out in conference play. Sure, we could run on Arkansas -- but Alabama has a Mosley, and he don't take kindly to tailbacks.
Once again, we were wrong to doubt. Even if the "Kick Six" had never have happened, it still would have been the most memorable display of one team rising up from the ground and showing it's newfound fearlessness that we have ever witnessed. But it did happen. Once again, it wasn't "luck" or "destiny" -- it was calculated by Coach Malzahn and executed to perfection by the players.
The season was already cemented in Auburn history, but then the Tigers decided to break the SEC all-time single game rushing record -- not against a conference bottom feeder, but in the flipping SEC Championship game. My biggest fear is that history will forget that game because of the incredible finishes during Amen Corner.
All of this brings us to Monday, Jan. 6 in Pasadena, California.
I wanted this. I wanted this game more than I've wanted any game in recent memory, including 2010. Something was different this time, though. I didn't want this game for myself. I wanted this game for these players, and finally I'm getting around to the point of this post.
The 2013 Tigers gave us everything they had and so much more. They changed the culture of an entire program. They gave us an absurd amount of opportunities to roll Toomer's Corner. They gave us the "Prayer in Jordan-Hare" and the "Kick-Six." They gave us the hope and the confidence that Auburn football is, in fact, back -- and that it doesn't look to be leaving us again anytime soon. Coming into this game, this team had already given us fans far more than we could have ever dreamed of, expected or even deserved.
I wanted this game for them. When Jameis Winston completed that pass into the end zone with 13 second left, my heart did not break for myself -- it broke for our players. A team that had given us so much throughout the course of a season deserved more. They deserved to be given something. A crystal football would have done just fine. Alas, it wasn't to be.
To the players and coaches of the 2013 Auburn Tigers football team: Hold your heads high. Do not apologize to to those of us whom you have repeatedly lifted all season. We hurt with you, and we hurt for you -- but we do not hurt because of you.
There are no words to express how proud we are of you. There are no words to express how thankful we are for this absolutely insane season that you have given us. Sometimes the only thing you can do is look someone right in the eyes and say "War Eagle." That's enough.
Now, let's go out there next season and win the whole damn thing. Now, everyone together ...
I said it's great ... to be ... an Auburn Tiger!