National Champs

Published 5:34 pm Friday, January 14, 2011

This article isn’t about an Auburn fan gloating about finally winning the National Championship. No, it is about the competitive desire to win that most of us have when talking about football, particularly college football.

Growing up in Alabama dictated that everyone choose between Auburn and Alabama. For many, if not most of those years Alabama would find a way to win the National Championship. Auburn would have an occasional undefeated season, but it seemed to always be marred by either probation or by being squeezed out by two teams ranked just ahead of them.

I must admit that I didn’t think this year would be any different. Auburn’s archrival, Alabama, had just won yet another National Championship and had many of their star players returning for another year. Auburn was ranked No. 22 in the preseason polls, an improvement over the past year, but a long way from the Promised Land.

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We won a game or two, admittedly with what might be considered luck, until the numbers started to mount. The fans, but more importantly the team, started to believe. The expectation of a victory became the norm, changing attitudes on and off the field.

The dramatic come-from-behind victory over Alabama after being down 24 points, finally instilled the sense of destiny throughout the Auburn Nation. The SEC Championship in Atlanta featured Auburn at its best, playing a complete game for 60 minutes and destroying Eastern Division Champ South Carolina in the process.

After waiting all my life for the chance to cheer Auburn to a National Championship, there was no way I was going to view this from home. When asked why we were flying to Phoenix four days before the game, I would jokingly say that I didn’t want to take the chance of being snowed in anywhere. The fact that hundreds flying later were snow bound was just another indication of the destiny of this team.

Our journey began at the Atlanta airport when people on the tram were shouting “War Eagle” and introducing themselves to each other. By the time we took off we had several new friends and the plane was filled with cheers from one end to the other.

Fate would have it that our pilot was an Auburn graduate whose first words over the intercom were “War Eagle.” By the end of the flight the intercom had been turned over to a lady who had to be an ex-cheerleader.

The pep rally was attended by probably 15,000 people. All of a sudden, fingers began to point up in the sky. High above the crowd, there was an Eagle circling (OK, maybe it was a hawk, but it seemed like an omen anyway.). Slowly, for several minutes it gracefully played in the wind to the roar of thousands of fans.

That evening we attended a restaurant only to notice the large golden statue of the Eagle in the center of the room. When I mentioned it to our waiter, he said that was the smaller of the two Eagles in the restaurant, the larger Silver statue near the entrance, in a pose reminiscent of an eagle about to prey on a helpless duck.

We arrived at the stadium to find a Bald Eagle circling the enclosed stadium right before kickoff. Like the Golden Eagle, “Tiger,” that circles the field before Auburn home games, it was just a magnificent sight, no matter what team you might be pulling for. However, by now I was convinced this would be our night.

The skies were brilliant orange and blue. The throaty cheers were only dimmed as the voices began to fail. “War Eagle,” “Go Tigers,” and “It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger,” were met by a valiant but weak chorus of “Let’s go Ducks.” Quackers provided most of the noise as the Green and Yellow seemed a bit overwhelmed by the mass of people from the Deep South.

Thirty-thousand Auburn faithful made the trip to Phoenix WITHOUT tickets. The prices for tickets reached obscene levels, but no one would part with their precious entry. Like me, many had waited a lifetime for this opportunity. It wasn’t about the money. It was just our time.

The game was exciting from start to finish. Like eight of the previous games during the season, Auburn had to fight its way back from a deficit. Unlike most of those, I never doubted that Auburn would win.

Sitting only during timeouts and yelling until our throats were raw; it was not until the very end that the crown was won. Our feet hurt but our hearts soared. We were all like children. We were the Auburn Family.

I have cheered my friends in other schools to their time at the pinnacle of football. Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Florida and even the dreaded Alabama all had my support as they battled schools from other parts of the country. I have felt the sting of being close and moral victories. But on this night in the desert, it was Auburn that lifted that Waterford Crystal football trophy and claimed its place as the best team in the country.

Any national championship involves hard work, talent, and of course, luck. We had our share of the good luck this year, but have endured the other kind of luck in the past. As I sit in the Phoenix airport writing this article, I can only see orange and blue in the packed crowd.

There are no strangers. We share a bond. We are family. We are No. 1. War Eagle!!