The fanatical fan

Published 7:39 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Aubie, the 8-foot tiger at the corner of my office, has been removed. Old Glory has once again taken its rightful place at the top of the flagpole after a brief stint by the orange and blue Auburn flag. As soon as I can figure out how to do it, I will remove the song, “War Eagle” from my cell phone. Life is getting back to normal.

Or so I thought. Having always considered ourselves passionate, but rational fans of Auburn football, Mary Lou and I decided to attend the celebration in Auburn on Saturday honoring the 2010 National Championship team.

Meeting Laura’s other grandparents in Abbeville, we planned a brief leisurely trip to Auburn hoping to be back around dark.

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The traffic started backing up some 20 miles from Auburn. Think of the traffic patterns for the Georgia game and you get the picture. Cars were already parking at the middle school nearly 20 blocks from the stadium by our arrival three hours before the start of the celebration.

We made our way to one of the book stores to load up on new memorabilia. It was like an army of ants swarming over the tables of merchandise. Stuff that just said “Auburn” was largely untouched as fans sought items that clearly stated “National Champs.”

Two small bags hit the wallet pretty hard, and I realized that this particular weekend was going to be a true windfall for the merchants in Auburn. Just how big was this crowd?

We strolled toward the stadium making note of how quiet things seemed. Then it hit me that everyone, absolutely everyone, was in orange and blue. There was no opposing team yelling their cheer; no jawing back and forth. It was just an increasingly large mass of people headed toward Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Forty-five minutes before the start time, we went through the gates only to hear the announcer say that the bottom part of the stadium was now full and they were opening up the last remaining section of the upper deck. Wow!

It’s been a long, long time since I sat that high in any stadium. You could literally see for miles in every direction on what was a brilliantly beautiful day. Of course, at that height there was nothing to block the stiff wind. Pretty soon, tears were streaming down my face as the wind and the low wind-chill factor worked on my eyes. Great, I thought. Someone is going to take a picture of me crying in the stadium.

Slowly, steadily, the crowd grew until almost 80,000 people filled the stands. Another 5,000 students were on the field, taking in a sight they might never see again in their lifetime. For an hour we cheered as trophies were handed out yet again. Every single player on the roster was introduced to a roar that he will remember the rest of his life.

Everyone, from the governor on down, spoke about these champions. Coach Chizek, an unpopular hire just two years ago, was held up like a conquering hero.

When we finally said all that could have possibly been said, we moved en masse to the sight of the “Tiger Walk,” where the team did a reverse walk leaving the stadium. The crowds were 20 deep on both sides, with people standing on tops of million-dollar motor homes and sitting in the trees along the street.

From my viewpoint, I could barely see the players. I could only tell who was who by the roar of the crowds and the number of television cameras following any individual player. When it came to Cam Newton, there was no doubt. It looked like the paparazzi following a rock star.

Moving then to Toomer’s Corner, the toilet paper was flying and the streets were blocked in every direction. The cheers rose from young and old as they celebrated the long-awaited championship.

Finally, it was time to eat. The shortest wait we could find was an hour and a half. We went into a chicken wing restaurant, which had a two-hour wait and a sign that said they were out of chicken wings. What would you eat if you indeed waited for two hours at a chicken wing restaurant out of chicken wings?

The fact is that no one, certainly not the local restaurants, anticipated 80,000 hungry fans showing up on a cold winter afternoon to celebrate a season already finished. Gridlock occurred throughout the city as no one seemed in a hurry to leave.

I am sure the Auburn faithful will soon settle back down to their normal intensity level. It is great to be part of the Auburn family even when we don’t win. However, for one cold, sunny January afternoon, it was great to be one of those 80,000 fanatical fans.