I can’t tell you exactly what happened or how it happened, because I’m not sure I’ll be able to process it without ample time to digest. Even then it might not help.
But I do know that the 2013 Iron Bowl is one of the most incredible football game I’ve had the pleasure of watching, and the ending between Alabama and Auburn will live on for eternity.
It wasn’t a perfect game. In fact, there were plenty of questionable moments, decisions that will be dissected and mistakes for each team. In a lot of ways, however, that’s what makes it perfect.
College football is not supposed to go as planned, and rarely does a brilliant game come delivered in one finely packaged product. The imperfections are a breakaway from the blueprint, a defined path that separates it from anything else you’ve ever seen.
And you’ve never seen anything quite like this.
When Chris Davis took Adam Griffith’s 57-yard field-goal attempt and ran it back, time stopped. It actually stopped—with the play clock finally hitting zero—but the 100-yard run from one end zone to the other felt like a slow-motion impossibility.
It happened, and you could see it happening, but you questioned your senses while it was all unfolding. It simply couldn’t.
Perhaps the Auburn cornerback saw it coming. After all, nearly one year ago, Davis brought up the notion of returning punts or kicks on Twitter:
I need to get on kick return and punt return this year— Chris Davis (@chris11au) December 5, 2012
At the time—with Auburn’s season broken and a new coach coming—the comment meant nothing. Now, it means everything. The return broke the 28-28 tie, giving Auburn a 34-28 final edge over its rival.
While spectacular in every sense, this was not the only memorable play from the Iron Bowl. This was a fitting final chapter, an ending so ridiculous that most screenplay aficionados would shoot it down in an instant.
Before we finally got there, however, the script delivered.
There was AJ McCarron, pinned on his own 1-yard line for what felt like the 15th time in the game. McCarron threw an absolutely brilliant pass to Amari Cooper as the Auburn safety was late to get over. Ninety-nine yards later, a rabid stadium of onlookers suddenly fell silent as Alabama went ahead in the fourth quarter.
It felt like the final dagger given the timing and magnitude of the moment. Alabama, however, could not put the game away.
Special teams were again an issue, and the Crimson Tide finished the day without a made field goal on four tries. There were fourth-down stops for each team late, and Auburn’s turnover on downs on its own side felt like the final blow with time ticking away.
The Tigers indeed got the ball back, however, and with less than one minute on the clock, quarterback Nick Marshall delivered. His 39-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates tied the game at 28. It was a brilliant play call and even better execution. It was not a perfect pass—somewhat unorthodox in nature—but it was perfect.
With the game seemingly guaranteed to go to overtime, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon stepped out of bounds after a long run as time expired.
One second was tacked on following a review, which brings us full circle to Chris Davis and this final play.
The call from Auburn radio provides yet another window into what this moment means. Not just for Auburn but for college football.
That’s announcer Rod Bramblett losing his mind—as he should—the second game in a row he has had to do so. Auburn’s miraculous win over Georgia two weeks ago was simply an appetizer.
Given the ending and what was at stake, this will go down as one of the greatest college football games of all time. Forget just recent history.
In the final year of the BCS, Auburn’s victory provided a dramatic, unexpected shake-up. And it came during the greatest rivalry in sports.
This was Alabama and Auburn, playing in their yearly meeting that requires no postseason implications to be special. It’s always special; this was simply something more, something that we’ll try to understand in time.