Ding, Ding. I'd like to make a toast...
It's been a little over a year since we all heard that our beloved Tigers were headed in a new direction. When Gene Chizik was announced as the head coach, we were devastated. What were you thinking, Mr. Jacobs? Didn't you hear the lone fan at the airport? Even Charles Barkley, a former Auburn basketball player, had something to say. You could have changed your mind. Nobody would have noticed.
Fortunately, upon further review, Coach Chizik turned out to be better than his record at Iowa State. He was very much a part of the 2004 coaching staff at Auburn and went on to become the defensive coordinator of the future 2006 BCS champions. Man, with a track record like that, who wouldn't want to take the first head coaching job they wave in front of you?
(Insert obligatory chuckle here)
We heard names like Gus Malzahn, Trooper Taylor, and Tracy Rocker come out of the woodwork. Not to mention a boost in recruiting a few of the most talented high school players in the country. Things were looking up, yet we were all still skeptical. Bringing in another offensive coordinator with a version of the spread offense put us all back at sqaure one. Didn't you see the disaster with Tony Franklin? We didn't even have a decent quarterback. I swear, I shook my head in confusion for days.
Let's skip over the Spring Game. Hindsight is 20/20. We all should have known the season would go something like that.
(Insert uncomfortable chuckle here)
Some time extremely close to the season opener, Chris Todd was named the starting play caller. The tears and fears flowed like whoa. I could have sworn this was the same guy that helped us get to 5-7 before. Maybe there was a possibility we were all misinterpreting the situation.
With the exception of the West Virginia game, the first few games seemed fairly manageable. Mississippi State was and always will be the first SEC game...can't take that lightly. LA Tech's coach had been in the running for the head honcho job at Auburn...talk about hurt feelings. Ball State...they get the green for just being there.
After starting the season 5-0, we finally got some respect. A top 25 ranking and people were taking us seriously again. The SEC West just gained another contender. It looked like we were refusing to be like the East. Having one team predestined to play for all the marbles didn't seem to work for us like it worked for them.
Then came Arkansas. What a terrible display. I, personally, caught a Law and Order: SVU marathon during halftime and never looked back. I guess putting a number in front of our name proved to be irresponsible on the part of those silly voters. We don't like the polls anyway, right? Maybe we were just sticking it to the man. Yes, I prefer that excuse.
If I mention Kentucky and LSU it will surely put a damper on our evening. Just thinking about it makes me want to find someone to blame, preferrably someone whose name rhymes with Swiss Cod. But knowing of issues with depth and injuries...we'll just look over this skid.
On Halloween, our nerves were pushed to the limit. Neither team had anything to lose and it made for a wild afternoon. That McCluster sure gave us a run for our money. I want to give a quick shout out to Mr. Zac Etheridge. You gave us quite the scare, but thank God you're okay. You have a bright future ahead of you. Despite the setbacks, we got the W. With Furman the following week, we were sure to grace the bowls with our presence.
Ten weeks and still no bye. We were bruised and beaten. Even with convincing wins, we knew the toughest times were on their way. Our two biggest rivals were hungry. Georgia was not yet bowl eligible. They surely didn't want to be the 2009 version of us. Alabama was the home of a Heisman hopeful. By the time we were set to play them, they would be undefeated and determined to keep it that way.
Of the two, the most interesting loss came on Nov. 27. Unranked Auburn against undefeated Alabama. The no. 2 team in the nation didn't gain a lead on us until the end of the 4th quarter. Defense, you made us proud. Holding Mark Ingram, the future Heisman winner, to just 30+ yards brought tears to our eyes. Some fans are calling for your head, Coach Roof. Welcome to the SEC.
(Insert cheers and jeers here)
As a bonus, we received a bid to open the new year. The Outback Bowl in Tampa was a chance to show the country what we were made of. Sure, that other school in Alabama was headed to the national championship game. But we refused to take a backseat to their success. Congratulations to them all the same.
The first of January turned out to be something special. The first game of the new year and it had to be the longest. Northwestern hadn't won a bowl game in 60 years. Being a part of the most successful conference in the nation, that's something we could never fathom. They needed it. We wanted it. Four hours and five minutes later...we had it.
There is a lot to be said about the 2009 Auburn Tigers. It was a season of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. With a first year head coach, I wouldn't expect any more or any less.
Coach Chizik, you kept your mouth shut and let the results do the talking. Thank you. You are truly an Auburn man. While there is still doubt that you will be the one who takes us to total victory, there is hope. You have changed the face of Auburn football. You have set the bar for the future and no matter what the outcome, you at least lead the way.
A lot of pundits will say that we will never be worthy. They will say that Auburn and Alabama cannot possibly rule the West simultaneously. The experts would probably rather give Ole Miss and Miss St a better chance of being contenders. The circle of life makes it impossible at times, but we keep up the fight.
For years, wins and losses have dictated success on the field. Although moral victories don't account for anything, our Tigers have proven that there is more to the game than what we witness with our eyes.
It is definitetly great to be an Auburn Tiger. Here's to the 2010 season and beyond.