For me, the first time it happened was in 1997.
I was in the student section in Tiger Stadium. Auburn got up 14-0 before LSU came back with two scores to tie it up, mainly behind the running of Cecil Collins. It was a back and forth slugfest that went down to the wire and had the Auburn Tigers finish on top 31-28.
As I sat in my seat when the clock hit triple zeroes, I actually put my frustration aside for a few moments and marveled at the fact that I saw just an incredible football game. It was awful to swallow that loss, but the game couldn’t have been more entertaining.
It makes you respect the game. It makes you respect your opponent, and it made me respect the LSU-Auburn series.
Eleven years later, little has changed, and this game continues to be a gift that keeps giving to the world of college football.
Whether you’re an indifferent fan in some other part of the country, or say, a Bama fan that wanted both teams to lose, you have to respect the show these two teams put on when they play each other.
It’s mega-physical without being dirty (except for maybe one infamous play from last year). That goes a long way in my book. You had LSU players popping pads and helmets on defense, and I don’t think I need to illustrate the way Auburn hits outside of looking at the play that left LSU QB Andrew Hatch seeing stars like he was on the red carpet.
But there was never any pushing or shoving and not too much jawing (outside the normal amount these days). With that in mind, between the whistles these guys still hit each other like the other side owes them money.
Cut out all the drama of recent years, the earthquakes, the magic, the fire, the cigars, and for 60 football minutes these guys put on a show.
I would hope that some Auburn fans had the same moment of appreciation for this series on Saturday that I had in ’97 in the face of a frustrating loss. But I know it’s easier said than done.
Before watching the game with my buddy Scott, I was pacing nervously—we both were. And I thought out loud, how cool it would be to not care, for a college football game to not matter this much?
There are people all over this country who don’t care about this game. They’re at work or on a date or hanging with their family or watching Three’s Company reruns on TV Land. A clash of college football titans takes place, and they are none the wiser.
The point is, their heart rate doesn’t hinge on every play, every bounce, and every turn of the game. They won’t go to bed heartbroken because they lost or on Cloud Nine because they won. Their mood for the rest of the week at work or at home won’t depend on the outcome of a three-hour contest played by college kids.
Why do I do this to myself???!!!
After LSU kneeled it out to end the game, the four of us went outside for a conversation. If you replaced the words, you could have believed in our demeanor that we’d just robbed a bank without getting caught or escaped a bus crash with our lives.
As we hurriedly spit out the night’s cliffhangers, re-ran the highlights verbally, and second guessed decisions made, I stopped for a moment and realized out loud again...
“Oh yeah, this is why we do this. This feeling right here and right now is why we care.”
I’ve been on the good side and the bad side of this rivalry through the years, and I’ve suffered through heartbreaking losses to many other teams besides Auburn in my day. As bad as losing is, it makes winning that much better.
It’s the yin and yang. You can’t know true happiness without knowing true despair and vice versa. It proves we’re alive. LSU and Auburn fans won’t have to check for a pulse anytime these two teams crack heads.
Whether it’s the agonizing torture of a loss or the internal high of a great win, the fans of this Tiger Bowl definitely know we’re alive.
For those of you that can’t understand why we in the SEC boast about our conference, it’s because of games like this. It’s the Cocktail Party, it’s the Third Saturday in October, it’s an environment filled with electricity and intensity that many think they possess but very few actually deliver.
If you’re lucky enough to be one of those non-SEC venues that can re-create Saturday night’s atmosphere (you know who you are), then you know what I’m talking about.
I don’t hold any love for Auburn, but I respect them as a team that LSU has to get past every year in order to have a shot. It’s like two boxers that know each other too well and take turns beating each other. That’s all this is—it’s Rocky and Apollo dancing around the ring at the end of Rocky III. Cue up Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”
My hat’s off to the orange and blue and the purple and gold for leaving it all out on the field Saturday night—and also to the fans on both sides who make this game what it is every year in both Auburn and Baton Rouge.
It’s great to be an LSU Tiger. It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger.
It’s great to be a fan.