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87,000 Game Balls

We gon' poncho lights out.
We gon' poncho lights out.

Photo by Zac Henderson

Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik stepped to the podium in the press room underneath Jordan-Hare Stadium moments after his Tigers survived the West Virginia Mountaineers 41-30 last night.

“First of all,” Chizik said, “I wish I had 87,000 game balls.”

As he said it, West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown wandered through the door looking for the Mountaineer locker room. He was stopped by Auburn security guards, marking the fifth time Brown was intercepted on the night.

That’s a joke.

Seriously, Chizik’s comment was intended as tribute to the tens of thousands of Auburn fans who suffered through a 4-inch deluge that soaked Jordan-Hare Stadium; who endured an hour-long delay that set kickoff back to nearly 8 p.m. EDT; who maintained a full-throated roar even when the Tigers fell behind early; and who chanted “It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger” as the clock crept close to midnight.

“Our fans were a huge reason we won that game,” Chizik continued. “I want them to know that. I know we had thousands of students who stayed here through that whole thing. Everybody came early, and nobody left because of the weather.

“I promise you that was one of the huge reasons we won the game when the momentum swings happened.

“It was because of our fans.”

An evil-looking black-and-purple storm cloud boiled up as kickoff approached. Just moments before the scheduled start, the storm broke, unleashing lashing winds and torrential rains that turned Pat Dye Field into a virtual lake.

Thousands of fans fled for shelter on the concourse. Thousands more remained in their seats, braving the soaking. Through the pounding water, you could hear occasional cheers as those remaining entertained themselves like kids in a water park.

Chizik spent much of the week prior to the West Virginia game stressing the importance and impact Auburn fans could have on the game. He called out to students, urging them to be there in support of the team.

As he and the Tigers waited impatiently in the locker room for the storm to pass, he must have wondered how many of those fans might have let the dismal weather deter them from attending or who might have abandoned the stands in light of the flood.

When he and his Tigers emerged from the tunnel amid fireworks and smoke, the roar of the crowd gave him his answer.

Auburn fans were there in full force. They did not disappoint.

Overcoming a shocking start and some early miscues, Chizik’s Tigers repaid the favor. They sent a wet and weary Auburn crowd home happy.

As one bedraggled Auburn fan bellowed to no one in particular: “Oh, yeah. This was worth the wait.”

In addition to writing and taking photos for The War Eagle Reader, Kevin Strickland serves as the sports editor for the Pickens County Herald, a weekly newspaper in West Alabama where he has covered high school and college sports for the past 15 years. In his career as a sportswriter, he has covered 12 state championship teams; followed the careers of three local football players who starred at college and played in the NFL and covered two local baseball players who played in the majors. He has won numerous Alabama Press Association writing awards including being named the state’s Best Sports Column in 2004.

About Kevin Strickland

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