You heard it. I heard it. We all heard it, especially in the days after the Chizik hire was announced: 36-0 was just the beginning.
No, it wasn’t. It was the end. That was the day that the facsimile of Auburn that took the field all 2008 long finally slunk away, as it turns out for good. That day was the only day the Iron Bowl was going to be a foregone conclusion, the only day Alabama was going to play Auburn and walk off the field without blood in their mouths. 36-0 wasn’t a beginning; it was a fluke. We know that now, and so do they.
That’s not to say Auburn is poised to turn the rivalry around, not even to say they’re due for a win next year or the year after that. That’s not to call yesterday a “moral victory”; I didn’t lay awake in bed for an hour-and-a-half last night re-imagining the dozen different plays that Auburn could have made to win the game because I was happy with the final result. (Did I “enjoy this,” as I’d advised Auburn fans to do during the week? The game itself, yes, I did. Watching an Auburn team give its all and our seniors leave everything they had on the field against a superior opponent was unquestionably something I enjoyed. But the loss itself … that, no.) Alabama won. Auburn lost. Nothing changes that.
But like the season as a whole when you’re coming back from 5-7, when you’re coming back from 36-0 the game becomes about more than the win and the loss. It’s been detailed both here and elsewhere how rare Iron Bowl upsets are, but the ones that do happen happen not when one team is on lesser footing and staring up the kind of mountain Auburn stared up in 2008 and was presumed to be staring up a few days ago. Before knocking the Tide over, the Tigers had to first look them in the eye.
And that much, Auburn did. Our thin and allegedly soft defense outplayed their top-ranked pack of world-beaters, and anyone who thinks otherwise has no concept of field position. Our loser of a head coach, his high-school offensive coordinator, and the DC even certain Auburn fans decided they would write off at midseason outprepared and outcoached–vastly outprepared and outcoached, in my opinion–the $4 million-man and his assistants. The rushing game that would never be manly enough for the SEC outgained the Tide’s 2-to-1, and outrushed them straight up even after you take out Zachery’s 67-yard reverse.
So: the gap we saw last year is already closed. The playing field is already level again. And that is something. It’s not enough, no one who wore that blue jersey yesterday would tell you it’s enough, but it’s something.
We know that 36-0 will not happen again, and now so do they. Congratulations, Tide. We’ll see you next year.