Feeding the 78,000

The Spring 2011 issue of Auburn Magazine mailed yesterday, which means I can no longer say “I wrote the cover story for the latest issue,” which I’ve kind of dug these last few months. But believe it or not, TWER’s presence looms even larger this go round, the editors there having decided to run our stories on Carmen Britton’s quest to watch her first football game of the season, the Auburn vs Oregon D.C. alumni flag football grudge match, and the chronicles of the Toomer’s Corner cleanup crew. (They even sent a shout-out to Walt’s essay on treatin’ your championship self right.)

The magazine also includes a shortened version of a short story they asked me to write about the national championship celebration at Jordan-Hare. It was a quick, stilted attempt at capturing at least a sliver of the spirit of… whatever the hell just happened to us as Auburn fans, something I haven’t been very good at recently, if ever. But I thought I’d go ahead and share it here, too.

Yes.

The concessions stands that had been de-winterized for the occasion of Auburn’s national championship celebration at Jordan-Hare Stadium on January 22 were down to funnel cakes and popcorn crumbs before the players had even been introduced. The hotdogs and nachos had been gobbled up by 78,000 people from Birmingham and Atlanta and Mobile and Nashville and everywhere — 8,000 more than the university planned for, 30,000 more than the city of Auburn expected, and 40,000 more than the University of Alabama had at a similar event last year.

The Auburn Family was hungry.

There were old men there, bundled against the cold in new, officially licensed sweatshirts bought at midnight at sporting goods stores that reopened after Wes Byrum’s game winning field goal, men who six months ago knew they wouldn’t live to see another one.  There were Baby Boomers there, just babies when it happened the first time, who thought they might not live to see another one. And there were young Auburn fans there that said to themselves, “so this is what a championship looks like in color.”

It’d been 53 years since Auburn won it all.

But it’d only been six years since Auburn should have won it all.

The finally healing wound that was Auburn football’s undefeated 2004 season, which has since become universal shorthand for the coulda, woulda, shoulda injustice of the BCS system, was re-salted just weeks before the start of the 2010 season: The USC Trojans, the team Auburn should have played for the national championship and which eventually won it — the team Auburn players from that year are certain they would have beaten — was stripped of it’s title due to NCAA violations. The folks in charge of these sorts of things had to decide whether they would leave the record books blank or retroactively crown the undefeated Tigers as No. 1. And once again they said ‘no’ to Auburn football.

By the time Athletic Director Jay Jacobs introduced Coach Gene Chizik to the podium six months later, 2004 was just another year.

“We got a big God,” Chizik said. “And he said ‘yes’ to Auburn football.”

Beside him on the stage there were trophies that proved that God said yes, more trophies than anyone knew existed, gleaming in the sun.

Behind him were two goofballs — a “blessed individual” that won the Heisman Trophy, and a Lombardi Award winner who pretended to be a wrestler — that proved it.

There was a new flag flying above him that proved it.

There was a giant mass of students in front of him who showed up hours early to stand on the field, and they were holding free posters that proved it.

(Sometimes the posters would get dropped and the wind would blow them across the grass, and they would be chased by young kids who were playing pick up football games and who shouldn’t have been on the field, kids who sneaked across the end zone wall when security wasn’t looking, and sometimes even when they were — and that proved it, too: when it came to that kind of stuff, the day was simply too special for anyone to care.)

“There’s a lot of love in front of me and a lot of love all around this place… and there’s nothing more gratifying to me as a head football coach at Auburn University than to see so many people that have waited so long for this celebration,” Chizik said, his head bowed with emotion. “You are the best fans in the United States of America and you have helped us and been a huge part in being the best football team in the United States of America.”

“War Damn Eagle.”

People cried. People cheered. They were finally, finally full.

Photo via.

Keep Reading:

* The Curious Case of the Number 19
* Pine Hill Haints release song from new album to honor Toomer’s
* Harvey Updyke in high school
* Could Bieber Fever save the Toomer’s Oaks?
* Toomer’s Corner after Punt, Bama, Punt

* Did Auburn student’s roll Toomer’s Corner after Bear Bryant died?
* Dean Foy discusses the lewdness of youth
* Fear and Loathing in Tuscaloosa
* Jimmy Buffett Sang: Let’s Get Drunk and Screw (Up My 1st Year at Auburn)

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About Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the editor of The War Eagle Reader and co-host of Rich and Jeremy in the Mornings on Wings 94.3 FM in Auburn. Follow him on Twitter: @wareaglereader / @jerthoughts / @RichandJeremy

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