It was almost good enough for one of those Auburn commercials. Just needed more umbrellas and geysers. Or planes that can land on water. Or less waiters in referee outfits.
By which I mean the random encounter the Mrs. WBE and I had Saturday night at “Stakes and Sticks,” the local sports grill-slash-off-track horse racing establishment in Sedona, Arizona. It was early in the second half–I think when Trott caught the 34-yarder to set up the Byrum field goal–that we noticed the table that had just sat down next to us was loudly celebrating Auburn’s good plays, and they noticed they the table they sat down next to had a guy in an Auburn hat doing the same. War Eagles were exchanged, both sides offered quick explanations for what we were collectively doing so far away from the Heart of Dixie (they were a contractor’s family and friends on a week’s vacation, hailing from Trussville), and then we settled in for the second half.
Unfortunately, this is the other part that didn’t make the encounter quite worthy of filming for promotional purposes: aside from the eruption of joy in response to Demond Washington’s kickoff return, most of what we got to share was the frustration of Georgia’s running game cramming the ball down Auburn’s throat and the Dawg defensive line stuffing any and all Tiger attempts to do the same; Todd and his receivers making just enough poor plays to undo the many, many good ones; and finally, the prolonged gut-punch of that last decisive sequence. (Loss of 1, goalline drop, 10-minute delay for horrific injury, sack, penalty, desperation heave is no way to finish a football game. Well, not when it’s your team on the wrong end of it, anyway.)
Our new friends seemed to take the loss a little tougher than we did. There were vocal complaints about the tackling, the coverage, the play-calling … the usual. Complaints were plenty justified for much of that half, of course, but I couldn’t help but feel like the greatness and tension of the game–the first one like this Auburn has played since at least last year’s Georgia game and maybe the 2008 LSU meeting–meant I’d have to wait afterwards to feel much in the way of aggravation.
When it was over, maybe good-byes were said and in a haze of shock (and, OK, the pint or two) I forgot they happened, or maybe I just missed them somehow, or maybe good-byes weren’t said. But whatever happened, I looked up after ESPN had cut away from Chizik and Richt shook hands, and the table next to ours was suddenly empty. No matter; when you live two thousand miles from the Loveliest Village, it’s not every day you get a “War Eagle” in response to a “War Eagle.”
Still, though, if they did make that commercial, I bet they’d leave that part out.
Take it from me: Sedona is a seriously weird place.
It doesn’t feel like a city as much as some strange social-science experiment in which Forces Beyond Our Control have smashed together a half-dozen different strains of U.S. culture just to see what would happen. The New Agers-and-UFO-chasers rub shoulders outside the upscale yuppie tourist crowd’s art galleries*, down the street from the West Coast nature hippies’ granola shacks and, further up the hill, the outsized mansions of the daytripping super-rich, who no doubt employ the local collection of Latino immigrants to keep them clean while away in Phoenix or L.A. or Vegas. What would happen, it turns out, isn’t the kind of city where’d you say there’s no there there–it’s not a straight tourist trap–but where’d you’d say what’s there is so disjointed and schizophrenic it’s almost like it isn’t. Look, even the McDonald’s is screwy.
All of that looks past, of course, the reason anyone ever decided to do more than pitch a tent in the middle-of-Arizonan-nowhere in the first place: the rocks. Yes, they are spectacular. Yes, the views deserve the overused adjective “breathtaking.” Yes, the hikes made up for whatever other issues I might have had with the place. Particularly the last one we took, 700 feet up to one of the “saddles” in Cathedral Rock, where you stand between these impossibly massive towers of stone and can look both ahead and behind you over acre after acre of stone and mountain and tree and God.
But of course, heartbreaking beauty’s not enough for some people, like the people who founded and maintain Sedona’s ubiquitous industry of energy “vortexes,” one of which were were told happens to exist at that very spot at the top of our hike. I have to say, I didn’t notice any overwhelming flood of unexplainable spritual energy flowing from the earth and rocks. I did, however, notice the woman sitting cross-legged on a mat in what would have looked like meditation if she hadn’t been jabbering away on her cell phone.
I know I seem pretty far afield of Auburn football at this point. Sorry. But driving home yesterday and thinking about both my weekend and my football team’s, I wondered if brooding over the Georgia loss (and the likely loss of a New Year’s Day bowl berth that may have gone with it, as I was doing) wasn’t all that unlike dreaming up a vortex in the middle of the Sedona rocks. This Auburn season has maybe not been an overwhelming success, hasn’t been the stuff of miracle-working, hasn’t been one that’s going to make the fans and talking heads anywhere outside of SEC country take notice.
But damn has it been fun. Damn if is this team isn’t as likable as any I can remember at Auburn. Damn if it doesn’t get just about as much out of itself as we could ask. Damn if you can’t look at the young talent already on the field and in the ever-more-impressive recruiting class and see Gene Chizik carving the pathway back to challenging for a divisional title, even given the 800-pound gorilla perched in the top spot.
Remember last year? Remember how Auburn was an afterthought, how miserable we all were, how it was so hard to see how it was going to change and even if it did, how long that change was going to take? It’s one year later, and if Auburn’s still not where we want them to finish, they are where we wanted them to be this season. Auburn is not Florida or ‘Bama, but only two schools in this conference are. There’s seven schools, however, in this conference’s creamy middle, and Auburn has played five of them plus another team that would belong there if it played in this league instead of the Big East. Auburn has gone 3-3 in those games despite playing four of them on the road, and the one they played Saturday could have been very different witha bounce or two here or there.
That’s enough. It won’t be in 2010 or 2011, probably, but this year, focusing on the disappointment of an Auburn defeat–especially one on the road in which Auburn outgained their opponent, finally solved their special teams troubles, and came within 20 yards or so of sending the game into overtime despite giving up 31 legitimate offensive points–for any longer than it takes to dry the tears (ours metaphorical, the team’s not, as it should be) isn’t necessary. It’s like trying to tack on an imaginary swirl of psychic energy to make an already special place even more special. Auburn football is something to be savored, enjoyed, looked forward to, rather than the something to be endured it was just a year ago. We’re not at the top of the mountain yet, but we can see where we’re going. We can enjoy the hike.
And for that I am grateful, even in defeat.
*There’s a reason I mentioned that the only establishment in town devoted to sports-watching was a pricey restaurant offering closed-circuit off-track horse wagering. There is money in them thar red hills. Or in the people that live there, I mean.
The TV image Ben Tate sitting alone in his tribute jersey crying like a baby touched me a lot. Unlike what we got from last years team, it appears that at least this years team cares and cares a lot. You can’t fault the effort-no sir.
Leaves me wondering “how could this happen?” Our guys looked to all the world like the a steamroller for the first two offensive series and I was truly hoping we’d hang a 60 spot on the Dawgs and leave them a program in disarray with potential mass firings on the horizon. The boo birds in the first qtr and the carping in the local paper and on the call-in show that we maybe missed an opportunity to deal the Dawgs not just a loss but potentially a long term setback.
I’m a fan but not a technician-can someone tell me if UGA made some sort of big adjustment that caused our offense to just stop working for the rest of the game? It does show how much we miss McCalebb (sp?) He gives us a faster speed on the edge that the teams have to respect. It was pretty clear that he still has the bad wheel and wasn’t much of a factor after the first part of the game.
Or. ….maybe it’s just the Bob Davie jinx.
When the game ended, I breathed a curse word, flipped the bird at the TV and then I thought about all the wonderful freshman who’ve made an impact this year and about Ben Tate’s season and career and what’s to come in future years and it made it all a little bit better. Actually, I got a little happy, thinking about where this program is headed. I haven’t been able to say that for a few years.
I keep thinking about Pat Dye’s first year and how proud I was to see a competitive Auburn team that was fun to watch, even though they lost a number of games. I have a strong sense of deja vu.
“There’s money in the banana stand”
Sedona felt like a western version of Gatlinburg..just with more ice. Also, Trussville is nice…besides the lack of things to do (but that’s just like, an opinion, man). Anyway, I haven’t taken any losses this year too hard, I went in thinking it was gonna be a rebuilding year, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with a lot of the things that happen. No way I would’ve guessed we’d have 7 wins at this point.
Yes, the shot of Tate crying was more than I could take….he cared, he wore the number of his fallen teammate, and he wanted to win more than anything, but for some strange reason he just could not get going during this game. I kept waiting for him to pop the 50 to 60 yarder, but it never came. It was almost like the OL wasn’t getting the push they have in previous games. I agree with all that the future looks very, very good. WDE!
Bad as seeing Tate’s emotions on the sideline was, reading his post-game comments was worse. He wanted this one so, so badly, and it just didn’t happen either for him or his team. Hurt for him.
My best friends older brother lives in Sendona. He’s a “past life” counselor….nuff said.
Also, John McCain has a big spread (all that beer dist money from his wife I guess) up on that hill.
But…that water slide thingy is pretty fun. (Summer only)
On top of all the reasons we have each and every year to beat Alabama (vanquishing evil, restoring justice to the universe, ect), we have an additional three reasons this season.
Reason #1: Ben Tate. Tate has been, quietly and uncerimoniously, the absoloute epitomy of an Auburn Man. From being a total class act, to wearing a fallen player’s number in tribute, to talking shit about Mark Ingram, this guy has done everything you could possibly ask an Auburn player to do and so much more. After years of getting insufficient playing time, he deserves better.
Reason #2: Chris Todd. After having a strange and wild collegiate career that takes him all across the south, he finally gets settled in at Auburn, just to get injured and attached to Franklin in that whole debacle and actually BOOed by Auburn fans. This year, he finally gets to show off what he can do, just to get injured again halfway through the season, and as it turns out, his one chance to have a special season is on track to being a disappointment.
Reason #3: Antonio Coleman. After having a great career, and being ragged with injuries throughout it (Remember that nasty spine injury a couple years ago?), he chooses to come back for his senior season and contribute, despite the possibility of hurting his draft status. He hurts his wrist, hurts his knee, and he’s still out there every week because he’s a warrior. He, too, deserves a better senior year.
We have one game left, and thankfully, it’s the one that matters the most.
Let’s get this victory. Let’s get a Cotton Bowl berth. Let’s give these three guys something special. Something that can never, ever be taken away from them.
Let’s beat Bama.
Sedona= dirty martinis at Cayote bar, massage at the parlor next door, real “Southern BBQ” at Ginnys and 4 wheeling in the desert at night under a full moon. Just another roadside attraction on the highway to the Grand Canyon.
We let the UGA game get away from us!! I stated last week that we needed a “track meet” to win, but our O stopped scoring.
JH-how do we get UA into a track meet??
Alex P in Smyrna G says
I am not holding out any hope for the IB. We are gonna get worked like a $2 hooker. Had we soundly whipped the dogs, I’d have some sort of positive vibe in the back of my mind, but now I am dreading the game. This UGA loss hit me hard. I wanted to beat them so f-ing bad. I love living in GA, but not right now.
I didn’t see Tate cry because I was driving home from the bar, but (I think) I know how he feels. Four in a row to UGA is something I thought I would NEVER see happen, and the way the last few weeks and the first quarter of this game have gone for both teams, I thought we’d get off the series snide this year.
I was alone in that drive from the bar to the house. The wife left early to see off the sitter. No one saw or heard me, but still I am embarassed at the words I screamed at the UGA radio crew for the better part of the ride. This hurts worse than Ark/UK/LSU combined because we came in as the better team – which is astounding given the whole season-of-death thing and how good UGA has been for the past decade. We remained the better team until the second quarter… then it all went wrong.
Dammit, I’m getting pissed again, so I am going to wrap it up by saying that, like many of my fellow commentors, I am very pleased with the progression from last year. This is a young team with a ton of talent under 20 years old and an awesome recruiting class coming together. Better days are ahead.
Thanks, WBE, didn’t feel like I had closure on this game until I read your post. Used to be that the morning following a game I’d turn to the coverage in the papers posted on al.com. Now, your recap is all I want to read. Keep up the good work.
Agreed Ben. This is just about the only place I can come for editorial comment on Auburn. Otherwise, I start reading fair weather fan posts and start getting very very angry. Life’s too short. It’s not worth it.
Jerry– thanks for all you do. We appreciate it.