Iron Bowls are many things. Epochal, harrowing, anticlimactic, all-encompassing, blood simple. What they are not, for your humble Auburn Blogger at least, is fun.
Not usually, anyway. Usually either Auburn is a favorite and the risk of embarrassment feels so overwhelming that victory is accompanied by relief rather than joy; or Auburn is the underdog, and they lose. (Exceptions to every rule, of course–our wonderful site is doing a wonderful job of reminding you about maybe the best exception to this rule there’s ever been–but this isn’t the kind of rivalry where you throw the records out. Far more often than not, the records tell you who’s going to win the game; they have every year since 2002 and all but three or four times since that glorious day in ’89. During Tubby’s streak this was a reassurance. Now, not so much.)
Sure, every now and then we’ll get a year like 2005, when the predicted outcome is something of a toss-up and Auburn fulfills every daydream we’ve had during the week and watching the game is like waking up the day after Christmas to find out it’s Christmas again. That’s fun. And years like ’89 or ’02 are, somehow, even better. But years like those are few and far between.
Which is why I’m so damn psyched for 2009. This is a kind of Iron Bowl I’ve never experienced before, and that I don’t think many other Auburn fans have, either. It doesn’t fit the standard favorite/underdog label. Yes, Alabama is No. 2 in the country and heavily, heavily favored to win the game. Yes, they have the better team and the odds are that they are going to beat Auburn in Jordan-Hare this Friday. Yes, if Auburn had anything to lose from this game, this would be a dire situation indeed.
But Auburn has nothing to lose. I know that sounds like blasphemy of the highest order, but aside from the all-time tally (not an insignificant consideration, of course, but let’s face it, not the sort of thing to bring us to tears) a loss means nothing … while a win means everything. Auburn has the world to gain and pennies to lose.
Let me explain, because I know how strange that sounds. Consider the supposed consequences of Alabama beating Auburn:
1. Alabama proves they are the better team. Yeah. They’re 11-0 and we’re* 7-4. If this game was played 100 times, they’d win like 75 times or something. We know that. (Note here, please, that the game will be played once. Once, as in the number of times Auburn has to get it right. Not 100.)
2. Alabama gets a leg up in recruiting. They have a leg up already. Recruits who want to play for them don’t care if they finish 11-1 or 12-0. Recruits who want to play for Auburn know that 7-5 this year is just the beginning.
3. Alabama fans (of a certain stripe) run their mouths. They do this anyway. They won’t have anything new to say they haven’t already said after last year, after the Chizik hire, ad nauseum throughout this season.
Anything else? With one exception, which we’ll get to in a moment, nothing substantial. In the event of an Auburn loss, this season is still an unqualified success. In the event of a loss, Gene Chizik will still have proven himself something very different from the disaster so many said he would be. In the event of a loss, this Auburn team will still walk into the locker room as one of the most likable and memorable I can remember. And in the event of an Auburn win …
… well, I don’t even have to discuss that side of things, right? It would be the biggest, best win for Auburn since 2004. Hands-down. No argument. End of discussion. The positives are too overwhelming to describe, too numerous to count. It would be delirium.
That’s what’s on the scales for this game: On one side, nothing, or next-to-nothing. On the other, delirium. It’s not quite the proverbial win-win situation, but it’s as close as any Iron Bowl will ever get. For once, we can watch this game not chewing our fingernails and feeling the holes grow in our stomachs but simply cheering our team on with everything we’ve got, and if it doesn’t work out, we applaud their effort like crazy and get ready for 2010.
Speaking of 2010, that’s why this is the only Iron Bowl like this**. This is the only season where the future is more important than the present. Next year everything will be different: there will be streaks to end, expectations to deal with, wins that must be won before the offensive line and linebacking corps must be overhauled en masse. But this year? This year it’s about showing how far Auburn has come since 36-0, and everything else is gravy. Potentially gravy with bits of bacon-wrapped filet, bacon-wrapped crack, and gold, but gravy.
At least, that’s the case from the fan’s perspective, or the wide-view program perspective. That’s not the case–and I wouldn’t dare suggest it is–for the seniors playing their final game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It’s not the case for the juniors, who won’t get another shot at ‘Bama in front of their own fans. It’s not even the case for the underclassmen, who get four or five Iron Bowls and that’s it, forever. For the players, especially the seniors, there’s no such thing as the future.
Which is why, win or lose, there won’t be a better time than Friday to show those players how much we appreciate that the present is something we can be proud of, too. Celebrating’s not usually something that can be done when it feels like one’s insides have been carved out with an ice cream scoop, but barring another dispiriting blowout (a lie that wouldn’t reflect how much better Auburn has been this season), Friday ought to be a celebration of what players like Antonio Coleman, Tommy Trott, Walt McFadden, Chris Todd, etc. have meant to this program and how thankful we are they’ve been here to turn this listing ship around after the doldrums of 2008. Even in defeat, those players should walk off the field to cheers.
So enjoy this, Auburn fans. Enjoy watching A.C. and Walt and big Jake Ricks one last time. Enjoy the next-to-last chance you’ll ever have to cheer for this particular team. Enjoy Auburn loading up the slingshot and going after an undefeated Alabama team with everything they’ve got. Enjoy how much reward Auburn can earn with victory and how little punishment they’ll suffer in defeat. Enjoy this Iron Bowl: there won’t be another one like it for a long, long time, and even if that’s a good thing, that this one is this unique can be a good thing, too.
*If you’ve never noticed, I don’t use “we” to mean “Auburn” on this blog, or at least I try my best not to. This week, though, screw it.
**The ’99 version could have been like this, but of course after the Ben Leard game down in Athens it suddenly felt like Auburn would have a fighting chance in a game–and they did, damn third-quarter safety–they needed to go bowling.
Wow. This just made me want to wear pads and a helmet to work for the rest of the week. Well done, sir.
Think we could get an audio clip of this being read by Morgan Freeman played over a loudspeaker from Samford Hall Friday morning? I’ll chip in.
War Eagle, fellas!
[email protected] says
Well written Jerry. I was thinking the other day that it was at least going to be nice to not have to worry about high expectations for the Iron Bowl. You put it in words alot better than me. This really gets me enthused about this week. Keep it flowing. If we can make some plays, the crowd will help carry this team Friday. We have to believe.
Auburn Elvis says
Great post. I also am going into this one with an “applaud anything positive; don’t get to broken up by anything negative” attitude. Bama’s the toughest team we’re gonna face this year. If they look like anything less than that Friday, we’re making progress.
Also, go ahead and use “we.” Chizik made it ok we he gave us fans the game ball after West Virginia.
I only have one thing to say about this great post. There is one thing that will make it suck hard enough to make me cry about this came if we lose…..
If the score is greater than 36-0, then they will have sufficient ammo to make me angry all damn year.
Please let us score at least 14. Please hold them to less than 35.
I’m gonna do this early, at risk of being spectacularly wrong…..
Alabama 21 – Auburn 24
Doesn’t Alabama need to win to stay in the MNC hunt? If so, doesn’t that make this a “must win” for them? Otherwise, I agree with you 100%.
What is the over/under on number of trickish plays we’ll see from Malzan Friday? (I mean, more than the usual amount.)
Time to invoke that Airborne spirit:
“To the German Commander,
The American Commander”
GEN Anthony McAuliffe, December 22, 1944
Jerry, I love reading your stuff but have to respectfully disagree here. First, any season that includes losses to Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Georgia and Bama and the only big wins are over the mrs and a UT team (that lost to the mrs) is just not a good or memorable season for me. It is definitely better than the season of DEATH but still a tough one for me. Second, losing to Bama stinks no matter what the circumstances may be. I will be down there and if they win and start that @#$# cheer in our stadium then I don’t think there is any way I am going to enjoy this one…
Jeff, you’re more than welcome to disagree with me, and if this wasn’t Gene Chizik’s first season Auburn had the kind of talent they usually do, I’d be agreeing with you. If this is 2003 or 1987 or 1995, you’d be right; the wins Auburn has would not cancel out the losses.
But this isn’t any of those years. This is 2009, and the expectations have to be different. This season, really, isn’t even about this season: this season is about undoing the damage of the end of the Tubby era, getting things moving forward again, returning a sense of optimism to this program. The important questions this year weren’t “how many games will they win?,” it’s “Is Gene Chizik a quality head coach?,” “Will Gus Malzahn’s offense be viable at Auburn?,” “Are the players responding to the new staff?,” and, of course, “How well will Auburn recruit?”. The answers to all of THOSE questions has been nothing but positive, and to be dissatisfied with this season makes even less sense, to me, than Tide fans being dissatisfied with Saban’s 6-6 mark. Barring an utter disaster Friday, this seaosn, to me, is an unqualified success.
Now, as for the cheer you mention … yeah, in the event that happens, there’s no way to enjoy THAT. But a) they’re such a heavy favorite they’re really going to have to pour on the margin of victory to make it anything but silly b) when it’s over, there will still be the matter of congratulating our seniors on their careers and this season. That, you can enjoy, right?
I take exception to not using “we” when talking about all things Auburn!
Not only has Chizik given us the game ball, but Coach Dye sent the players back out to thank “us” for our undying support.
Go ahead Jerry, say “we” and say it with pride. Just like “we” say..