There were no Boise State fans. There were no Oregon fans. Ashley Heck says she saw one guy with a Stanford hat that happened to be passing by.
Other than that, the people gathered by the entrance of the Best Buy Theater in downtown New York Saturday night two hours before the 2010 Heisman Trophy Presentation for what was a forgone conclusion were in orange and blue.
There were lots of them. They chanted “It’s Great to Be an Auburn Tiger.” They and their digital cameras were there for Cam Newton.
And like Newton, the “Heisman Tiger Walk” organized by the New York City Auburn Alumni Club surpassed all expectations.
Heck says it was “very satisfying”, but also that she’s still in shock.
“A couple of us went to brunch before we went there and we were talking about how many we thought might show up,” says Heck, a 2000 Auburn graduate and member of the club’s executive board. “We were like ‘well, at least 50 have said yes on our Facebook page so we’ll at least have 50.’ We were assuming maybe 100. We were like, ‘if we got 100, that’d be great.’”
Depending on whom you talk to, there was at least four times that many… and maybe ten.
Heck says it was 400.
Nicole Klein, a 2005 Auburn graduate who also sits on the club’s executive board – and who prides herself on her ability to estimate crowd numbers – says 800.
“I was talking to one of the NYPD guys standing there helping and he agreed it was probably in the ballpark of 800,” Klein says. “A lot more showed up than have for any of our other events, that’s for sure.”
Some of them drove hundreds of miles just for a glimpse at the eventual Heisman winner, including an entire family from Philadelphia who brought with them the sign of the night.
“It was the most elaborate thing I’ve ever seen,” Heck says. “It was a camera with a hole where the lens was where she could stick her head through and it said Kiss Cam.”
The turnout and exposure was a shot in the arm to an alumni club chapter that Klein says has in the past felt somewhat isolated from the Auburn family by distance.
“We do kind of feel left out sometimes,” she says. “It’s been painful because I didn’t go home this year and all my friends are going to games and you start to feel kind of disconnected. So it was so refreshing to have an event in New York where Auburn kind of came to us for a night.”
But Klein says it wasn’t as easy to pull off as it could have been; had it not been for Kleins’s connections with the Best Buy Theater (thanks to her job with one of the rock’s biggest booking agents) and a mysterious Auburn supporter inside the NYPD, things might have looked a little less impressive.
“The (Auburn) athletic department found out what we were doing and turned out to be helpful, but weren’t, you know, totally forthcoming with the schedule, so it was nice to have other people to go to for information,” she said. “The most gratifying part was having Cam talk about it in the press conference and even with Chris Fowler. We just wanted to let him know how much we loved him and it was great to know that he noticed but also that he appreciated it. But yeah, there were no shortage of headaches.”
Klein credits the do-it-yourself success of the event to the leadership of new club president Micah Latter.
“This is the first year the club has really tried to have some semblance of organization,” she says. “Micah is amazing. We have officers and events and are trying to make people realize we do exist.”
Mission accomplished: the Wall Street Journal ran an AP piece on the football flash mob (and its strange ‘shakers’) within hours of Newton’s appearance. Footage shot of the gathered Auburn fans was also included in ESPN’s coverage of the presentation.
“I mean, we were definitely casing a ruckus in the middle of New York City,” Klein laughs. “I can definitely understand why the national media picked up on it.”
It also drew attention from the police.
The club’s original plan was to form an alley of fans – sans barricades – for Newton to walk through exactly as the team does when entering Jordan-Hare Stadium.
According to Klein the club’s NYPD insider, as well as sympathetic theater staff, arranged for Auburn fans – and only Auburn fans, were others to have shown – to have access to a tunnel leading to a back entrance it was thought Newton might use to enter the theater.
“There was an NYPD connection there, they were definitely looking out for us,” Klein says. “But they were kind of nervous about what we were going to do. He didn’t want us to embarrass him. He said ‘you can’t jump on the players.’ We said ‘I don’t think you have to worry about that.’”
Still, when it was learned that Newton (and the other finalists) were going through the front door – and as the crowd continued to swell – in came the police barricades.
“[The players] had been at a press conference across the street at the Marriott at five and the cop said Cam would come over and they’d be escorting him at about 5:45,” Heck says. “Next thing we knew, all four were in a line and then the cameras started coming… it was kind of turned into a photo op.”
To wit: Newton, Luck, Moore, and James were made to walk to the entrance of the theater twice, presumably because the shot wasn’t right the first time.
“Those poor other guys had to endure ‘It’s Great to Be an Auburn Tiger’ for like, three whole minutes,” Heck says. “It’s not like they just rounded the corner and went in. They stopped them, then they walked them up, then they stopped them, then they walked them back, then they stopped them and finally walked them up again.”
Luck and Moore smiled, laughed, and shook their heads, she says. James looked unimpressed.
“Those guys knew,” Heck says. “The knew going into New York knowing that Cam was going to win, but I’m sure they were shocked, like, ‘where are my fans’? But they took it in stride.”
Klein says a group of Auburn fans ran into James outside the lobby of the Marriott Marquis Hotel across the street an hour after the ceremony.
“We went to go have drinks at the hotel and he was already standing outside by himself in sweat pants with his suitcase waiting for a taxi,” Klein says. “You don’t book a flight back or whatever if you think there’s a chance you might win and have to do press and stuff. We told him congratulations on his season and that we looked forward to playing him in January. He smiled and said thank you. He was like ‘y’all are crazy.’”
Heck takes it as a compliment.
“I’m not sure if they were Heisman people or just security with NYPD, but they told us that it was a big turnout last year, but just a few hundred people out on the street just clapping and cheering. There wasn’t a barricade or any of the madness. It was a lot bigger than anyone expected. But the most important thing was that it was bigger than what the Alabama fans did last year. That also felt very satisfying.”