|The Iron Bowl 2013|
I was in Alabama on the day of the Auburn/Alabama Iron Bowl football game Saturday after Thanksgiving. I hadn't expected to be. I hadn't made any plans for the game because I thought I'd be back at my house in Tennessee watching from there. Finding myself in Alabama during the game, naturally I wanted to watch with a lot of other football fans. I didn't know what to do so I posted on Facebook "I'm in town and I'm looking for people to watch the game with. Anyone?"
A girl I went to high school with, named Lisa, responded that she was throwing together an impromptu football party and I could come if I wanted to.
Just to give a little background, at this point in time Alabama was ranked number 1 in the nation, fully anticipating playing in and winning the SEC championship game, and then going on to play in the BCS national championship, and hopefully win it again. They'd won it a lot in the last few years, so it seemed like a reasonable expectation. Auburn, meanwhile, was coming off a horrifically bad last season and wasn't expected to do much this season. Surprisingly, and with the help of shocking losses by Baylor and Oregon, they found themselves ranked at number 4 in the nation. No one expected that. So this game, this Iron Bowl, was more than just your usual Alabama/Auburn rivalry. This was the number 1 team playing against the number 4 team and had serious implications for every team in the nation. If Alabama wins, Auburn is knocked back in the rankings and other teams behind Auburn will move up. If Auburn wins, Alabama is out and Ohio State moves to number 1, Florida State moves to number 2, and the BCS championship game will have an entirely different look than anyone had expected.
At 2:30 I showed up at Lisa's house wearing my bright orange Auburn Football shirt, not sure who might be in the house that I would know. Someone I didn't recognize answered the door and let me in. It was a beautiful house in a great neighborhood, for whatever that's worth. It has nothing to do with football, I know.
|Iron Bowl Party|
I walked into the very nice, large, open kitchen and put down my bag of chips, a 2 liter bottle of Coke and some dip. The kitchen was open to the den and there was a big 50 inch flat screen TV mounted above the fireplace with the game on. It had already started. A fire was going in the fireplace. Every seat was filled so I stood up against the bar and just watched. Looking around the room I didn't recognize a single soul. And more than that, I slowly began to realize that I was the only person wearing orange and blue. The entire rest of the house appeared to be filled with Crimson Tide fans all dressed in their jerseys, screaming in support of the University of Alabama.
|Lost in a Sea of Alabama Fans|
Eventually I spotted Lisa. She was on the opposite side of the room, dressed in a classy "Roll Tide" outfit head-to-toe, and wrapped in the arms of her boyfriend Michael. I wasn't sure if I should cross in front of all the Alabama fans to greet her while she was engaged with her boyfriend or just wait until a better time, so I continued to stand there awkwardly leaning against the bar, looking up at the game which I fully expected my team was going to lose. The score was 0-0. I hadn't missed much. And I was relieved that we weren't already behind in the score.
It remained 0-0 for a long time. To be fair, it shouldn't have. On their very first drive, Alabama attempted a 44-yard field goal, but it was ugly and went wide. The Alabama kicker looked awkward as he approached the ball and something about his kick was ugly. The sea of Alabama fans in the room groaned at what should haven been the go-ahead score. After that Auburn did nothing on their drive and had to punt. Alabama then did nothing and had to punt. But the punt was blocked. Auburn took advantage of the good field position resulting from blocking the punt and drove for a touchdown. So in the first quarter it was 7-0 Auburn. After that Alabama did nothing and had to punt. Then Auburn did nothing and had to punt. End of first quarter.
|I'm sorry I was sitting on your coat|
Meanwhile, I had moved to a stool at the bar a little closer to the TV. A remarkably beautiful girl with long brown hair and huge brown eyes had left her coat on the stool, but she was now sitting on an L-shaped couch next to her boyfriend, so I sat on the stool where she had been. From that seat I could see more of the house, including through a doorway connecting the kitchen to the dining room where 2 lonely Auburn fans were standing, quietly cheering for their team. They spotted my orange shirt and we both smiled and waved. We were 3 orange fans in a sea of 20 or more screaming, shouting, highly intense crimson fans. Behind me I heard delayed screaming. I looked around and saw though another doorway, a den filled with younger people watching the game on another TV. But they were connected to a regular antenna while we were on cable so their signal was slightly behind the TV I was watching. It made for a weird effect whenever something happened and they screamed 2 seconds after we did all game long.
The second quarter started with Alabama still in possession and still driving. They kept the ball seemingly forever. Auburn helped them by jumping offsides for a penalty that kept the drive alive. In fact, it was 11 plays to start the 2nd quarter before Alabama finally scored a touchdown. Now the game was tied at 7-7. Of course, all the Alabama fans surrounding me were screaming and cheering. I wasn't saying much. I was just grateful that it wasn't 14-0 Alabama.
Auburn has a brand new coach, some guy who last year was coaching high school football. At least, that's what the Alabama fans told me. Alabama, meanwhile, has the great Nick Saban, the man with the plan every single week. The odds of Auburn winning this game didn't seem high to me, and that is why I didn't have high hopes. I don't want to sound as if I'm just a really poor Auburn fan. But having grown up in Alabama I am more accustomed to Auburn losing than winning. As a result, I'm accustomed to the consequences of being an Auburn fan in a state filled with Alabama fans right after we lose to them. Some years they are nice about it. Some years they are vicious and downright obnoxious. Since I didn't think we were going to win this game I tried to keep my cheering for Auburn's successes calm and quiet.
Now Auburn had the ball, following the Alabama touchdown. 4 plays in and Mr Dropped Pass and Dropped Kickoff Return, Tre Mason, was stripped of the football and Alabama recovered it with great field position. OK, here we go. This is what I was expecting.
Boom-Boom-Boom Touchdown Alabama. It was as easy as that. Now Alabama is up 14-7 and I'm looking over Auburn's offense trying to figure out if there is anyone they can rely on to catch the ball when it reaches their hands. Tre Mason, number 21, was not inspiring any confidence in me, but I noticed this other guy, number 14, seemed to be a great runner and gain a lot of yards for Auburn. Maybe they should just give the ball to him and let number 21 block or something? That's when I realized that number 14 was their quarterback. So the entire Auburn offense is one guy? Awesome. This is not good.
Auburn now receives the kickoff. They did nothing and had to punt. Alabama has the ball. They go 87 yards and score ANOTHER damn touchdown. Now it's 21-7 Alabama and things are starting to look ugly for Auburn. And for Auburn fans.
On the next drive, Auburn's Mr-Drop-Ball, Tre Mason, almost single-handedly moves them all the way downfield, running the ball on all but one play, before he finally ran it into the endzone for an Auburn touchdown. So now it's 21-14 Alabama's favor.
Alabama received the ball and struggled for the rest of the quarter to move, but got nowhere. The quarter ended with Alabama still on their own end of the field.
At halftime I got up and went to greet the other Auburn fans. It was a man and a woman. She graduated from Auburn and has a daughter there now. He was an LSU graduate and only came cheering for Auburn because of his desire as an LSU fan to see Alabama lose. When asked if I went to Auburn I had to admit that I hadn't and neither had anyone in my family. It was hard to explain how I became an Auburn fan. My family moved to Alabama from Texas many years before I was born. They were told that they MUST CHOOSE a side, and so someone, somewhere chose Auburn. I was raised in an Auburn household where no one ever went to Auburn. It hadn't seemed weird at the time, but it does now. We talked a bit, happy to have found support on the lonely Auburn side of things.
Next I talked with a few Alabama fans. One super enthusiastic and vocal Alabama fan named Danny greeted me. Danny was remarkable in that he remembered the names of every single person he met at this party. And he proved it by naming us all. Even as he listed our names and pointed at who was who, I still couldn't keep up with all the names. I didn't even catch the name of the beautiful brunette whose coat was hanging on my chair. Normally I'd at least remember her name if no others simply because she was so striking. I suspect that Danny is either in management somewhere, or sales. He's very outgoing. And also very fit. In fact, I had begun to notice that everyone there was very fit. There wasn't a fat roll in the place. Lisa, my hostess, had at some point been a personal trainer or something along those lines. And it seemed that all of her friends were about as fit as she is. To be fair, some were young, like in their early 20s, current-Alabama-student young. But I was having trouble telling who was the college student and who was their parents due to how fit everyone was.
|Super Fit People|
And then there was me, not so fit and looking rather sad in my bright orange Auburn shirt. I felt like maybe I needed to suck in my gut or something. But I couldn't hold it like that for an entire football game, so I didn't bother.
|Yoga Pants are Hard to Ignore|
Finally Lisa herself came over and talked to me. Lisa has a movie star face and when she smiles it just gets even better. When she smiles she looks strikingly similar to Jessica Biel, moreso than anyone I have ever met before. And of course I tell her so because I'm creepy like that. Sometimes I don't even call her Lisa, I call her Jessica, and thank God she laughs or else I'd just be a creepy weirdo who is overly impressed with this girl's smiling movie star face.
|Lisa Looks Like Jessica|
At some point the blonde girl who had just come in said something about being at the Iron Bowl game last year. Because she was an Alabama cheerleader! Holy mother of God, I was REALLY surrounded by the elite of Alabama fan fanatics, even an Alabama cheerleader. And there I was, having trouble explaining to the only other Auburn fans in the place why I was an Auburn fan, while simultaneously trying not to stare at the butt of the Alabama cheerleader. And then, at some point, it came out that I had been a cheerleader in college, too. I cheered during my freshman year at the University of Alabama .... in Huntsville, which is not at all the same school or even affiliated with the University of Alabama, and so not the same thing. It did not impress Miss Yoga Pants Cheerleader. Mercifully halftime ended and the game started up again. No more talk about who was a cheerleader, which for a beautiful 22-year-old girl is impressive and for some older guy is significantly less so. I am unaware of any porn or sexual fetishes that involve male cheerleaders. Generally once a male cheerleader leaves cheerleading he never mentions it again because no one cares.
|Serious Bama Fan|
So, third quarter and Auburn received the kick-off to start the show. 9 plays later Auburn scored a touchdown and tied the game 21-21. At this point I noticed the Alabama fans yelling at the female Auburn fan I had just met to stop going outside and smoking. She began singing the Auburn fight song. Apparently she had noticed that every time she went outside to smoke, Auburn scored or else Alabama didn't score. And the Alabama fans in the room had noticed it, too.
This will mean something later because she started going outside to smoke a LOT.
After the Auburn score, Alabama couldn't move the ball at all. Not even 1 yard. 3 plays and they had to punt with no gains. Auburn ran 8 plays, but had to punt. Alabama then moved the ball all the way down the field, stalled at the Auburn 11 yard line, and had to kick a field goal. But once again, their kicker looked awkward as he approached the ball and kicked it ugly and wide. It was another miss!
Alabama fans in the room went nuts. They could be ahead by 6 points, but he had missed twice and so the game was tied still. And this was the fourth quarter, when everything mattered most of all as time began to run short. And a certain someone had just stepped outside to smoke right before the field goal try, by the way.
Auburn drove the ball just across midfield, but stalled and had to punt. They managed to down the punt on the 1 foot line, pinning Alabama as deep in their own territory as is possible. At this point, Miss Auburn Smoker came back inside. As soon as she stepped in again, Alabama's quarterback lobbed a pass deep downfield to his favorite wide receiver, who ran it all the way down for a touchdown. Auburn fans were in shock. It was now 28-21 Alabama's favor with 10 minutes left in the entire game.
|Auburn is running out of time|
Auburn's ball. They couldn't do anything. Alabama's ball. They couldn't do anything. Auburn - nothing. Alabama got the ball back and drove down the field. They stalled and had to attempt a field goal. But it was BLOCKED with less than 3 minutes left in the game.
For the next 2 minutes of the game, Miss Auburn Smoker went outside and just smoked like a freight train, never coming back inside again for fear that she might jinx Auburn and help Alabama.
Auburn began driving down the field. In the next 2 minutes Auburn managed to ride the momentum of the blocked field goal and move all the way down to Alabama's 39 yard line. And then they threw a pass which was run in for a very important touchdown.
There was only 32 seconds left and the game was now TIED!
Alabama received the kickoff and ran it back to the 29 yard line, which is pretty good field position to start off at. Surprisingly, with so little time left, Alabama tried a pass which was incomplete and then ran the ball twice, burning a lot of time off the clock. On the final running play their running back had to sprint for the sidelines to get out of bounds in order to stop the clock before time ran out. At first the refs looked at the clock and saw that it showed 0:00 and called it over, end of regulation play and on to an overtime quarter. But Alabama's coach argued that the player touched his foot out of bounds with 1 second left on the clock. Instant replay showed that he was right, and 1 second was put back on the clock.
Rather than line up for a Hail Mary desperation pass, Alabama brought out their long-distance field goal kicker and had him attempt a 57 yard field goal. Even by pro standards it was a long attempt. And this was at Jordan Hare Stadium, which is an outdoor stadium, not some insulated, breezeless dome.
The Alabama fans in the room began screaming at Miss Auburn Smoker to GET BACK IN HERE! She was pressed against the glass shaking her head 'no' and watching with stress-filled eyes. Alabama's kicker lined up, took measured steps to his left and motioned for the ball to be snapped. Auburn placed one man down in the endzone just in case the kick fell short and he had a chance to catch the ball and try to run it back. It's legal to run back a missed field goal so long as the ball is caught before it touches or goes out of bounds, but it rarely happens.
The ball was snapped. The kicker nailed it up into the air. It looked high enough. It looked straight and long enough. But then it began to drift to the side a little. And then it fell just short. The Auburn receiver caught it and stood there for a second. It seemed the game was going into overtime. Alabama fans were groaning. And then the Auburn receiver began to sprint out of the endzone, Auburn players racing to block in front of him as best they could. He ran straight to his left, right to the sideline, even teetering a bit at the edge of the field as if he was in danger of losing his balance and falling out of bounds. Alabama had their biggest, strongest linemen out on the field to make sure their long-distance kicker had the protection he needed for a long, lower than normal kick. But the big guys weren't as fast as the usual special teams unit. Auburn players made a wall of blockers along the side of the field and left room for their receiver to sprint by behind them as they held off the Alabama players. We all sat there watching this without much reaction, waiting for the lone Alabama player to reach past his blocker and shove the receiver out of bounds. He was sprinting along a tightrope, after all, and wouldn't take much to knock out of bounds.
|Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!|
But no one ever broke through. The Auburn receiver, with 0 seconds left on the clock, ran all the way down the field to the far endzone and scored the final touchdown of the game. Auburn won 34-28, not even bothering to kick the extra point because it didn't matter. Alabama fans were crushed. Danny was talking about how he felt sure the receiver had stepped out. We all sort of waited to see if there was a review of the run that showed him stepping out. But none of the camera angles shown in the many replays ever gave us anything that appeared he stepped out. Miss Auburn Smoker came bounding inside again, cheering at the top of her lungs. I looked at her and asked "What the hell were you smoking out there?! How did you do that?" She just laughed.
And then something odd happened. Several Alabama fans came and shook my hand and said, "Good game." I was stunned. When I played sports we shook hands and said "good game" after the game was over, but the fans never did that. I had never been to any game where I, as a fan, shook hands with the fans of the other team and said "good game." I suppose the Alabama fans were so into this game that it felt as if they had played it themselves. And they were very disappointed. I just shook hands and said "good game" in return, but I didn't say much else. I was in shock. I had no expectation that Auburn would win. It was just assumed that Alabama was going to win this game, then win the SEC Championship game, then go on to the BCS Championship to see if they could win the national title. Now it was all wiped out.
Alabama is today ranked number 4. Auburn only moves up 1 spot to number 3, which does not qualify them for the BCS Championship, so even if they win the SEC Championship it doesn't mean a whole lot. It's kind of a weird victory because it means neither team gets to play for the championship and some non-SEC team is going to be the national champion. Even Auburn fans would prefer that Alabama be the national champs over anyone outside of their conference, like Ohio State for example. Ah well, life is filled with surprises.
|The Thrill of Victory|