Like most people today, I didn't really give much thought to this week's game vs. Tennessee- Chattanooga. I didn't even think about the trip — waking up early, dressing, fighting traffic and so forth — until sometime Friday after Leeds' win over Madison Academy (which included my first-ever encounter with Charles Barkley). Predictably, most Alabama fans showed up late and groggy (many thanks to the university's many benevolent Greek students, by the way, who chose not to show up at all), the team looked sluggish on the first series, then put things together and took a 35-0 lead into halftime. It was as easy a win as one would expect in such a situation.
As the Million Dollar Band introduced its 2009-2010 senior class (all of them receiving handshakes from ... someone) I sent a text to my cousin Rob — like me, a long-suffering 'Bama fan who grew up in Opelika, in our (very pro-Auburn) family — with the following two ideas:
• Someone should ask coach Saban if he wouldn't mind coming out at halftime on Senior Day to do this handshake thing with the band, just to see what he'd say.
• Auburn Week can start right now.
His response: "It's already started."
Much of the dominant storyline in the national media, of course — as has been documented endlessly in multiple outlets — has revolved around Alabama-Florida, almost since the season began. Once it became obvious that both teams were cruising to division titles, that storyline kicked into a fever pitch — I saw at least three different "Alabama-Florida" spots today on television, and neither team was playing a game of any consequence (the Gators, for what it's worth, dismantled Florida International in their ongoing quest to win the Florida state championship). Obviously, the game will be a huge affair between two great programs and two great coaches.
Honestly, though, Florida couldn't matter less to me right now. Thoughts of Pasadena and a return to national prominence, frankly, can wait until next week. The only thing that matters this week — and it's a short week, mind you — is beating Auburn and securing control of the state. In short, avoiding a fate like the one pictured above.
Surprisingly absent in this week's discussion (at least for now — I'm sure it will come up at some point) is that this game will mark the 20th anniversary of Alabama's first-ever trip to Jordan-Hare (or, as I like to call it, The Death of the Iron Bowl). Just like will happen Friday, Alabama came into Jordan-Hare undefeated and ranked second in the nation; Alabama had, at that point, lost three straight to Auburn and five of seven (the worst such losing streak until ... well, you know).
If you don't know how that one turned out, any Auburn fan can tell you with some authority: the Tigers (who, by the way, missed being undefeated by only a handful of plays that season and ultimately shared the SEC Championship with 'Bama & Tennessee) outplayed, outcoached and simply outdid Alabama that day. Auburn won 30-20, Bill Curry left the state pretty much the next week and all the good feelings from that season were erased quickly (the team ultimately sleepwalked through a Sugar Bowl game against Miami and finished 10-2).
(Note: The game at Auburn also marked the last time my parents — an Auburn/'Bama duo — sat together at an Auburn-'Bama game. The breaking point: early in the second half, a Kevin Turner fumble killed a Tide drive. Dad, assassin-like, paid his respects to everyone and fled the premises like someone leaving a crime scene. It was for the best.)
Anyway, if you want good omens, this is also the anniversary of another big Auburn-'Bama game: the '99 version, when eventual SEC champ Alabama came to town to face an undermanned Auburn team (Tommy Tuberville's first). That Alabama team had a) a coaching problem; b) a quarterbacking problem, both of which saw it fall into an early 14-6 hole (and really, it could've been worse than that). And it looked like Auburn might carry the day after standing up Shaun Alexander to kill a big 'Bama drive in the third quarter. But, the Tide got a safety on the ensuing snap (Dad joked afterward that Kindal Moorehead should contribute some money and try to get Auburn to rename the South end zone after him), then took over and pounded Auburn in the fourth quarter, winning 28-17 and giving Alabama fans the chance to sing "Rammer Jammer" for the first time ever on The Plains.
We'll get to actual game analysis later in the week. Just know that this week is special for me, and I'm doing everything I can to relish the moment. When I'm not feeling I'm going to throw up, I mean.
Some thoughts from Saturday:
— The UTC game was, of course, everything you expect in a middling game against a lower-division opponent: some big plays early, an easy score and a lot of face time for the reserves. Star Jackson may have difficulty sitting down, however, after the lashes he received midway through the third (he stupidly took a 10-yard sack on third down to knock the offense out of field goal range).
— One big problem with games like Saturday: more people bring their small children, which means it's less tasteful to swear and question the other team's manhood (not that I'd do that or anything). There was, however, a 10-year-old sitting next to me who reminded me very much of myself — he told me some tidbits he'd heard on the radio, reminded me that the third-string quarterback is Thomas Darrah and knows who Marcel Dareus is. It was a treat.
— Alabama was penalized today for an obscure penalty very few people even knew about: roughing the snapper, a personal foul. Rest assured, folks, it absolutely is a penalty (albeit a rarely enforced one). Thought that was interesting.
— It was good to see Javier Arenas finally score on a punt return in 2009. Fitting, too, since Arenas has been the most consistently good weapon for Alabama in the last four years. And his interception in the third quarter was textbook for Nick Saban-coached defenses — he simply read the route and beat the receiver to the football.
— It was also good to see Roy Upchurch get in the end zone. He's had a difficult year.
— Here's hoping the people in charge of the Bryant-Denny Stadium gameday experience think of some different things before 2010. For example, how 'bout we lose the Black-Eyed Peas? And maybe the goofy graphics that appear to be a combination of "Lord of the Rings" and "The Shining?" Just a couple ideas.
Here's another one: if we really find it necessary to play a freaking elephant noise, why don't we spend some money and steal Colonel Hathi's march from "The Jungle Book?"
Oh, and one more thing: you can't play a random clip from "Kingdom of Heaven" to energize the crowd when nobody in the crowd saw that movie or has any idea what the hell is going on. If you need to play a ridiculous movie clip to fire people up, try the 40 motivational speeches in 2 minutes thing from youtube.
We've got until next August to work on it. For now, though, what matters is Friday. And Auburn.