This past weekend my girlfriend Brittney and I traveled to a little place called Pasadena, home to what Keith Jackson likes to call the “Grand Daddy of them All.” Yes, fresh off a Sparty win in the Rose Bowl on New Years Day, the stadium would also be host to the final BCS National Championship game under the current scrambled up mess. The game would match War Eagle against Tomahawk, or for all of you not familiar with college football traditions, the Auburn Tigers vs. Florida State Seminoles.
We arrived in Los Angeles, but stayed away from Pasadena for the first few nights, as two nights at the Super 8 in Pasadena were going for $1,500. As game day approached, it was becoming increasingly clear that much more Auburn orange had made the trip than Seminole red. The game was Monday evening, but as we had been told over and over by locals, “Get there early”. This is because getting into the Rose Bowl is like going through security at the airport; there is only one way in and one way out. Luckily, we took an Uber car and were able to get dropped off somewhat close. Upon exiting the car, it was as if we had been teleported to the campus of Auburn University for a home game. It was like a “Where’s Waldo” hunt to find a Seminole fan. There was no question concerning which team traveled better.
Brittney, who is an alumnus of Auburn, made sure I was dressed nice and southern for the occasion so I would fit in with all of the sear sucker pants and Polos that the other Auburn fans were wearing. As we walked through the Auburn tailgates, there seemed to be an echoing of “There goes Davis” and “Oh my God, Auburn’s going to win the football game.” The Seminoles didn’t seem to have many cheers or traditions other than the tomahawk chop and the tribal call that goes along with it. When I say that the crowd was overwhelmingly Auburn fans I am not saying it with a bias. You could ask FSU fans, and as long as they were oriented enough to make a non-biased judgement, they would probably say they were outnumbered as well.
Before going on to the game, I want to give you a few observations from the tailgating world. First, I saw my first 40 pairs of orange slacks. I had never seen them before, but now I have seen many. Next, I learned that when in Auburn territory, you can do no wrong so long as you end it with “War Eagle”. This is equivalent to “Bless your heart,” following anything in the rest of the South. Thirdly, I learned that many Seminole fans were predicting the score to be in the ballpark of 48-10. They were very vocal about this as well, calling it judgment day and proclaiming their victory before the game. Next, I observed that while the Rose Bowl gets an “F” grade on ease of getting in and out, they get an “A” on their cleanliness of port-a-johns. I swear every one I went in had sanitizer, toilet paper and sinks with water and soap. Finally, I realized how football really is “life” in the South. Even small children were praying for a win and everyone knew the player’s names, stats, etc.
Okay, enough of that talk; let’s get to the game. Our seats were 62 rows up and directly in-line with the goal line. For the most part, Auburn orange extended down the sideline all the way around and reaching to about the twenty-yard line across from us. Florida State fans dominated from the opposite twenty-yard line around the back of the end zone and right up to the section next to us. A quick guess would say about a 70/30 ratio of Auburn to FSU fans, but the Seminoles can sure make some noise with their tribal singing. By the end of the first half I knew that I would be hearing, “OOOOoooOOooOOOO,” in my sleep at night. It became like the white noise that people use to fall asleep to, except it wasn’t as calming.
After team warm ups and introductions, the national anthem was sung. Blasting fireworks followed, which seemed to make the Seminole horse very restless and anxious, and left a huge cloud of smoke that lingered over the field. I am not sure if those at home noticed but when the game kicked off it was so foggy with smoke that the players on the field were non-existent. To be honest, I am not sure how they started the game in these conditions. Even more interesting was that they continued to shoot off fireworks on future touchdowns despite the fact that the smoke lingered over the field. I didn’t fully understand that, but again, it may have been different for those at home watching on television.
On Florida State’s first drive “Famous Jameis” as he is now called, led the Noles down the field quickly to put them up 3-0. After the good start, it seemed as though Mr. Winston pulled out a beach chair and polished his Heisman Trophy, because he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. When the fourth quarter came around again he snapped out of his “happy place” and mentally checked back into the game.
After the first scoring drive for Florida State, Auburn began to do what they do best, and that is bull over people. In no time it seemed Auburn had now taken control of the game and was leading 21-3. We were surrounded by Auburn fans, and the row behind us had some particularly passionate ones. Directly behind us was a dad and his son. On the right was dad the optimist and on the left was son the pessimist. Both of them were sure they knew better than coach what play should be called next but their roles were not defined until later in the game when the going got tougher. Next to them was a young kid about ten years old that plead to the heavens for an Auburn first down and then a touchdown. When I say plead, I’m talking like this is a life or death situation and someone was going to lose and arm or leg if the prayer was not answered. Most of these prayers were answered in the second quarter as Auburn went into the locker room at halftime up 21-10.
Both teams looked pretty pathetic in the third quarter. Jameis was still trying to hit the barn, but missing, while Auburn continued to run the ball right up the middle despite getting stuffed time after time. At this point the Auburn faithful were still feeling good as they were still up by 11 points. This mindset changed quickly though because FSU got a field goal at the end of the third quarter, and scored a touchdown a few minutes into the fourth quarter. When I refer to the mindset of Auburn faithful I am reverting back to the optimist and the pessimist sitting behind me. Here is the conversation that went on between the son (pessimist) and father (optimist) after Florida State intercepted a Nick Marshall pass leading to a FSU touchdown and a 21-20 Auburn lead.
Son: “Dang it, now were gonna let them score again and lose.”
Dad: “What’s wrong with you? There’s plenty of time left, more than half a quarter.”
Son” “They’ve figured us out, we can’t do anything right now.”
Dad: “Even if they do beat us at least we got here.”
Son: Puts his head in his hands, looking like he may cry
Dad: “I can’t believe you. Why did you even come if you are going to be like this?”
Gives his son a hard pat on the back
“There’s plenty of time so stop acting this way!”
Son: Takes his head out of his hands and looks back at the field. His face as if he was defeated.
Back to the action on the field; Auburn chewed six minutes off the clock marching down the field to get a field goal which made the score 24-20. This didn’t last for long because on the next kickoff Florida Sate took their first lead since 3-0 as the speedy Levonte Whitfield ran the kickoff back 100yd for the touchdown and the 27-24 lead. As you can only imagine, this prompted more bickering from the father/son duo that were behind me.
Son: “See I told you this would happen.”
Dad: “There’s plenty of time. We have 4:30 left to get it back.”
Son: “We keep running up the middle and they know it.”
Dad: “What is wrong with you?”
Back to the game, Auburn did continue running the ball as the pessimist stated, but began getting big gains with a few runs outside. As the optimist predicted, there was plenty of time for them to score as Tre Mason busted loose and took it 37-yards for the go ahead touchdown for Auburn with 1:19 left. The only question at this point was whether Auburn had left too much time for Florida Sate? Well, the answer should have been “no” if Auburn played the type of defense they did most of the game, but instead they made Jameis Winston look like a hero, when in reality his receivers were the heroes. Winston threw 5-7 yard passes on the final drive that his receivers broke loose for huge gains, the biggest of which was a 42-yd run by Rashad Greene after a 7-yd pass (49-yds total). Florida State now had the ball at the 10-yd line with 23-seconds left. The next play resulted in a flag for pass interference in the red zone on Auburn’s super hero of the Iron Bowl; Chris Davis. Now, I’m not arguing whether it was pass interference or not, but there had been blatant holding, late hits and horse collar tackles going on the entire game without any little yellow hankies tossed, so throwing one on that was kind of like altering how the game had been called all along. Regardless, we all know what happened. The Florida State receivers saved Mr. Winston from a whole lot of questioning with the catch by Kelvin Benjamin, which put FSU up 34-31 to win the BCS title. Jameis Winston received the game MVP although he didn’t deserve the game MVP. If I were choosing, I would have given it to Levonte Green whose kickoff return changed the game around, or the receiving core who saved Jameis Winston from losing tons and tons of NFL draft stock.
So instead of celebrating with the nearly 70,000 Auburn fans including the father and son behind me, I had to go home to sounds of Seminole tribal music. It’s kind of nice seeing the SEC not win for once, but why couldn’t it be a year that Nick Saben was in the title game. I think many other fans including LSU, MSU, Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns and all the other teams Saben has jumped ship from would enjoy that. So, the ACC held up the National Championship Trophy this year. Maybe next year it will be the Big Ten Conference who is sure due for a title. Until next year, when we start a new chapter in the college football BCS journey, I say so long from PASA-DENA!