Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rivalry Series - Auburn

Reprinted here, for our "AUBURN MUST DIE!" week, is our rivalry piece on Auburn from this past January:

The Tigers (War Eagles, Plainsmen?) of Auburn University

Why it is important – Second only to Georgia in the number of times the Gators have faced them, Auburn was an annual rival until the SEC rescheduling in 2003. Since first playing in 1912, the teams have met 81 times, with Auburn having a very slight 41-38-2 edge. Although sadly no longer a yearly rival, perhaps no team since the beginning of the Spurrier era (1990) has acted as more of a foil to the Gators in their SEC schedule than Auburn. After beating the Tigers his first 3 years (1990-1992), in 1993 a probation laden Auburn team upset Spurrier’s undefeated and 4th ranked Gators 38-35 in Auburn (in a game not even televised due to Auburn’s sanctions). And although Florida would win the SEC that year, the Auburn loss coupled with an FSU loss squelched any higher hopes (non-Bowl eligible Auburn went 11-0 that season).

In 1994 a number 1 ranked Gator team faced a 6th ranked Auburn at the Swamp in what would become Spurrier’s first SEC loss at home during his tenure. The Tigers won on a end of game drive to defeat Florida 36-33. Although the Gators again won the SEC, the Auburn loss and subsequent FSU tie kept the Gators from “national championship” contention.

In 2001, it happened all over again. The undefeated and 1st ranked Gators lost 23-20 at Auburn which, coupled with the infamous Tennessee loss the last game of the season, prevented both an SEC title shot and a “national championship” shot.

In the area of fresh wounds, this season’s stunning debacle at Auburn kept the Gator’s otherwise dream season from being perfect.

Why they are good – Auburn is good, yet somehow strangely cursed. While the Gators two MNC’s have come from teams with one loss seasons, Auburn in the past 13 years has had two undefeated seasons with no hardware to show for it. In 1993 the reason was perfectly explainable, as Auburn was ineligible for a bowl bid due to sanctions. In 2004 however it was inexplicable, as an undefeated SEC champion Auburn was excluded from the eventual blowout of a BCS title game between USC and Oklahoma.

Under current coach Tommy Tuberville, Auburn has been one of the better SEC teams. During the past seven years, the Tigers have won an SEC Championship and five Western Division titles. Auburn has made seven consecutive bowl appearances including five New Year's Day bowl berths. Auburn also has 5 consecutive victories over hated rival Alabama.

The Tiger’s home, the venerable Jordan-Hare stadium, while not quite the intimidating edifice of either LSU’s Tiger Stadium or Tennessee’s Neyland, is still one of the toughest venues in SEC football. Opened in 1939, the stadium currently holds in excess of 87,000 fans. I first visited Jordan-Hare in 1991, and was immediately impressed by the scene, including the enthusiasm of the avid if somewhat too well dressed fans. The Tigers have been very successful there over the years, with a winning percentage of around 80% at home since the stadium opened.

Why we hate them – Besides the aforementioned victories by the Tigers over Florida in 93’, 94’, 01’ and 06’, for much of Gator football history Auburn and Georgia constituted a twin nemesis that the Gators were usually unable to overcome. When Florida began playing the Tigers in 1912, Auburn won the first 5 games, usually blowout margins. Starting in 1956, Auburn and Georgia were scheduled in back-to-back games that became known to Gator fans as “amen corner” on the schedule. After beating both teams in a row during that 1956 season, the Gators would do it again only in 1962 and 1973 until the “miracle” of 1986, a twice interrupted period of 30 years where the Gators could not overcome both of their vaunted foes.

I remember very clearly as a freshman in 1984 the hushed trepidation that older Gator fans spoke of when talking about “amen corner” on the schedule.The loss to either team during this period had very real consequences, usually keeping the Gators from SEC title contention. Not only that, neither Gator greats Steve Spurrier nor Emmitt Smith beat both teams in a single season during their Florida careers. In Spurrier’s case, a brilliant win against Auburn in 1966 (cementing the Heisman on a play simply known as “The Kick”) gave way the next week in a 27-10 loss to Georgia.In Smith’s case it was even worse. In his 3 memorable years at Florida (1987-1989), the teams Emmitt played on were 0-6 versus Auburn and Georgia. Anyone from that era can recall Emmitt breaking down in tears after his final game in the series, knowing he would never defeat either team. Recently, an Auburn grad acquaintance from the era reminded me that “We made Emmitt cry.”It’s not hard to dislike fans who can conjure up such memories.

Why they hate us – As they have been a nemesis to us, so have we been to them. In 1986 at what remains as the most exciting Gator game this writer has ever personally witnessed, a 3-4 Gator team upset the unbeaten and 5th ranked Tigers at Florida Field 18-17. In the game, an injured Kerwin Bell led the Gators to late touchdown to make the score 17-16 in Auburn’s favor. Coach Hall made the call to go for “2”, and a limping Bell scored the go ahead 2 point conversion himself on a broken play. The game would cost Auburn any shot at the SEC or MNC. And although the 1990’s saw 2 surprising back to back Auburn wins in 93’-94’, the majority of the decade was a story of Gator dominance. In Spurrier’s first year, the Gators humiliated a 4th ranked Auburn team with a 48-7 whipping in Gainesville. A 7th ranked Auburn team lost to Florida 49-38 in 1995, there was the 51-10 blowout of a 16th ranked Auburn team in 1996, and the 6th ranked Tigers fell 24-10 to Florida at Auburn in 1997. And, in the single year Auburn got to face Ron Zook, they lost a heartbreaker in overtime in Gainesville (2002: 30-23).

Finally, as with any team that has played the Gators for any length of time, Spurrier was a source of enmity at Auburn also. Spurrier, as was his habit, never passed on the chance to poke fun at any Florida rival, and Auburn was no exception. Upon hearing of a fire at the Auburn football dormitory one year that destroyed 20 books, Spurrier commented "But the real tragedy was that fifteen hadn't been colored yet."

Summary – When I first went to Auburn in 1991, I remember thinking “This is what SEC football is all about!” The scene was complete with attractive Alabama girls in their best outfits, and the smell of bourbon and BBQ in the air (Auburn fans get dressed up for games, with men in coats and ties and ladies in dresses). It was an evening game that saw a beautiful sunset over Jordan-Hare, as well as a sunset on the Tigers, as the Gator’s crushed them 31-10. As I stood on the top of a rental van after the game, holding a scorecard above my head, a well placed beer can from an Auburn fan reminded me that I was in enemy territory, 21 point win or not.

I continue to believe that it is a shame that, for whatever reason, the SEC saw it fit in 2003 to rearrange the schedules to give each team only one permanent cross-conference opponent, thus removing Auburn from Florida’s annual schedule after so many years. In doing so, perhaps some of the rivalry of this contest has diminished, at least in the “off” years when the teams do not meet. Certainly however, Auburn was one of Florida’s most important and bitter rivals for the better part of 40 years, and this year’s Auburn win did much to promote that rivalry through at least next year.

Because this year Tigers, you are in our Swamp.

1 comment:

james randall gunter, auburn class of 02 said...

First, as an Auburn Alum and current Gainesville resident, I don't hate the Gators. You say in your commentary that you were hit with a beer can after the 1991 game. Well, after the 1996 game, I and three of my fellow friends had to press vandalism charges against three gator fans-obiviously neither incident I would want to say involved hopefully the unsportsman being an alum of either school. All colleges have that experience. So I say to Gators today, good luck on 9/28, and to not be hateful of us Tigers. Now for Noles, Bama fans, and Vols, lets hate them with a passion