Tuesday, January 30, 2007

To be a Gator - Part 3

Third in a series on Florida's rivals. Rivals are being covered in order of traditional annual play, with upcoming pieces on Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State.

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 hate 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 next year Tigers, you are in our Swamp.

Next - Those Dawgs of Georgia


Matt said...

I just graduated from UF, and spent an extra year in Gainesville. A bonus was an extra season of football. A bunch of friends decided to go to the Auburn game, as we have a friend who's a grad student there and was able to get us all tickets.

I had never been to either an away game, nor a game with Auburn (I stupidly didn't get into football until my Junior year). But after that game, I will hate Auburn forever.

My friend got me tickets in the alumni section, and I had nothing but good things to report. Even as the Gators fell apart, the Auburn fans around us were classy and we all shook hands as we left. But for my friends, who got tickets in the student section, it was very different.

They were assualted continiously. Pom-Poms were constantly swatted in their face. My friend who is a grad student at that school, who had tripped over a fence and had dislocated his knee a few hours earlier, was pushed down the stairs and if it wasn't for his girlfriend, would have probably added more to his injury count for the evening.

So between hearing of the attacks on my friends, and seeing Auburn not do anything right, but still win that damned game, I will loathe that team for all time. I'll probalby go watch games there again, but make sure I don't get tickets in the student section.

Anonymous said...

I'm really enjoying UF's Rivalry Series.

I can't wait until FSU -- just finished reading a thread on Warchant@Rivals asking all the Noles which team they hate the most.

We won hands down.


Mergz said...

Thanks Linda.

FSU and Georgia are going to be the hardest to write, as they are the most intense.

I hope I can do them justice.

Anonymous said...

Roaminggator here:

I was born in Jacksonville, FL and we moved to Montgomery, AL when I was 7. So, I had to live around Alabama and Auburn fans most of my life. It wasn't pleasant, and when we started beating them it was even more unpleasant.

Losses to Auburn stick out in my mind among some of the other tragic defeats in UF History. In 1989 We were in Auburn and I was at the game. We led 7-3 most of the way, until a late TD drive by Auburn put them up 10-7 for good. The place went nuts. Auburn fans are notorious for those pompom shakers and they shake them in your face....The student section starting throwing their cups onto the field. I tried to get back to our car as fast as possible- while being heckled by Auburn Fans- I was 13 at the time.

The 93 and 94 losses hurt even more because we were ranked high nationally. I will say this, though. I have always gotten along better with Auburn fans than those stuck up arrogant Bama fans.

Anonymous said...

So for Georgia, can you pleae remember to point out that MSU is a bigger thorn in our sides than the Dawgs of late, honestly I think pointing out that the Bulldogs in Starkville are the ones who actually beat us, is just about my favorite taunt (it's even self-deprecating).

Anonymous said...

I've lived in auburn for 18 years and when the college decision came up, florida was where i decided to go (currently a jr at uf).

I have seen every aub vs uf game since 94 (still remember going to toomer's corner after that one). florida has always been auburn's 3rd biggest rival. as an auburn, bama you just hated, uga you kinda respected but florida was the most fun to root against because of spurrier, the gator's dominant offense and the reputation florida fans have.

since joining uf, the auburn game remains the wierdest moment of my life; i still want auburn to win every game but I feel like a traitor to both teams by having any positive feeling towards the other.

Since meyer and donovan have taken care of business, its easier to cheer for florida but auburn has that red sox or cubs appeal where you agonize and hope for success but only to be met with utter failure. in the end, florida will be the source of my joy while auburn will provide my painful pleasure.

Anonymous said...

As an Auburn alum, I must say I miss having Florida as a yearly rival; you mention "Amen Corner," which is also what Pat Dye names Auburn's end-of-season stretch of Florida-Georgia-alabama. And despite the Gator's domination (not a strong enough word, if you ask me) during the Spurrier reign, this series has been full of great games.

One correction, though: the only people I see getting dressed up for games are the fraternity and sorority kids. The rest of us wonder who they think they are impressing; it's not a habit that carries on after graduation.

Anonymous said...

Dear Matt, I'm glad you had a great time at the Auburn-UF game but I'm sorry that your friends were accosted in the Auburn student section.

Real quick statement, I was at the game and repeatedly had shakers in my face and was nearly pushed down the stairs, all the while wearing my Auburn jersey.

Something to consider is that they were in a rival's student section. A precarious place for any rival fan. I'm not sure how you would have expected to be treated but considering the fact that he didn't get his head kicked in I think makes Auburn a more friendly place than say LSU.

Oh and regarding the Spurrier coloring book comment. Just take a peek at the Princeton Review's top campus libraries...I guess we finished coloring in all of our books because we're pretty high up there.