As a child growing up, I worshiped the Atlanta Falcons. Every Sunday I would sit with my father and watch the Falcons. I was so into them that when they lost, I cried. For most of my childhood, I cried every Sunday.
They say the apple does not fall far from the tree, and so it is with the 9-year-old Hurricane boy and 10-year-old princess girl. Thirty-eight seconds to go, Auburn has blown what seemed to be an insurmountable lead, and I look beside me where my children should be seated watching Auburn’s last gasp.
Instead, the Hurricane is in a ball below the seat, tears welling up in his eyes, saying over and over, “I think I’m going to cry. Auburn’s going to lose.” I didn’t bother to tell him he was already crying, but I couldn’t talk right then because I was crying.
The Princess was on her knees, facing opposite the field, hands in perfect prayer formation uttering unintelligible words of desperation. Little did I know that in a few fleeting moments the world as they knew it was about to change, at least as it relates to Auburn football.
But flashback: It was a perfect autumn day for the 117th playing of the Auburn/Georgia series, the oldest rivalry in the South knotted dead even at 54-54 and 8 ties. Because of a quirk in the schedule, Georgia was forced to play Auburn for the second year in a row at Auburn. In any normal series this would be a great disadvantage, but this is no ordinary series, with each team having a better record at the other’s field than at their own home field.
I watched in delight as Auburn rolled up huge chunks of yardage, seemingly unstoppable as Georgia floundered around.
By the fourth quarter with 12 minutes to go, Auburn leading 37-17, I decided Auburn might have the best team I have seen in my lifetime of watching them play. Yes, better than Pay Dye’s three straight SEC championships, better than Terry Bowden’s 20-game winning streak, better than Tommy Tubberville’s 2004 undefeated team, and even better than Cam Newton and the National Title in 2010.
But then, a faint squeaking began to be heard.
At first it was barely noticeable, just a 10-yard holding penalty on a kick return pinning us down at our own 10 yard line. Then a personal foul adding 15 yards to an already big Georgia play, and then our receiver ran over our tailback on a critical third down play and the squeaking became a roar.
Yes, the wheels weren’t just coming off the Gus bus. It imploded. The best ever team became Akron.
Aaron Murray sliced up Auburn’s defense like Freddy Kruger. Georgia’s defense suddenly became the Steel Curtain and we are behind 38-37. I declared I was burning my Auburn/Alabama tickets and would now retire from college football, watching bowling on Saturdays instead.
So, here we are — 4th down, 18 yards to go on our own 27 yard line. Auburn has just collapsed faster than the French in World War II, and my children will likely be scarred forever.
Marshall heaves an ill- advised bomb to Louis, who is only covered by the entire Georgia secondary. A French poodle would stand a better chance thrown into the arena with a pit bull.
But then it happened. God himself reached down — or Satan, if you are a Bulldog fan — and gently laid the ball into the Auburn receiver’s hands, bouncing off the Georgia defender first.
The little boy was spared the agony and tears turned to joy. The Princess, once again, claims dominion over answered prayers. Auburn wins a game they did not deserve. I paid a visit to the honey bourbon, and Alabama looms big — very big — in two weeks.
As to the Falcons … we are back to crying every Sunday.
Email T. Gamble at firstname.lastname@example.org.