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Dec. 14, 2016

We had just beaten Michigan 9-7 in a hard-fought game at the Super Dome on January 2, 1984.

Most of us rode home with our parents the next day, thinking we had just won the National Championship. We had been ranked No. 3 in the nation heading into the Sugar Bowl, and the day was turning out just as Auburn fans had dreamed it might.

It seemed logical that the Associated Press would name us National Champions that week after both No. 1 and No. 2 lost, but something unprecedented happened. Voters jumped No. 5 Miami all the way to No. 1 after the Hurricanes upset top-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

As tough as it was, the sting of the slight from voters didn't take away what we had accomplished. The 1984 Sugar Bowl was a statement game for Auburn. The entire 1983 season became a foundation for our football program that would stand the test of time. It was built on the backs of young men who toiled through blood, sweat and tears in Coach Dye's early years.

Auburn had finally arrived.

Bo Jackson looks for running room in Auburn's historic 9-7 win over Michigan in the 1984 Sugar Bowl.

Those of us who played on that special team were not surprised to see the football program go on a historic run a few years later under Coach Dye's leadership. Auburn won three straight SEC championships from 1987 through 1989.

The success of those years proved Auburn could compete with anybody in the country, which we learned in the 1983 season with wins over No. 5 Florida, No. 7 Maryland, No. 4 Georgia, No. 19 Alabama and of course Big 10 champion Michigan in the Big Easy.

It was in many ways the beginning of our Golden Era, as it's been called. It put Auburn football on the map nationally and forever changed our expectations. Including mine.

What the 2016 team did this year by finishing the regular season as the SEC's second-highest ranked team and getting to the Sugar Bowl is a remarkable accomplishment, especially after a tough start. The chance to compete against an outstanding Oklahoma team on a big stage will be a phenomenal experience for our players. And it will prepare our underclassmen for even bigger games on bigger stages in the future.

1983 SEC Champion Auburn Tigers
The 1983 SEC Champion Auburn Tigers

But make no mistake about it. Our goal every year is to get to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. And we all know the importance of beating our biggest rivals. Nobody wants to win those games more than the players who pay the price to represent Auburn during early-morning winter workouts, spring practice and fall camp, long after the last roar has been heard each season at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

I'm proud of this team and what they've accomplished. They've earned our respect. They need and deserve our support in New Orleans.

The Auburn Family has always rallied to support its team, and I know we can count on them again at the Sugar Bowl, which promises to be as tough a game as we've played all year.

Al Del Greco
Al Del Greco kicked Auburn past Michigan in the 1984 Sugar Bowl, knocking three field goals through to propel Auburn to a 9-7 win. He kicked the game winner with :23 remaining.

It will have been exactly 33 years to the date since Auburn football took a major step forward thanks to the sure foot of my good friend Al Del Greco, who kicked three field goals to push us past the Wolverines that night in New Orleans.

A season to remember

Sugar Bowl

As legendary college football writer and my good friend Tony Barnhart wrote in this superb piece on the 1984 Sugar Bowl, Al was one of only a few players on the team plane who flew back to Montgomery from New Orleans. He went straight to his dorm room and hadn't heard anything until he got a phone call from Sports Information Director David Housel with the disappointing news.

The National Championship trophies may not have ended up were Auburn fans thought they belonged, but nothing could take the shine off a season that made the Auburn Family proud.

As quarterback Randy Campbell shared last week, what happened 33 years ago wouldn't likely happen again, not after three SEC championships since 2004, two appearances in the National Championship game and a crystal ball.

Auburn football has come a long way. The football program's past success and bright future is a credit to those faithful fans and season ticket holders who have for decades supported the Tigers through good times and bad.

What gives me such pride and appreciation for them is knowing they support their team year after year, no matter what, not because they believe winning football games alone defines who we are. They give and they sacrifice because we're different. We're special. We're Auburn. I'm grateful for that every day.

And I'm especially thankful for the Auburn Family during this special time of year.

Thank you for your past and present support. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year. I hope to celebrate it with you in New Orleans.

God Bless and War Eagle!

Jay Jacobs

You can also follow me on Twitter at @jayjacobsauad.

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