Jan. 3, 2011
By Jack Smith
Phoenix -- Fiesta Bowl hosts wearing their trademark canary jackets literally rolled out the red carpet for the arrival of the Auburn Tigers at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport early Monday evening, one week before the 2011 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.
The team stepped off the plane to the sounds of a mariachi band, boarded buses wrapped in Auburn colors and headed to the team hotel in Scottsdale, where they were warmly welcomed by some 100 alumni and fans from the Phoenix Metro Auburn Club.
"The fans were ecstatic to welcome the team to Arizona," said Senta Ridgeway, who chartered the Phoenix Metro Auburn Club 16 years ago and helped organize Monday's "Tiger Greet."
"This is all about the Auburn family," Ridgeway said. "We've kept it going here in Phoenix. It's so cool to have them playing here and it was great to shake their hands and tell them we're praying for them and thinking about them."
Deborah Adams, an Auburn alumna who has lived in Phoenix for 25 years, said the Auburn Alumni Association sent a box of shakers and other Auburn goodies for the welcome. Adams even brought hand sanitizer and insisted every fan use it before slapping fives with the players, who will play for the school's first National Championship since 1957 at University of Phoenix Stadium on Jan. 10.
"We just thought it was really important for the team to see some of the fans out here the minute they got here," Adams said. "This is in our backyard. We are hosting. We want to make this the best experience we can for the whole Auburn Family."
The team gathered for a meeting Monday night and prepared for its first practice of the week at Scottsdale Community College, set for Tuesday at 10:45 a.m. Mountain Time.
Auburn flew to Phoenix at mid-day Monday on a charter flight from Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta after leaving to a rousing send-off at the Auburn Athletics Complex. Delta flight attendants sported Auburn caps and "Beat Oregon" buttons, the interior walls of the plane were adorned with Auburn stickers, and the savvy pilot ended every announcement with a hearty "War Eagle!"
Tigers Land Safely in the Desert for Title GameBy JOHN MARSHALL, AP College Football Writer
PHOENIX (AP) -- After Auburn's skyscraper-sized plane landed beneath the glowing sky of a desert sunset, Tigers coach Gene Chizik was the first to walk down the portable staircase.
He went inside a white tent for a media session, shook a few hands and headed toward the fleet of buses waiting on the tarmac.
Auburn's players were still filing off the plane.
That's some contingent.
Bringing what seemed like half the state of Alabama with them, the top-ranked Tigers arrived a Sky Harbor Airport Monday evening for the Jan. 10 BCS national championship game against No. 2 Oregon (12-0) at University of Phoenix Stadium in nearby Glendale.
"We've been looking forward to this now for a lot of days," Chizik said. "We're very blessed to be here. We brought close to 400 people on that huge plane that you saw out there and we're excited to play in this game."
So, too, it seems are Auburn fans.
Back in Alabama, Auburn was sent off by a mass of well-wishers who gathered dozens deep around the team buses, yelling encouragement and taking photos.
Once they arrived in the desert, the Tigers were greeted by another large group, cheering and waving pompoms as they lined a red carpet between the plane and buses.
More adulation along the route to the hotel in central Scottsdale; dozens of fans lined the road north and about 150 were waiting at the team hotel, forcing officials to clear room for the bus to get into the parking lot.
Auburn's players and coaches soaked it in, inspired and ready to hit the practice field Tuesday morning.
"This is a business trip and a lifetime, possibly, opportunity -- you don't know when you're going to get a chance to be here again," Chizik said. "Hopefully often, but you never know. And I think our guys know the importance of the game and how huge this is."
Auburn hasn't won a national title since 1957 and still feels the sting from 2004, when USC and Oklahoma played for the championship while the unbeaten Tigers weren't invited, relegated to the Sugar Bowl instead.
Auburn (13-0) was nearly unstoppable on its march to the national title game this season.
The Tigers had one of the nation's most prolific offenses and its best player in quarterback Cam Newton, who didn't allow a pay-for-play plot by his father derail his Heisman Trophy season.
The Tigers rolled through the regular season and put an emphatic cap on it in the SEC Championship, pounding South Carolina 56-17 behind Newton's six combined touchdowns.
That was a month ago, leaving Auburn plenty of time to think about the importance of the situation and the difficulty that lies in stopping Oregon's ants-out-of-the-anthill offense.
So far, the Tigers have handled it pretty well, overlooking all the distractions, attention and importance of the opportunity to get in nearly three weeks of solid practices.
"That's one of the reasons why we're playing in this game," Chizik said of his team's focus. "One of the great things our coaches have done and our players have been able to do is know what the circumstances are and take it one day at a time, focus on what the task at hand is."
Keep that focus for one more week, and that giant plane that landed Monday could become a flying party bus heading back to Alabama.