Jan. 8, 2014
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – The great Auburn adventure that was the 2013 football season is finally over. As I sit here in the hotel room that has been home for the past nine days, it’s early on Wednesday morning. I’ll be flying home in a few hours. It’s still difficult to get my hands around what happened over the past year.
When Gus Malzahn was introduced as head coach on Dec. 4, 2012, I thought there was a good chance that he was the right man at the right time for Auburn football. He knew most of the players and had recruited many of them. I knew his offense would score points. I thought, in time, he would make Auburn a big winner again.
I never imagined that night that “in time” would mean in his first season.
That the Auburn Tigers of 2103 won 12 games and came literally within seconds of winning the national championship is, in one man’s humble opinion, the most remarkable accomplishment in all the history of Auburn football.
Players who had been abandoned by the previous staff became major contributors. Tre Mason, who waited so patiently for the chance to prove himself, became the best running back in the country and had the best season of any running back in Auburn history. Nick Marshall arrived from junior college in the summer. No Auburn quarterback – not even Heisman Trophy winners Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton – was more cool in the clutch.
The offensive line became perhaps the nation’s best. Greg Robinson became the most dominating offensive tackle I’ve ever covered. If Reese Dismukes wasn’t the best center in the country, I didn’t see who was. Chris Davis blossomed into a star as a cover corner and a punt returner. At every position, the Tigers got better week after week.
The 2013 Auburn team wasn’t the most talented of Auburn teams, though it certainly had some great players. These Tigers won again and again through the sheer force of their will. They bought into everything Malzahn and his remarkable coaching staff said.
Though it won’t be remembered as it should because it didn’t hold up, Auburn’s drive to the go-ahead touchdown was so typical of the season. A 100-yard kickoff return with just more than four minutes left had given the Seminoles their first lead of the game.
Auburn’s response? Go get a touchdown. Marshall hit a big third-down pass, Mason ran again and again and finally broke loose for a 37-yard touchdown that gave Auburn the lead with 1:19 left. Ironically, if he’d been stopped short and more time had run off the clock, Auburn might have won.
Instead, Florida State, to its credit, did what it had to do and drove 80 yards in the last 1:11 to win the game and the national championship. The disappointment will always be with the Auburn players who gave so much.
But something much more important will always be with them, too. They revived Auburn football, and they did it the right way. These Auburn players weren’t just popular among Auburn people because they won. They were beloved because of the way they did it.
No, they’re not national champions. But they made their place in Auburn history. As long as Auburn football is played, the Tigers of 2013 will be remembered as a shining example of what it means to play the game with passion and pride and to never give up.
That’s a legacy more important than any other.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: