Jan. 21, 2014
MOBILE, Ala. - They didn't win the biggest game of them all, and for Auburn's football seniors of 2013 there will always be an emptiness that can't quite be filled. But there will be pride, too, and lots of it.
Defensive end Dee Ford, cornerback Chris Davis, fullback Jay Prosch and kicker Cody Parkey began the next stage of their football lives here Monday with their first practice for Saturday's Senior Bowl. Their focus was on performing well for the dozens of NFL scouts that are watching their every move.
But what happened on the night of January 6 in faraway Pasadena, Calif., was still with them.
In the BCS Championship Game, they left a piece of themselves on the field at the hallowed Rose Bowl. It seemed Auburn had won it when Tre Mason ran 37 yards for a touchdown and a 31-27 lead, but Florida State scored with 13 seconds left to win 34-31. In Gus Malzahn's first season, one year after Auburn's worst season in 60 years, they were one play away from their second national championship in four years.
"It would be different if they had just outright killed us," Prosch said. "I could be at peace with that or at least handle it a little better. But you look back at the game and know there were mistakes and things you wish you could have changed. Those are the ones that make you sick.
"You start changing stuff in your head, but it doesn't matter. It's over."
Ford has had a daily reminder almost since days after the game. He and Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith have worked out together.
"When we say that we got better every day, every game, we really meant that," Ford said. "We played lights out in the last game. Two great teams going head to head like that, it's going to happen. Someone is going to make a play. We just needed to make a stop, but it didn't work out.
"That 40-yard pass. The interference was a bad call. They had been playing physical the whole game. That ball wasn't catchable. But we can't look at that. Florida State made plays."
But all the seniors who were on the field that night know, too, what they did in going 12-2 and finishing No. 2 in the nation a season after going 3-9. They transformed a football program that had seemed to be in a nosedive.
"I look back on the season, and this was a long journey," Ford said. "It started in 2011 once Cam and Nick and all those seniors left. We pretty much set the bar for the years to come."
Prosch said he will always be proud of the Auburn team that came marching from oblivion to within seconds of the national championship.
"Oh, no doubt," Prosch said. "This year has been amazing for me and everybody else. Even though we didn't win it all, we came so far and accomplished so much. It's still been a great season in my book."
Said Parkey: "Coach Malzahn's first year we make it to the national championship? When he has guys for more than one year, it's going to be amazing what he can do with that team."
As the seniors of 2013 move on with their lives - to the NFL or to earn a living like the rest of us - the Tigers of 2014 are beginning offseason workouts. They look ahead with confidence at what is to come.
They can do that because a senior class that had experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows wouldn't have it any other way.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: