By Jeff Shearer
Since Gus Malzahn's arrival in 2013, Auburn's A-Day game has averaged more than 72,000 in attendance.
Quite a difference from the spring scrimmages Chip Powell, a captain on the '86 team, remembers.
"It was nice, but it was 15, 20, 25,000. It was still Auburn, but nothing like it is today," Powell says. "It's just amazing how everything has grown. It's like a regular gameday on A-Day. It's such a great deal to come, and this year, they're going to honor the team captains. A-Day's great. It's like another football game now."
Auburn's A-Day game is April 9th at 3 p.m.
Powell, along with several hundred Auburn football lettermen, returned to campus Saturday. After watching the Tigers' first scrimmage, they attended a luncheon at Auburn Arena, where coach Gus Malzahn introduced his new assistant coaches, and gave the former players a progress report on spring practice.
Brian Brown played for coach Pat Dye from '87 to `91.
"To new players and to former players, it's something special. It keeps everybody engaged in the program and what's going on," Brown says. "It keeps everybody in tune with the coaches, and players and school.
"Back in the day, if we had 15,000 or 20,000 people here, for us it was crazy," he says. "But now to have anywhere from 75,000 to 85,000 at a spring football game, just means that the game is year-round now."
Jeffrey Whitaker, a defensive lineman from 2010 to `14, was there for Auburn's largest A-Day turnout ever, 83,401, in 2013.
"That's the best thing in the world for a player," Whitaker says. "That does a lot for a player. It shows the commitment level that the fans have to the players. When you go into it, you look forward to things like that. When you look at it, a lot of spring games around the country, it's dead, just like another practice, another scrimmage. You want to put on a show for the fans."
After his first A-Day as Auburn's head coach, in 2013, Malzahn began his press conference by thanking the fans.
"First of all, I just wanted to say I really appreciate the fans. It was kind of overwhelming, 83,000 plus for A-Day. Hats off to our fans. I know that meant unbelievable amounts to our players and coaches, and that's really what stood out to me," Malzahn said in 2013.
Before last year's A-Day game, Malzahn reflected on the importance of a large turnout.
"We've had, I think, the No. 1 or the No.2 the last two years as far as attendance, that's huge. It's huge for our players and our coaches," Malzahn said. "It's huge for recruiting and just shows that we've got the best fans in college football, which I always say. I think last year at this time I think it was 100 percent chance of rain and all that and our people still showed up and I think it waited until right at the very end."
Whitaker, who is playing for the Arizona Rattlers in the Arena Football League, says A-Day embodies Auburn's best-known characteristic.
"It shows the commitment of the family. The key word of family," he says. "Family is the good, bad, or indifferent. We just love you for who you are. We forgive you. We love you. And keep it moving forward. That's the reason why Auburn is different from anybody else because of that commitment of family. Once you're in the club, we're rocking with you. Good or back, we're rocking with you."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer