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'Will you sign this?': Record crowd enjoys Auburn Fan Day

Aug. 10, 2014

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A good time was had by all, including Gus Malzahn at Auburn's Fan Day

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala.  The line went around the corner, then another corner, then a long, long way in a straight line. 

It seemed as if everybody wanted Gus Malzahn's autograph at Auburn's Fan Day, an event that attracted a record 9,500 of the faithful Sunday afternoon held, not outside where people would melt, but in a thankfully cool Auburn Arena. 

The young. The old. Posters. Footballs.

"Will you sign this?" was the common question. 

Oh, yes. The Tigers would. 

"I've got two girls who used to be little like you," Malzahn said to one group. 

And when he was asked to sign something quite sturdy by someone else, Malzahn was more than agreeable. 

"Hard hat. I like that. Time to go to work. We're not fooling around here," he said. 

Malzahn got to play the good cop. The unseen bad cop had told him he couldn't personalize the items because it would take too long to sign, because if he spent the extra time, some fans wouldn't get an autograph at all. Remember that long line? That wouldn't be right, Auburn reasoned. But when a dad asked him to sign an Auburn flag for his son in Afghanistan, Malzahn seemed to take a few extra moments as he considered his message. 

Auburn fans turned out in those record numbers, still excited from last year's Southeastern Conference title, hopeful the Tigers will make it to the national championship game again. 

If being wished good luck was fuel, Auburn players will be there. The seniors were stationed on the basketball practice floor, the sophomores and juniors were on the floor of the main arena, the freshmen were on the upper concourse and Malzahn was down this way a long way away. 

Where's Sammie Coates? Where's Nick Marshall? Where's Gabe Wright? Where's Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant? Those were the pressing questions of the day. 

No one seemed to enjoy the day more than defensive lineman Jeff Whitaker, now a veteran of Fan Day who greeted everyone with a smile. He was the one who started the small talk, and when he didn't, when fans brought up some chance meeting they had had with him, Whitaker not only remembered it, but filled in the blanks. 

"How you doing?" he would ask. 

Everyone who asked if it would be OK if they took a photo with him was greeted with a hearty "Come on!" 

And when the little ones sat on his knee, Whitaker happily said he felt like Santa Claus. 

He complimented fans on their Auburn shirts, talked about their NFL caps, asked the younger ones their age. 

"Six?!?" he exclaimed. "I'm 15." 

The little boy frowned. "Don't you believe I'm 15?" Whitaker asked. 

Whitaker wasn't 15. He was a kid again, enjoying an afternoon in Auburn.

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:
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