Oct. 21, 2013
Auburn has beaten nationally ranked teams on the road, lots of them, before. Heck, the 1994 Tigers went to the Swamp and knocked off No. 1 Florida. But Saturday’s stirring 45-41 victory at then-No. 7 Texas A&M was different. It was a very significant day for Auburn football.
The crash of Auburn football in 2012 was so historically awful that many people, even Auburn people, wondered if things would ever be the same. With many of the same players who played on both sides last Saturday night, Texas A&M marched into Jordan-Hare Stadium and won 63-21 in a game that really could have been even more lopsided than that.
When that season ended at 3-9 with a 49-0 loss at Alabama, when Gene Chizik was gone and Gus Malzahn was hired, the national championship of 2010 seemed like ancient history. Auburn football seemed far, far away from being a national force.
It was obvious as early as last spring that Malzahn and his staff had convinced Auburn players to buy into what they were selling. The dark clouds of 2012, for the most part, had been lifted. Auburn players were having fun again. But how would that translate to the field? No one knew.
Once the season started, it was obvious almost immediately the Tigers were much improved. They played hard if not consistently in beating Washington State. They beat Mississippi State on a touchdown pass with 10 seconds left. They played tough but lost at LSU. They beat Ole Miss. But Auburn is supposed to be better than Washington State, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
There was still no signature win, the kind that would send fans steaming and screaming to Toomer’s Corner. Even as pundits dismissed their second-half comeback at LSU as the result of LSU coasting after leading 21-0, Auburn players were convinced that could have, even should have won. But they didn’t.
On Saturday in College Station, Texas, they did.
If you look at the history of Auburn football, particularly since Pat Dye arrived as head coach in 1981, you see lots of good times and some bad times. But that history says those bad times don’t last.
In Dye’s final two seasons, the Tigers were 5-6 and 5-5-1. Dye departed and was replaced by Terry Bowden, who promptly won his first 20 games.
Bowden left midway through the 1998 season and was replaced in 1999 by Tommy Tuberville. In 2000, Auburn played in the SEC Championship Game.
Tuberville left after an unhappy 5-7 season in 2008 and was replaced by Gene Chizik. In 2010, Auburn won the national championship.
But when Chizik left after the most dysfunctional and miserable season imaginable in 2012, it seemed different. Nick Saban had built a juggernaut at Alabama. The SEC was at an all-time high. Auburn, many believed, had fallen so far behind Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, Florida and even South Carolina that it would take years to catch up. Almost worse than being unsuccessful on the field, Auburn seemed in serious danger of becoming irrelevant.
And then the 2013 Tigers went to Texas A&M and changed all that. Fearless quarterback Nick Marshall directed three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. Tailback Tre Mason ran for 179 yards. Freshman receiver Marcus Davis made a catch that will be with him always.
Fans went whooping and hollering to Toomer’s Corner. They went to the football complex to greet the team on its return.
It was, indeed, one of the more significant days in recent Auburn history.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: