By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Twelve years have passed but Ronnie Brown's memories of his final Auburn football game remain vivid.
"I remember when we got ready to walk out," said Brown, recalling the 2005 Sugar Bowl. "All the guys, we had the different colored shields and everybody was looking at their uniform. But when we hit the field, it felt just like it had all season."
That was bad news for Virginia Tech, Auburn's Sugar Bowl opponent. Auburn took a 12-0 record, an SEC Championship, and a chip on its shoulder to the Superdome at the end of the 2004 season.
"At first, there was disappointment about going to the Sugar Bowl -- not so much about the bowl, but the disappointment of not getting a national championship that season," Brown said. "But when we got to New Orleans, everyone had a great time. And when it was game time, everyone was excited.
"One, this was another opportunity to prove that we're a pretty good football team. And then, two, this is our next opponent."
While No. 1 USC defeated No. 2 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, the Tigers beat the No. 8 Hokies 16-13, earning Auburn the No. 2 ranking at season's end.
"Everyone was ready for the game," Brown said. "And we got off to a fast start. At halftime, we had a good feeling that we would win the football game. And we kind of took our foot off the gas a little bit."
Four months later, Brown would be the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft, the beginning of a 10-year professional career.
"I think the meaningful thing for us, just being in New Orleans, for a lot of us, it was the food and the atmosphere," Brown said. "There's always something to do. You hear about Bourbon Street. Just the tradition of New Orleans, the jazz music. You can frequent a whole bunch of different types of restaurants. I think that made it intriguing for everyone. It provided an opportunity to relax and not really worry about the game 24/7."
"Then when it was time to practice, they had the curfew, where it was known we were down there to handle business. It's an opportunity to be in New Orleans for a week, but at the same time, we're down there for a reason.
Auburn fans turned out by the thousands, greeting the team at Tiger Walk outside the dome.
"When we got there, the way that all of the fans traveled, it was surprising, because you would have thought that we were at home, given the fact that all of the fans showed up and were excited," he said.
"It was, one, us having the opportunity to go undefeated, but at the same time, just what New Orleans presented and all of the things for people to do. And I think Auburn travels well. It bodes well for not only the team, but for people to be able to support the team as well as have a good time."
Brown will be back at the Superdome for the 2017 Allstate Sugar Bowl, concluding his first season as the Auburn Network's sideline reporter.
"I think it's going to be a good task," he said of the battle between Oklahoma's explosive offense and Auburn's stingy defense.
"I think that's going to be one of the key matchups: how does the offensive line protect Baker Mayfield and allow him to make big plays? Because on turf, guys usually seem a little bit faster. I think it will be a good matchup. Hopefully Auburn comes out on the winning side of it, but they will be tested in the secondary."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer