Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A New Hope

By Michael McCoy

When Red gives Andy Dufresne his treatise on hope in the The Shawshank Redemption, he could just as easily be speaking for SEC fans when he says hope is a dangerous thing, that it can drive a man insane. This is true of sports fans all across the world (a fan of English soccer club Arsenal hung himself a few months ago after his team was knocked out of the European Cup), but in America, nowhere do fans live and die with their teams more than in Southeast come Autumn, and Auburn fans did a lot of dying last season. Yet despite the lingering memories of last season's debacle and the lukewarm reaction to the hiring of Gene Chizik, as happens everywhere across the South come August, hope springs eternal. It's usually not rooted in any sane or rational notion except for the feeling that things can't be as bad as they were the year before. Auburn fans are fully aware of the limited means with which this current Auburn team is operating under (inconsistent QB play and overall depth), but that doesn't matter. Come September 5 and kickoff against Louisiana Tech, fans are going be screaming, "Warrrrrrrrr Eagle! Hey!" as loudly as ever. And that's okay. Like Red, the Greeks also viewed hope as a dangerous thing, but realized without hope there is only despair, and it drove them to great feats (see Marathon and Thermopylae).

So what can Auburn fans do but hope? Despite the Murphy's Law syndrome that seems destined to envelop our depth chart, other signs are more encouraging heading into the season, not least the seeming togetherness of this team. This is a situation that is often hard to get a read on in August, and sometimes it does not really manifest itself until later on in the season (the last half of the 2002 season comes to mind). But early signs are promising. They may prove a false dawn, but let's hope that will not be the case. Going back to Kodi's selfless behavior which I commented on a couple of weeks back and the reaction to it, this team just feels different. After my time working with Auburn from 2000-2004, I've learned not to underestimate the will of a unified team or to doubt the pride of a college football player. Sure, they can come off as (and in fact be) prima donnas a lot of the time, but they do usually take pride in what they do. Case in point, when I was walking around with the football team at Disney World while at the 2001 Citrus Bowl (at the end of the 2000 season), I happened to be wearing my Tiger Rags "Romp in the Swamp" shirt, celebrating Auburn's 36-33 victory over Florida in 1994. Unwittingly, I provoked a response from the players around me as they saw my shirt and thought back to the two times we had played Florida earlier that season, coming up well short both times. Travaris Robinson asked me to stop walking so that he could make out all that my shirt said and afterwards he and the other players looked at it and promised aloud to nobody in particular that they would not come up short against Florida next year. I remember thinking to myself at the time, "Sure fellas, whatever you say."

At that time, I knew Florida would be a prohibitive favorite to win the national championship in 2001 and that we had more than a few question marks heading into the season. Yet by Florida week that October, you could sense the possibility of the seemingly improbable. Our offense still wasn't clicking, but our defense was strong enough that if the offense could just make a few plays, we could be in the game heading into the fourth quarter. Reports of bad weather moving in on Saturday night to possibly slow down Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun increased the sense of optimism pervading the team. Sure enough, the wind swirled all around the stadium that night, as did our defense, and the rain held off just long enough for Damon Duval to become the first (but not last) Auburn kicker to break Florida hearts this decade. Later on, I thought back to that evening at Disney World and the prophecy of T-Rob. Since then, I've learned not to flippantly dismiss the claims of a college football player when his pride has been wounded and his team is unified. It's why I knew at the end of the 2007 Cocktail Party after Georgia had rushed the field when scoring their first touchdown that they would get their comeuppance at the 2008 Cocktail Party. The same goes for the Iron Bowl in 2002. I'm sure my brother can share similar stories from his time at Auburn, particularly the 1997 Georgia game.

So temper your expectations all you want Auburn fans. Come 6:00 next Saturday evening, all the prognostications of Auburn's season won't mean a damn thing. You'll be thinking about the possibilities the next thirteen Saturdays may bring, not the impossibilities. It's in our nature as college football fans in the Deep South. After all, it's not a huge leap of faith to say that this team can win eight or nine games this season. Some fortunate things need to happen over the course of the year for that to happen, so let's hope that they do. If nothing else, let's hope that our guys show more than they did a year ago. I'd be surprised if they didn't. Just think back to what former Auburn fullback 'Smokin' Joe Frazier said in the locker room immediately after the 1994 Florida game: "Whatever the mind can conceive, and can believe, it can achieve!" Truly.

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