AU fans find Tide won't die
by Paul Finebaum, Mobile Press-Register
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
"The comments keep coming in from a column last week entitled "Tuberville Can't Catch a Break." I've racked my brain (OK, no jokes!) for days attempting to understand why it bothered some people so much.
I simply stated the obvious, which is that Auburn has taken a back seat to Alabama as a result of the mania over Nick Saban, and even some of Tommy Tuberville's success has been marginalized because four of the five straight wins came against Mike Shula.
And then, I finally figured out the rest of the story.
It isn't so much the hiring of Saban that has some Auburn fans sniveling, but the resiliency of the Alabama Nation. How many times has this Alabama program been knocked down to the canvas since the death of Paul Bryant but somehow, some way, been able to get up, bloody, beaten and battered, to live to see another day? Even to someone from another state and who attended a rival school, it is an extraordinary thing to witness.
I won't bore you with a long litany of events to support this thesis, but here are a few to consider:
Bill Curry, after three straight losses to Auburn, tucks his tail in early 1990 for Kentucky, replaced by a popular but underwhelming choice in Gene Stallings. He loses his first three games. Yet he wins a national championship in 1992 and runs off a streak of 28 games without a loss. In 1995, the Tide program is humiliated with its first NCAA probation, but the next year Stallings wins 10 games and retires with a 5-2 mark against Auburn. Mike DuBose enters, gets caught up in a secretary scandal three years later, is nearly fired, loses to Louisiana Tech (and is days from being fired), and follows up with an overtime win over Florida and then beats the Gators for the SEC title. He goes from preseason No. 3 in the nation to 3-8 in 2000 and is gone. The Albert Means story explodes and Alabama is staring down the barrel of a gun from the NCAA, which is threatening the death penalty. Dennis Franchione has a cup of coffee and bolts; Mike Price, his replacement, goes down in flames (before ever coaching a game); and Mike Shula, who seemingly throws up all over himself for two years, wins 10 games and finishes No. 8 in the nation ahead of Auburn, which should have played for the national championship the year before.
This season, of course, Alabama loses to Mississippi State and nearly everyone else, and gets left at the altar by Rich Rodriguez (and nearly everyone else) in the aftermath of Shula's bungled firing. The entire college football world, led by Auburn fans, are dancing on Alabama's grave and guess what? The Tide lands Saban -- one the most feared college coaches in recent history.
Yes, I can feel the pain of the Auburn Nation. I can understand its frustration. It's like, "Dude, what else do we have to do?"
At seemingly the darkest moment in the Tide's history, the school rises like Phoenix from the ashes.
There is an old saying that has been passed down from Plato's time and repositioned by the great essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, which seems appropriate here: "If you strike the King, you must kill him." In this case, the King is obvious, and as often as Alabama has been hit in recent years, as desperate as the times have seemed, as dire and late as the hour has often been, the school's football program has survived.
Saban knows he can't revive it by simply waving a magic wand. However, he has given people reason to feel proud again. He has given people reason to hope again for better days. In some respects, this is what kills the other side of the state.
The Auburn program has grown and prospered beautifully under Tuberville. He was the right man at the right time. It has been pretty resilient, too, with Terry Bowden reeling off 20 straight wins following the ouster of Pat Dye, and when Tuberville went 13-0 and made his critics eat crow after he was nearly fired.
However, in spite of what the record book says, showing a 6-2 mark against the Tide and five in a row, there is still something missing. The sight and sound of Alabama still makes some Auburn fans quake. There is a nervous feeling that -- let's go to the history books for one more quote -- they have awoken a sleeping giant. That, of course, being the Crimson Tide.
Is Bama back? Perhaps not in anyone's preseason ranking or even in the national media. However, around here, fans are upbeat and excited and energized. They feel the Tide turning and the earth moving. Perhaps the surest sign that proves to them that things are slowly returning to normal is this: Auburn fans are saying to anyone who will listen that they aren't worried about Alabama. No, of course not.
However, if you study the rivalry between these two schools, that's like a sonic boom going off in the middle of the night. You better believe they are worried. And they should be ... Bama appears to be back."