Former AU players ready for big gamePublished 8:00am Saturday, January 8, 2011
In 2009 football fans throughout the state watched as the University of Alabama made an impressive run to the National Championship.
One year later the fans of Bama’
s cross-state rival are enjoying a similar run as Auburn prepares to play Oregon Monday night in the BCS National Championship Game.
Auburn fans have not celebrated a national championship since 1957, but the Tigers have come close with undefeated seasons a few times since then.
Franklin County has a handful of local residents who played for Auburn in 1993 and 2004 when the Tigers finished the season with a zero in the loss column, but no chance at a title.
“A win would be vindication for all that happened,”
said Derrick Dorn, a member of the 1993 squad who now works for the Russellville Parks and Recreation Department.
Bart Moss, who was a practice squad player for the Tigers in the early 1990s, currently coaches middle school basketball at Tharptown. He said he has kept in touch with many of his teammates and they are all excited about Monday night’
“There is a special feeling among a lot of former players,”
Kevin Sears graduated from Russellville High School and was a linebacker at Auburn in 2004. He started 12 games, recorded 29 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss and one interception that season.
Attempts to reach Sears for comment were unsuccessful.
Dustin Goodwin, an assistant football coach at Russellville High School, was a quarterback on the 2004 team.
The Tigers have had some impressive seasons the past two decades, but the two best seasons — the undefeated seasons —
resulted in little national prominence for Auburn.
Auburn began the 1993 season under probation for NCAA violations. Terms of the probation included a ban from bowls for two years and no television appearances in 1993.
According to Dorn the players had an opportunity to wait until 1994 to begin the probation, but the seniors decided to go ahead and endure the probation.
The Tigers rolled through their schedule, finishing 11-0 but not able to play in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
“I knew we had a good team and I told my roommate we needed to wait to go on probation,” Dorn said. “After the season I looked at him and said, ‘I told you so.’”
Fast forward 11 years and Auburn rolled through its schedule once again. In 2004, however, the Tigers were eligible for a bowl game.
The game Auburn fans wanted to see would have been a BCS Championship Game appearance against Southern California or Oklahoma. Instead the Tigers earned a trip to the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech while Southern California and Oklahoma played for the title.
“We would have represented the SEC well if given the chance,” Goodwin said. “Anytime you can run the gauntlet in the SEC without a loss, you deserve to play for the national championship.”
Like the 1993 team, the 2004 squad had faced some adversity heading into the 2004 season — although not quite as severe. Near the end of the 2003 season the controversial “JetGate”
scandal took place in which Auburn boosters and administrators flew to Kentucky to see if Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino might be interested in the Auburn job should then head coach Tommy Tuberville be fired.
Tuberville was kept as Auburn’s head coach — after shuffling his coaching staff —
and he guided the Tigers to a 13-0 record in 2004.
“We had a great group of guys that had a goal and had been through some hard times before I got there and they persevered through it,” Goodwin said. “They had coaching changes after coaching changes and the players fought through it.”
Seen this before
There are several things about the 2010 Auburn team that seems familiar to the 1993 and 2004 squads.
Dorn said this year’
s team seems to have adopted the same us-against-the-world attitude of the 1993 team.
“We were on probation and couldn’t go to a bowl game,” Dorn said. “We just wanted to beat everybody and mess it up for them.”
s team has faced its share of adversity and doubters as well.
Heading into the season Auburn was picked to finish fourth in the SEC Western Division. A few close games early in the season convinced some that Auburn was a pretender, not a contender.
Everybody expected the dream season to come to an end when quarterback Cam Newton was linked to a pay-for-play scandal regarding his recruitment at Mississippi State.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of this team is not the play of Newton, but the way the Tigers seem to be able to block out distractions.
“This is not the most talented Auburn team, but it is the most special because of the comebacks and the Cam Newton scandal,” Moss said. “The ability of the players and coaches to block all of that out is special.”
One of Dorn’s favorite similarities between the 1993 team and the 2010 team is both squads’
ability to answer Alabama.
In 1992 the Crimson Tide was undefeated and won a national championship. During the off-season some of the Alabama players visited Auburn and took the opportunity to show the Tiger players their national championship rings.
The Tigers liked the look of those rings and improved their record from 5-5-1 in 1992 to 11-0 in 1993.
In 2009 Alabama was rarely tested as the Crimson Tide went undefeated, had a Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram and earned a national championship ring. That same season Auburn — just like the 1992 squad —
finished with five losses, all of which were against SEC opponents.
In 2010 Auburn has cruised past many of their opponents — and rallying from double-digit deficits to win the rest —
had a Heisman Trophy winner in Newton and will be playing for a national title.
“It would be the icing on the cake to win it and let people know Alabama is not the only team in the state,”
Since 1998 the two teams playing in the national championship game have been chosen by the BCS, which has a formula for determining the two best teams in the nation.
In 2004 Auburn was left on the outside looking in thanks to the polls used in the BCS formula.
Southern California and Oklahoma were both ranked No. 1 and No. 2 all season. Auburn began the season ranked No. 18.
Combining the fact Southern California and Oklahoma did not lose a game with the big climb Auburn had to make in the polls resulted in Auburn’
s drop to the Sugar Bowl.
This year the Tigers began the season ranked No. 23 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Slowly but surely the teams ranked ahead of Auburn began losing games.
When the first BCS rankings were released the Tigers were ranked fourth. They moved up to first the following week, but dropped to second for the remainder of the regular season.
With the Tigers’
blowout of South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game, Auburn moved back into first place in the final BCS standings.
While Moss is happy with the math going Auburn’
s way this season, he said he would still prefer a playoff system.
“There won’t be a true national champion until there is a playoff,” Moss said. “It is hard for someone to legitimately claim one.”
s been a long time since Auburn has been in the position to claim a national championship and these players all have special plans in place for Monday night.
Goodwin said he plans to get together with his friends to cheer the Tigers to victory.
“Every player on the 2004 team is rooting for this team because they are getting to do something we didn’t do,”
Dorn will be watching from home.
He said he has been superstitious this year and does not expect that to change before Monday’
Dorn began growing a beard before the Clemson game. Auburn rallied from a 17-point deficit to win that game and Dorn decided to keep the beard.
During one game the Dorn noticed he was sitting on his couch and the offense was playing well, but the defense was struggling. He got up and moved to a recliner only to notice the defense improve and the offense begin to struggle. For the remainder of the game he sat on the couch while the Tigers were on offense and the recliner while they played defense.
I’ll be watching with my family,” Dorn said. “I’ll get my gear on and put on my ring.”
Moss has the most ambitious plans as he and his family are heading to Arizona for the game. They do not have a ticket, but want to be part of the experience.
Moss said he felt Auburn had a good shot of reaching the title game midway through the season.
“I booked a hotel after the LSU game and airfare at halftime of the SEC Championship Game,”
All three of these former players feel Auburn has a good shot at winning Monday’s game and keep the SEC’
s streak of national championships alive.
“(Head coach Gene) Chizik has been there. He’s been in this type of game,” Moss said. “If Cam Newton plays like he has, this will be fun and games for him.”
Dorn said he will not worry if Auburn falls behind early. He was at the Iron Bowl and watched as the Tigers fell behind 24-0 before rallying for a 28-27 victory against hated rival Alabama.
“I was in the Auburn section, but there were some Alabama fans around,” Dorn said. “After Alabama jumped out they began talking. I told them, ‘We’re going to score 20 something points in the second half.’”
Dorn said in the aftermath of the win, some Alabama fans continued to talk trash. Dorn said he told the fans to enjoy whatever bowl they were going to but it was Auburn’
s turn to represent Alabama on national stage.
All the former players as well as Auburn fans across the nation are hoping Monday night they will be able to yell a hearty War Eagle at all the Alabama fans who were screaming Roll Tide one year ago.