Glendale, Ariz.—There was joy. There was relief. There were smiles of happiness. There were tears. There was incredible exhilaration. There was utter exhaustion.
You could see it all on the floor of University of Phoenix Stadium in the aftermath of Auburn’s 22-19 victory Oregon which gave the Tigers their first national championship since 1957.
Ted Roof, who took more than his fair share of criticism as Auburn’s defensive coordinator the past two seasons, had his arms around his two sons as confetti rained down around him. The former Georgia Tech captain could not be happier. For it was his defense that held the mighty Oregon offense to only 19 points, 30 points below its average.
Oregon’s offense had 12 possessions in the game and Auburn’s defense got nine stops: five punts, two interceptions, and what will become two very big plays in Auburn football history: In the second quarter Mike Blanc stuffed Oregon’s LaMichael James in the end zone for a safety. In the third quarter Auburn stopped Oregon on fourth and goal at the Tigers’ one-yard line.
Oregon came into this game averaging almost 245 rushing yards per game. Auburn held the Ducks to only 75.
“I am so proud of our guys. They stepped up and played the best when we needed it the most,” said Roof. “We didn’t do anything fancy. It was all about effort. All I know is that we’re the national champions. Nothing else matters.”
A lot of people wondered if Cameron Newton had one more great game left in him. He did. Yes, he had a late turnover that allowed Oregon to tie the score make a game-winning drive necessary. Still, it has been an extraordinary season for the Heisman Trophy winner in every sense of the word. He became the flash point of a great debate in college football and it was not pretty. There was a significant portion of the populace that believed that Newton should not be on the field but there were also those who believed in the presumption of innocence. The debate will never be resolved unless more facts in the case emerge down the road. That is another discussion for another day.
Regardless of where you came down on the Newton issue, there was no denying that he was one of the greatest college football players we have seen at the quarterback position. I say WAS because Newton will soon close the door on this controversial chapter of his life and declare for the NFL Draft. We may disagree about Newton’s legacy, but we will certainly never forget him.
“I have never seen a football player go what he went through and continue to perform so well on the field,” said former coach Pat Dye, who beamed during the post-game awards ceremony. “People said a lot of bad things about that kid but it never affected the way he played. He is something special.”
Then there was Gene Chizik, whose hiring in 2009 brought rounds of criticism from those who thought he was not dynamic enough or tough enough to stand up to what Nick Saban was building at Alabama. But when the sun rose this morning in the state of Alabama, the schools had the same number of national championships since Saban arrived in 2007. Chizik has proven to be a rock solid manager of the program who surrounds himself with very talented people.
“It was never about me and proving anybody wrong,” said Chizik, who was the defensive coordinator when Auburn went 13-0 in 2004 and did not get a chance to play for the national championship. “That’s not the way I live my life. From the day we arrived it was about doing what was best for Auburn. I am so proud to be a part of the Auburn family.”
It’s been a great season at Auburn but has also been a draining season for all concerned. The weekly scrutiny which came with the Newton case was not an easy burden to bear. The SEC has won its fifth straight national championship. But the conference had to routinely defend itself against the criticism that it did not exercise due diligence in the Newton case. Now that the SEC has won another championship, that criticism is not going to go away. Such is the nature of success. Off the field, it has been a tough season for college football as a whole.
And what about Auburn for 2011? As is our nature, we will quickly move on to next season. Auburn loses 24 seniors including Wes Byrum, who kicked the winning field goal at the buzzer. Newton will leave as will defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who is more than ready to play at the next level. If you had to guess you would say that Auburn will take a dip next season but such dips are easier to take when you have a crystal football in the trophy case.
Both those issues can wait at least a day or two. Auburn fans will celebrate and know that for the next year they are the national champions while Alabama is not. And if you don’t think that’s important, you do not know the state of Alabama. Auburn is going to enjoy this. Big time.
Please follow me on Twitter: