War Eagle?! Yeah, I said it.

You can’t win them all.

We knew it was bound to happen sooner or later, but we were hoping like we always do for just one more. But, alas, it wasn’t to be.

Top-ranked Alabama’s bid for a third straight national title was dashed as the Crimson Tide fell to now-No. 4 Auburn in one of the most unlikely finishes you’ll ever see in arguably the biggest rivalry in all of college football, an incredible feat that the Tigers have pulled off more than once this season against other highly ranked teams within the Southeastern Conference.

Destiny defeated dynasty.

And as much as it hurt to see my beloved Crimson Tide lose to in-state upstart Auburn on the Plains, I hope the Tigers not only will get a chance at the national championship, but keep it in my home state of Alabama for the fifth straight year dating back to 2009.

Sure, the chances of that are slim right now with the Florida State Seminoles and Ohio State Buckeyes still undefeated at 12-0 each and ranked first and second in the Associated Press and USA Today top-25 polls, as well as the Bowl Championship Series standings. But there still are conference championship games to be played this coming weekend, and as we all know, anything can – and has – happened.

Auburn is ranked third at 11-1, with Alabama (11-1) fourth and Missouri (11-1) fifth – all representing the vaunted SEC that everyone else in the nation loves to hate. It will be an all-Tigers SEC championship game as Auburn takes on Missouri on Saturday in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

It’s a matchup no one ever would have predicted in a gazillion years before the season kicked off.

Auburn was coming off a horrific 3-9 season that resulted in the firing of head coach Gene Chizik. Ironically enough, Chizik led the Tigers to a 14-0 record during the 2010 season after defeating Oregon 22-19 in the BCS national title tilt for the school’s first undisputed championship and second overall since 1957.

Those were the days when the AP, which crowned Auburn as its pick in 1957, and the United Press International polls literally voted for their national champions. They didn’t always agree, which obviously resulted in split winners. And, as we all know, there are certain things we just don’t like to share. This, of course, is one of them. As much as I hate to see my Tide lose, I don’t want the title to leave the state even more.

So it came as a shocker when Auburn did the unthinkable under first-year coach Gus Malzahn and put itself in a position where anything is possible, even WITH one loss.

Missouri wasn’t expected to fare much better, having faced more off-the-field turmoil in recent years courtesy of head coach Gary Pinkel, who pleaded guilty after being arrested in 2011 for driving while intoxicated and then went through an ugly divorce from his wife of nearly 40 years in 2012.

But the Show Me State’s Tigers came roaring back this season, falling only once in a 27-24 double-overtime heartbreaker to South Carolina, now ranked in the top eight of both polls and the BCS with a 10-2 record. They became the fourth SEC team this season to beat despised Texas A&M with a 28-21 victory this past Saturday, just one week after LSU dismantled the Aggies 34-10.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles must face the 10-2 upset-minded Duke Blue Devils – No. 20 in both top-25 polls and in the BCS standings – in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. The Buckeyes will take on a tough 11-1 Michigan State Spartans team, ranked No. 9 in the USA Today poll and 10th in both the AP top 25 and BCS standings, in the Big Ten Conference championship.

Murphy’s Law certainly can apply in any of these upcoming games. After all, we witnessed what happened to Alabama – much to my everlasting chagrin – against the Tigers in this past weekend’s 78th edition of the Iron Bowl in a place I’ve come to dread to have to play – Auburn’s Jordan Hare Stadium. I’ve always referred to it as “The Pit.” Don’t ask me why.

I remember a time when I would have rooted for anyone else playing Auburn, I grew up hating the Tigers THAT much. But as I’ve gotten older, I suppose I’ve gotten kinder or softer or a little bit of both. I guess it depends on my mood.

Still, it would be petty of me to pull for anyone else. Auburn deserves a shot at the BCS national title. I think they’re peaking at the right time and undoubtedly are playing the best football in the nation. And, as much as it galls me to say this with the sting of the Iron Bowl loss still very fresh in my mind, the Tigers – in my humble opinion – ARE the best team in the nation, hands down.

I can’t believe I’m about to do this – hell, maybe I really AM getting soft in the head – but I’m going to make my case for … Auburn. AUBURN?! Yes, Auburn. There. I said it. I really, really, REALLY said it. In print, no less. And you can quote me on that.

The Tigers’ only loss of the season was a 35-21 decision Sept. 21 to the then-sixth-ranked LSU Tigers – yes, I know, we have LOTS of Tigers in the SEC. But as much as you SEC haters LOATHE and are LOATH to admit, the SEC is, without a doubt, the toughest conference in the country. Even our perennial bottom feeders are better than the best teams in other, shall we say, less-challenging conferences.

Case in point: We have four teams in the top eight of both polls and BCS rankings. Overall, we have seven teams in the AP top 25 and BCS and six in the USA Today poll. We are THAT good, like it or not. But I’ll save the bragging for another day. Like, perhaps, Jan. 6?

It seemed like all hope was lost for Auburn in a thriller against No. 25 Georgia on Nov. 16. Facing a 38-37 deficit and a daunting fourth-and-18-do-or-die situation with a mere 36 seconds remaining in regulation, the Tigers pulled off one of the greatest plays in college football that I ever have witnessed in my lifetime in one of most exciting games I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall heaved a 73-yard Hail Mary pass that first was deflected by the Bulldogs’ Josh Harvey-Clemons and then miraculously was caught by receiver Ricardo Louis, who somehow knew exactly when to look up to see the ball, momentarily bobbling it before pulling it in and galloping into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. Final: Auburn 43, Georgia 38.

Auburn did it again against Alabama this past weekend, much to my everlasting heartbreak.

With the score knotted at 28 and one second remaining in a game that looked as if it were headed to overtime, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban opted to have freshman Adam Griffith attempt a 57-yard field goal for the win after senior Cade Foster missed three tries earlier in the contest. The try not only went short and wide right, but – and this will give me gut-wrenching nightmares for years to come – right into the waiting hands of Auburn’s Chris Davis, who returned it for a 109-yard score. Final: Auburn 34, Alabama 28.

SIGH. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Oh, the agony of that outcome will forever haunt me. It doesn’t quite erase what happened to us in 2010, when we blew a 24-0 lead to Auburn in an eventual 28-27 loss en route to its national title bid, but it’s right up there. Still, the better team won, and my hat’s off to the Tigers for what they’ve accomplished this season. If you ask me, that WAS the national championship game. But that’s just one person’s opinion in the peanut gallery of college football.

It also bears noting that Auburn defeated Texas A&M, ranked seventh at the time, and – in my opinion – its overrated quarterback, Johnny Manziel. I cannot stomach that smarmy little punk who has done nothing worthy of being called Johnny Football – try winning a few championships first, you money-mongering trademarking jerk – but we won’t get into that right now.

Sure, that Oct. 19 game was a high-scoring affair. But it’s what the Tigers did to Manziel in the Aggies’ final drive of the game that brought the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner crashing back down to earth and, while I highly doubt it, hopefully humbled him and his maddening cocky ways.

Manziel was knocked out of the game at one point – much to my gleeful delight – throwing himself on the ground (picture a rather melodramatic 2-year-old just before pitching a temper tantrum) after hurting his passing arm. The way he flopped – think European soccer players executing fake dives to elicit penalties – you’d have thought he broke his legs. I would have loved that. But NOOO.

Anyway, on the last four plays of the game, Johnny Flukeball choked when it counted most. I don’t care how many yards or touchdowns he passes or runs for in his college career – which I’m certain will end after this year when he enters the 2014 National Football League draft in May.

He can pad his stats all he wants, but those don’t win championships in his little world of “me first, team last.” He’s so selfish – and I’m talking about the paid autograph fiasco his lawyers somehow weaseled him out of that could have cost his team the season and so much more, not to mention him getting the boot from the Manning brothers’ football camp – he’d be better off taking his chances in the National Basketball Association. He’d fit right in with all of the NBA’s ball hogs.

Sorry, I’m getting WAY off topic discussing my intense dislike for Johnny Flopball. On to the game. Auburn’s defense stood its ground and tore him a new one when it counted most. I daresay Manziel could stand to take some lessons from them. As it was, the ending read like this: Sack, incomplete pass, foiled run in which Texas A&M cried horse-collar tackle to no avail, sack. The end. Final: Tigers 45, Aggies 41. Better yet: State of Alabama 2, Texas A&M 0. That has a MUCH better ring to it, don’t you think?

I don’t think anyone cheered louder than me, and that’s saying a lot. It was the first time that I actually rooted FOR Auburn in ANYTHING. I know, right? I think I surprised myself more than anyone else.

And there you have it.

However, IF – and this is one of those “if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride” IFS – by some freak of nature Alabama was to somehow miraculously make a bid for the national championship with a lone loss like it did in 2011 and 2012, that’d be more than OK with me, too. In fact, that’d be FREAKING awesome!

But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for lightning to strike a third time because, as I was so recently heartwrenchingly reminded in the last second of the Iron Bowl, your luck can turn at the damndest of times and send a once-promising season straight to the crapper.

All it takes is one loss, and things could go either way. Maybe this time around, though, the football gods will smile on Auburn. Then again, I can always dream of other more selfish improbabilities. But that would be greedy and unkind of me during a festive time of year meant for goodwill toward others, and so I’ll say it just this once: War Damn Eagle. Do ALL of us Alabamians proud by finishing what you started.

And let me be clear – real clear – about one thing: This does NOT make me an Auburn fan.

That said – and fingers crossed that my lean hopes DO take fruition as the rest of us watch all three conference championships with bated breath – here’s to keeping the crystal football where it belongs: In the great state of Alabama. No matter – as much as it still hurts me to say this – WHO brings it home.


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