Monday, November 21, 2005

There's Been A Seismic Shift In This State

By Jay Coulter
Football Saturday In The South
As the clock was winding down on Pat Dye Field Saturday night, the man sitting next me was surprisingly unsatisfied with the game’s final score. “I cannot believe we let them pull within ten,” he said. “We always let them off the ropes.”

A Hail Mary pass with seconds remaining to pull Alabama within ten is hardly letting anyone off the ropes. Saturday’s performance was the most dominating one by an Auburn team in more than 35 years.

And while it’s great to rehash all the gaudy statistics (and believe me, we will until we can’t anymore) Saturday’s win was more than just a complete whipping of our cross state rival. It was much more.

Saturday sealed what Auburn people have been trying to accomplish for more than half a century. While we celebrated a man during pre-game who put us on equal footing with Alabama, after the game we saluted a team and a University that has placed us in rarified air.

For years Birmingham talk-show host Paul Finebaum has talked about Auburn having its foot on Alabama’s neck at various times only to be knocked down and watch the Crimson Tide bounce back up. After Saturday’s game, that neck has now been broken.

And it’s not just in football. Many years ago Auburn passed Alabama in total enrollment. It’s a fact now that the children of many Alabama graduates choose to go to Auburn. In every major publication Auburn is ranked ahead of Alabama in the education it provides.

Whether you like it or not, people in this state judge these two universities on one thing and that’s football. It’s where the state’s business leaders and its wealthiest citizens choose to put its money. It’s what both schools use as leverage to raise money for its academic programs. He who controls football in the state of Alabama wins.

And today it’s a war that is being completely controlled and won by Auburn University. We have seen completed a seismic shift in this state’s football fortunes.

Not even during Pat Dye’s glory years have we seen a football program that is as dominant in state as the one run by Tommy Tuberville. The difference in talent on the field Saturday was startling.

When’s the last time you’ve ever seen four guys dominate five the way the Tigers defensive line did this weekend? When’s the last time you’ve seen an offense make the supposedly top defense in the country look lost?

Not in my lifetime have I ever seen an Alabama team come into Jordan-Hare Stadium with such a look of inferiority. Say what you want, but this Alabama team came to the Plains expecting to lose and it showed.

There’s no question those incredible Dye teams of the 1980’s reloaded often but never did they reload like this year’s unit. And Tuberville is just getting started. He made the comment when he arrived at Auburn that he could teach someone to coach but they had better know how to recruit. We are seeing those words pay off now.

Auburn has broken the neck of its enemy. An entire state is liberated today. For the first time in many, many years Auburn controls football in the state of Alabama - completely. It controls it on the field, with recruits, with the national media and with the people of the state of Alabama.

When football fans across the country think of college football in Alabama today, they think of the Auburn Tigers. We have turned back the Red Tide. We have delivered that knockout punch. But we must never, ever take our eyes off of them.

They’ll be back. And they’ll eventually win again. But it will be years, if ever, before they control football in the state of Alabama. There is a new king today and he wears orange and blue.

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