Editor's note: this article is part of alligatorSports' "Best Game I Ever..." series. To find the rest of our articles, visit this page.
Explaining why you love something is hard.
Sports, people, they make us feel something, and we don’t always have to explain it because oftentimes, those feelings are shared.
That’s why a few years ago, when a random guy in a straw hat at a college football game made a pact with me, my dad and basically my whole section that should Auburn win, we would collectively storm the field and take down the goalpost, I didn’t ask why. I got it.
Do you want me to help push or pull it?
Sports make me feel something, and it’s hard to explain why, what or even how, but I like that I don’t really have to. That guy in the hat sure didn’t.
To backtrack a bit, my dad is an Auburn fan. I was raised an Auburn fan. And so, Saturdays growing up meant watching the Tigers on the couch with my dad. I remember Auburn almost losing to Jacksonville State at home, the national championship loss in 2013, the Kick Six, and a whole lot of other Iron Bowls between Auburn and Alabama, both good and bad for the Tigers.
But the entirety of me and my dad’s shared fandom had been confined to the television in our family room for years.
This particular weekend, the opening weekend of college football in 2016, we were visiting my grandma — my dad’s mom — who used to work as an assistant for Pat Dye, a former Auburn head coach. After a two-hour drive from Atlanta, I started to see the campers from Clemson fans and traveling Auburn fans on the outskirts of the city.
I was excited to just be in town for the big game. It was that feeling that you’re a part of something big, something that people care about, something that matters — even just by association. But then my uncle pulled out a pair of tickets for my dad and I.
No couch viewing. Not even a rowdy Auburn bar. We were going to see Auburn host the visiting Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
It wasn’t my first college football game, but I guess you could say it was my first real one. No offense to the Hurricanes, but getting cheap tickets to see a middling team play a few times a year growing up isn’t what I would call the premier college football experience. There’s not a hint of a college campus for miles around.
Walking up to Jordan-Hare with my dad that night, there was nothing but college campus — and college fans — for miles. The SEC’s cliched “It Just Means More” slogan rang a bit truer.
Auburn legends Cam Newton and Bo Jackson were present on the sidelines that night. And Clemson legend in the making Deshaun Watson was quarterbacking the No. 2 team in the nation.
I remember them, of course. Three college football legends all just a football’s throw that even I could make away.
But I remember that screaming fan in the straw hat just as well and his plan, should an upset occur.
After an early field goal from the leg of Daniel Carlson, Auburn took its first and only lead. Behind repeated connections between Watson and receiver Mike Williams, just another of the many future pros on that Clemson team, the Tigers in purple and orange moved the ball with ease.
Early in the fourth quarter, Clemson took a two-possession lead over Auburn, which had managed just a pair of field goals all night. But Auburn struck back and made things interesting with a touchdown to bring the score to 19-13 — a touchdown and an extra point wins it.
It took three and a half quarters for Auburn to find the end zone just once, and after forcing Clemson to turn the ball over on downs, there were just 40 seconds remaining.
Auburn quarterback Sean White was 7 for 15 for less than 100 yards when a stadium of close to 100,000 looked to him to go 85 yards in less than a minute against the future national championship-winning defense.
That’s the thing about love, it can inspire completely irrational hope.
So after a few short passes to bring Auburn near midfield, White rolled out in desperation to his right eyeing the end zone, and I had hope.
There was hope that someone in an Auburn uniform would come down with the pass, that I would hop the fence and make a mad dash for the field and the goalpost to celebrate with 100,000 newfound friends.
That hope was misplaced and the ball was batted down. Auburn went on to have a good, but not great season while Clemson redeemed its title game loss to Alabama months later.
But for the four seconds that the ball was in the air, I thought a miracle was going to happen. I felt it.
I had hope.