Auburn didn’t get a miracle on Saturday.
They needed one to win. Instead, Georgia won 34-10. The Bulldogs are the No. 2 team in the nation, they were supposed to win, and they did.
Auburn is rebuilding. The Tigers needed some help from the Bulldogs and they didn’t get any, and they certainly didn’t do much to help themselves.
But when the day started, Auburn fans believed they could win and the players believed they could win.
About two hours before the game started, they strolled into the stadium from Tiger Walk, looking sharp in coats and ties – and if you’re Jarquez Hunter, in a cowboy hat and boots – and they formed what looked like a big prayer circle in the center of the field.
The student section was already packed from the left side of the goal post all the way around to the 30-yard line, and they roared when the players headed into the locker room.
Again, it was two hours before the game started.
It was a beautiful day with the huge American flag in the north end zone flapping in a steady breeze.
Fans began filling other parts of the stadium, stretching out in the bleachers and enjoying a concession lunch and taking selfies.
Some families went down on the field, and little girls were doing flips in the end zone.
And for the next couple of hours, Auburn players went through their rituals, the skill players first arriving in stylish sleeveless hoodies followed by the special-team guys in helmets and full uniforms, and then later the big boys lining the end zone and doing some light stretching.
Recruits began to gather in the south end zone. Eventually all the players were wearing full uniforms and preparing for their roles in the game.
About 30 minutes before the game, Ric Smith, the public address announcer at Jordan-Hare Stadium, welcomed the Bulldogs and their fans, and the crowd and Auburn fans booed heartily.
The stadium was nearly full, and the fans waved their shakers when Smith ran down the starting lineup.
Music boomed from Auburn’s world-class sound system. You could feel the bass in your bones.
With 20 minutes remaining, Spirit the Eagle flew around the stadium and landed on the field, and the crowd went nuts.
About 15 minutes before the game started, the Auburn Marching Band’s hype video played on the big screen, with Auburn fans standing.
With about 250 players on the field, the crowd lustily sang “War Eagle.”
There was a big flag on the field, and a color guard, and military helicopters from Fort Rucker.
Five minutes before kickoff, cheerleaders lay the A-U-B-U-R-N flags out in order on the field and then picked them up. In addition to those flags, there was an American flag and a WDE flag carried by players, and big orange, white and blue flags, and even Aubie had his own flag. The team burst out of the tunnel accompanied by all those flags.
Then the game began. The crowd was electric, with the navy shakers in the student section seemingly moving at the rate of hummingbird wings.
A minute into the game, Auburn got a first down and the crowd went nuts. Then another first down and another and then a big penalty against the Bulldogs, all amid explosions from the crowd, and the Tigers had first and goal at the 9 yard line.
Looking back, that was the high point, but there were other big moments and bursts of fan noise, like when the defense stopped the Bulldogs on third and goal and the crowd went nuts again.
Then Eku Leota made a huge sack at the end of the first half. At the start of the second half, Georgia’s kicker clanged a field goal attempt off the left post at the start of the second half, and late in the third quarter Tank Bigsby charged into the end zone late.
From the start of the day, the players believed and the fans believed.
“We kept expecting to win, and we didn’t,” said linebacker Chandler Wooten.
Maybe it’s easy to point out things like the dropped passes and the offensive line’s struggles against the Bulldogs’ mammoth defensive front.
But Auburn offers a first-class game day experience and top-notch facilities. The Tigers have climbed to the top of college football – and done so much more recently than Georgia, we might add – and they can do it again.
And on any given Saturday, they can scare the daylights out of teams that are already there.
Yes, they’re not there at the moment, but nobody in orange and blue is backing down.
“It was a fun challenge,” said center Nick Brahms. “We were out there battling our butts off. … Sometimes you don’t win.”
Dimon Kendrick-Holmes is editor of the Opelika-News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org