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TUESDAY, JULY 24, 2007
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ROSS DELLENGER

AU football made strong impression

I still can remember the banner bobbing up and down above the raucous crowd.

"Tiger Walk," it read in bold orange and blue lettering. It waved above the thousands of Auburn-clad fans nestled at the foot of LSU's Tiger Stadium, waiting in the shadows of the immense structure for their team to arrive by bus to play the biggest game of the season.

It was Dec. 1, 2001. Some of you die-hard Auburn fans may remember it. And some of you who are just obsessed with college football in general may recall it.

Because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the regularly scheduled Auburn-LSU game was pushed back nearly three months, making it the last regular-season game for both teams. And what a season finale it turned out to be.

A win would mean an outright Southeastern Conference Western Division title for Auburn and a trip to Atlanta with a chance to advance to the Sugar Bowl, the holy ground for SEC teams. A loss would also send the Tigers to Atlanta — for the Peach Bowl. And they would be forced to share the West title with the Bayou Bengals.

As the AU team bus plowed onto campus, it met a mob of LSU fans in the tens of thousands who were wrapped around Tiger Stadium waiting for their team to arrive.

As Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville stared out the window of his first-row seat, he saw the sea of purple and gold for a short time, and then the view became a bit hazy out the tinted window.

LSU fans, already liquored up from 24 hours of guzzling alcohol, chucked anything in sight — including beer and food — at the two Auburn team buses as they made their way to the traveling Tiger Walk. The beer bottles hit the sides of the greyhounds and burst. Beer drenched its windows and creole cuisine — jambalaya, red beans and rice to name a few — splattered on its side, dripping down until it covered the bus's wheels.

Aaahhh, there's nothing like prime-time college football.

But Tuberville and the Auburn team had plans of their own.

Finally, the buses stopped directly in front of the "Tiger Walk" banner. An alley was formed by the Auburn fans who made the trek to Baton Rouge, La., and the team made its way into the visiting locker room under the banner and through the lane to chants of "War Eagle!"

About an hour later, as I sat on the cold metal bleachers in the top-most section of Tiger Stadium watching each team warm up, I noticed as the entire Auburn squad gathered in the middle of the field. The team began to stomp on LSU's midfield emblem: the tiger eye. All in unison, they pounded up and down. The harder they stomped, the more boos rained down upon them as those 92,000-plus in attendance noticed the spectacle.

But how could you blame the Tigers? Their welcome onto campus alone called for a little revenge, and why not do it by disgracing the opponent's insignia?

Of course, the referees did not see it that way.

A short time later, after the teams had retired to their locker rooms to prepare for kickoff, officials, who witnessed the stomping, flagged Auburn with unsportsmanlike conduct. LSU would kick off from the 50-yard line to start the game, not the 35.

Because of this, the home-standing Tigers attempted a less risky on-side kick. They recovered it and about 21/2 minutes later were leading 7-0. About 21/2 hours later, LSU fans were storming the field, tearing down the goal posts in the wake of their team's 27-14 victory.

Thirty days later, Auburn played in the Peach Bowl and lost 16-10 to North Carolina. LSU went on to upset Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game and then throttled Illinois in the Sugar Bowl, ending the season with a six-game winning streak and finishing with a record of 10-3.

The End.

OK, so it's not the best memory for Auburn fans, and it's probably not the best way to introduce myself as the new Auburn beat writer for The Daily.

But it is a true story, and it's the first memory of an Auburn football game that comes to my mind for three reasons: It was the most intense football game that I have been to; it was the first football game involving Auburn that I had been to; and it's the only memory that I have of an Auburn football game that is worth mentioning and writing about — the others have been recent Auburn-Mississippi State games, all of which were meaningless blowouts.

By the way, in case you're wondering, I am not an LSU fan. I did attend LSU games when I was younger because I lived two hours from Baton Rouge, La. — in Biloxi, Miss. — and because my father, who is a high school football coach, had once coached one of LSU's starting guards for that season.

So anyway, here I am, a new Decatur resident and your new Auburn beat writer.

Sorry to bring up old, rotten memories, but you have to admit that it is an intriguing tale and it kind of makes your heart start racing just thinking about the kickoff of the college football season.

Oh, one more thing: Auburn is scheduled to play LSU this season Oct. 20 in Baton Rouge.

You bet I'll be watching the pregame festivities.

Ross Dellenger Ross Dellenger
Auburn Beat

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