On September 2, 2017, 80,000-something Auburn folks will follow the sun to the Loveliest Village. They’ll test tires all along 280 and 85; 65 and 431; and other, more neighborly paths.
Some will tailgate; others mill about. All will face the heat. Most will join the sea of humanity that later becomes many streams filling Jordan-Hare Stadium.
There they will feel emotions, connections both to the past and to what they know to be the surest, most treasured principles in life. Precious few will meet this epiphany for the first time; yet the rest will marvel anew by how essentially, how completely it washes over them, and pours into them as the eagle soars around the field; and touches down to myriad voices as one.
Nostalgia gives way to wonder as the Auburn University Marching Band takes the field. Their stateliness, precision and volume make the message clear: This Is Auburn—Both the Auburn you have always loved, and the Auburn we celebrate today.
The team takes the field. Not even this sight can fully wake us from the eight-months dream. Only when the captains approach midfield does reality take hold—Auburn is playing football today.
The Tigers win the toss and elect to receive.
Kyle Davis fields the opening kick just short of the goal line. He takes off and finds a lane. He gets another block—and for a second seems bound for glory—but an opponent gets just enough of him, at just the right moment. Davis almost regains his footing, but finally falls at Auburn’s 45-yard line.
Already at fever pitch, the Auburn faithful reach uncontrolled euphoria when Jarrett Stidham jogs onto the field. It seems forever since A-Day.
Stidham takes the snap. His eyes—and the few not on him—follow Nate Craig-Myers sprinting down the left sideline. Another half-breath, then Stidham looks to the other sideline, and lets it fly.
Eli Stove accelerates, both to leave his defender, and to catch up to Stidham’s toss. He catches and cradles the ball in stride. In a season when many, many Tigers break the plane, he will always be first; standing there in a hurricane of praise, waiting for his teammates in the end zone.
Stidham throws another 13 passes—all of them caught; two more for touchdowns. Then the running takes over. Later, Sean White plays two series; then Malik Willis.
It is only Georgia Southern, but every right-minded fan is happy that we looked the way we were supposed to. We roll Toomer’s Corner ceremonially. Rolling after any win has long been standard practice; no more dependent on the game’s magnitude than your thirst for lemonade.
We walk away from the Heart of Auburn thinking about Clemson. How good are they this year? How good are we? Only the next Saturday can answer the first question. Only our players can answer the second. They’ll compose that answer on the practice field, when none of us are watching.
If it’s the answer we hope for, the balance will shift. The experience of what it all means—elevated on hotter days by the eagle flight and the band—will move across campus, toward the Oaks.
The stadium fanfare will become more ceremonial. The celebration at Toomer’s Corner will take on the moment of actualization—the clearer picture of how Great It Is To Be An Auburn Tiger. War Eagle.