Football. It ain't dead yet.
While the sport, at the pro, college and even high school level, has been besieged with player injuries, questions about the mores surrounding the game, arrests, and all-around cultural assault, the finish Saturday afternoon at Auburn, Ala., reminded fans, players and media types why the sport reigns atop the American athletic food chain.
Auburn made the most of its "Second Chance" against Alabama Saturday and turned a potential game-losing field goal into a game-winning touchdown into the wildest college football finish since Cal beat Stanford and its band.
"Hail, Flutie!" meet "The Second Coming of Auburn."
Chris Davis fielded Adam Griffith's short kick at the back of the end zone, cut back to the left just past the 10-yard line and raced untouched 109 yards for the game-winning touchdown with no time left. The 34-28 victory put Auburn in next week's SEC title game against Missouri and derailed the Crimson Tide's chances for a third-straight national title.
If anything, it was the greatest play ever this month at Jordan Hare Stadium, which just two weeks ago saw an Auburn [11-1] catch so miraculous it was universally dubbed "The Prayer at Jordan-Hare" and/or the "Immaculate Deflection."
Alabama [11-1] coach Nick Saban lobbied for the officials to review the final play from scrimmage, a T.J. Yeldon run to the Auburn 39. They did, and gave the Crimson Tide one second back on the clock and a shot at 57-yard game-winning field goal with the score tied 28-28.
Be careful what you ask for, Nick.
"We're a team of destiny," Davis said. "We won't take no for an answer. When I looked back, I said, 'I can't believe this.'"
Auburn was 3-9 last season and is now in the SEC title game under first-year coach Gus Malzahn. They've been a "Team of Destiny" most of the season. [Does any of this sound familiar, Red Sox fans?] When Ricardo Louis caught a 73-yard TD off a deflection with 36 seconds left to beat Georgia two weeks ago it set up Saturday's Iron Bowl, the first time the intra-state rivals met as top-five teams.
Alabama took a 28-21 lead after a 99-yard TD pass from QB and Sports Illustrated cover boy A.J. McCarron.
While McCarron wasn't victorious on the field Saturday, he certainly didn't go home a loser.
At the end of the day AJ McCarron still wins pic.twitter.com/ic5lWps3w8— Football = LIFE (@FootbalITweets) December 1, 2013
McCarron's girlfriend, Katherine Webb, went to Auburn but said she was going to root for Alabama Saturday. Brent Musburger wasn't available for any age-inappropriate comments because Saturday's game aired on CBS.
Alabama missed three field-goal attempts in the game and Saban made several questionable moves throughout the game after taking a 21-7 lead.
As Saban died more than little inside, the crowd at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium demonstrated complete delirium on the outside.
The current scene at Jordan?Hare Stadium: pic.twitter.com/ov1RmobVvu— BuzzFeed Sports (@BuzzFeedSports) December 1, 2013
Davis said he "just ran" once he caught the ball but knew where he was headed a year ago, as evidenced by this post on his Twitter account from last December:
I need to get on kick return and punt return this year— Chris Davis (@chris11au) December 5, 2012
Auburn's greatest football player was indeed impressed:
I just witnessed the most incredible sporting event I've ever seen in my life. War damn eagle. Only 1 more second.— Bo Jackson (@BoJackson) December 1, 2013
Alabama fans, as expected, weren't happy.
Not even Broadway Joe could guarantee this victory:
Losing always feels lousy! Bama gave great effort, but didn't play well enough to win. We must move on. #RollTide— Joe Namath (@RealJoeNamath) December 1, 2013
Some took it harder than others:
Sports fans in Boston can sympathize with this young Crimson Tide fan, having shared a similar, crushing first-time "Why did this happen to me?" experience in either 1946, 1967, 1975, 1978, 2003 or 2008, depending on your age.
Saturday's Iron Bowl came on the heels of the annual Ohio State-Michigan matchup, which saw one of its most exciting conclusions in decades. The cheers from Columbus after the Iron Bowl were nearly as loud as the ones at Auburn and will echo throughout the rest of the college football landscape for weeks.
Ohio State beat Michigan 42-41 after a Michigan's two-point conversion attempt was intercepted with 32 seconds to play. Brady Hoke made the right call going for two and not risking OT, given how Braxton Miller and OSU was moving the ball, but the play called was not imaginative and the Buckeyes were waiting Meanwhile, Florida State routed Florida 37-7.
Alabama's loss threw the BCS rankings into complete chaos. It's likely that Florida State, Ohio State and Auburn will each move up a spot and be No. 1, 2 and 3 this week. Alabama should land at No. 4. College football's playoff system is going to come a year too late for the Buckeyes if they get jumped by a one-loss SEC champion Auburn team in the final BCS poll. Florida State appears to be secure in having a shot at the national title game if it beats Duke next week in the ACC championship game. Ohio State plays Michigan State for the Big Ten crown.
Given the action Saturday, it might be time to update this list:
The NFL playoffs and bowl season are still a month away.
In the words of Bart Scott, "can't wait."
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