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The Deep South’s Oldest Rewind: Pilgrims in an unholy land.

Georgia v Auburn
Auburn is a land of strange and little-known customs. This is the story of a trip into the heart of Barnness.
Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

In 2012 Mark Richt and his Georgia Bulldogs were riding a high octane offense and a nasty, physical defense into Auburn with the chance to clinch the SEC East on the line. I was there, and I was smart enough to bring along one of the best college football writers of our time to chronicle the whole thing. Presented here, unabridged and unaltered, is T. Kyle King’s contemporaneous account of our 2012 trip to the Dullest Little Village on the Plains. Enjoy.

The third quarter came to an end, and I rose to my feet in the pleasant November night, my right arm raised high to the heavens. The Redcoat Band sent the notes of “Krypton Fanfare” ringing clearly throughout the arena, unimpeded by any competing sound. The red-clad fans who formed the overwhelming majority of those present moved their arms back and forth to the rhythm of the music with four fingers extended. When the tune concluded, the spirit of the crowd was certain, as the Georgia Bulldogs faithful were ready to see the Red and Black close out a gridiron victory in the final 15 minutes of a game in Sanford Stadium.

There was only one problem, though. We weren’t in Athens; we were in Auburn. At that juncture, however, you never would have known that the Bulldogs were not the home team in the stadium named for a former Georgia assistant coach and on the field named for a former Georgia player.

It was MaconDawg to whom the idea occurred, as he watched Jordan-Hare Stadium emptied at halftime of the Auburn Tigers’ lopsided loss to the Texas A&M Aggies, that some enterprising fellow might pick up tickets to the renewal of the DeepSouth’s Oldest Rivalry at a reasonable price. When he tested that hypothesis and saw it proven true, MaconDawg contacted me and asked if I would be interested in paying less than face value for tickets to see the closest thing conceivable to a foreordained Georgia win over Auburn. My response was, Well, duh!

We lit out for the Yellowhammer State, but we soon wondered whether we might have gotten our wires crossed and misread the date on our ducats. We literally were within walking distance of the stadium ere we encountered the earliest evidence that a Southeastern Conference football game was on the agenda for the evening. Passing through Opelika, we noted that we had seen a greater number of Alabama and Georgia fans than Auburn boosters; indeed, we were within a few miles of the so-called Loveliest Village before we spotted our first confirmed member of the Plainsmen faithful, who was driving alongside us in a Cadillac with his Auburn cap on backwards. When we reached a traffic light more or less simultaneously, he pulled down the sun visor of his automobile, seemingly oblivious to the potential utility of the bill of his cap, which shielded the back of his neck.

It turned out, of course, that we had gotten the date right. We all are conscious of the significance of today’s date---Auburn provided a nice salute to Veterans Day during the halftime show---but the many important occasions of which Saturday represented the anniversary doubtless were lost on many in attendance. It was, for instance, on November 10, 2007, that Mark Richt’s Bulldogs blacked out Tommy Tuberville’s Tigers, confirming that the previous year’s upset was no fluke and cementing the Red and Black’s reassertion of preeminence in a rivalry that today stands snarled at 54-54-8, being tied for the first time since 1987.

It was on November 10, 1990, that Aaron Murray was born, and he celebrated his 22nd birthday by completing 18 of 24 pass attempts for 208 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for eleven net yards. It was on November 10, 1775, that the United States Marine Corps was founded at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, and the Georgia D commemorated that great day for the defense of the nation by safeguarding successfully their goal line, limiting the Plainsmen to 238 total yards and eleven first downs, securing an interception and a fumble recovery, and holding Auburn scoreless for the first time since 1976 . . . a season, incidentally, in which the ‘Dawgs defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide, won the SEC championship, and attended the bowl game that decided the national title.

Finally, November 10 is Martinmas, the feast day of the patron saint of reformed drunkards, on which, according to Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History, “animals were slaughtered and salted for the winter, followed by a celebration for which, if they too converted, Saint Martin could grant forgiveness.” The Bulldogs marked the Christian holiday by eviscerating the Tigers, upon whom they dropped a 38-0 drubbing that fell only a field goal shy of matching the largest margin of victory ever recorded by the Red and Black against the Orange and Blue. Coupled with last year’s 38-point victory, the 2011 and 2012 series meetings represented Georgia’s first back-to-back victories over Auburn by more than 30 points apiece since 1945 and 1946, Charley Trippi’s last two years wearing a Bulldog uniform.

It was a clean, workmanlike dispatching of a deflated rival featuring just 15 yards in penalties and no turnovers. The Classic City Canines gained 497 yards of total offense, moved the chains 24 times, converted eight of 14 third downs, and held the ball for nearly 32 minutes of clock time. The defense turned in its third consecutive dominant performance, a stretch during which Georgia has surrendered a combined total of three points in the second halves of three straight SEC outings, and two Bulldog running backs had hundred-yard days: Keith Marshall ran for 105 yards on eight carries, while Todd Gurley racked up 116 yards on eleven touches. (For those looking for something about which to be concerned, please note that Gurley’s production has declined over that three-game stretch, from 118 yards against the Florida Gators to 117 against the Mississippi Rebels to 116 against the Plainsmen. Still, Super Gurl now has the distinction of being the third freshman to rush for 1,000 yards in Georgia history, behind Herschel Junior Walker in 1980 and Knowshon Rockwell Moreno in 2007.)

It was, in short, a glorious night to be a Bulldog fan, and it was all the more so because our hosts so clearly knew a beatdown was in the making. Auburn---the city, not the university---was smaller than I expected, though I suppose the term “village” ought to have offered a clue. It reminded me of Clemson---again, the city, not the university---and it reminded MaconDawg of Milledgeville. Toomer’s Corner was a neat place, and the barbecue joint at which we ate was a good one, though I had to laugh at the juxtaposition of an autographed picture of Cam Newton on a wall adjacent to one on which hung a declaration that their barbecue was so good it would make patrons think the proprietors had sold their souls. Hey, if for football, why not for barbecue, too? 2-8, I mused, is what happens when, instead of having Daniel Webster to argue your way out of a deal with the devil, you are forced to rely on a caller to Paul Finebaum’s radio show to plead your case. The devil went down to Georgia because no one in Alabama offered much of a challenge to Old Scratch.

The flight of the eagle struck me as the most overrated thing ever; it is the “Stairway to Heaven” of college traditions, about which you are supposed to say that you love it because everyone else has said so before you, but which, honestly, is a long run for a short slide. Yeah, fine, you let loose a bird, and it flew, then it landed. I’m from the Atlanta area, where we have pigeons, so I was not impressed.

Nevertheless, I was impressed by the turnout. The crowd, though subdued, was significant at kickoff, to a degree I had not anticipated and the traffic heading into town did not foretell. The student section filled up early, but it emptied out early, as well. The assemblage had thinned considerably by intermission, and, by the end of the third quarter, the Georgia fans far outnumbered the Auburn fans. The evening’s loudest roar of enthusiasm from the hometown crowd, by far, came when the Tide’s loss to the Aggies went final.

For the Red and Black faithful, nothing about this experience was less than completely wonderful, right down to the satisfaction of hearing Brian VanGorder’s utterly disheartened postgame comments in the locker room radio show. Last night, Georgia won a division championship; over the course of the next two weeks, the Bulldogs will have the opportunity to claim a state championship; the week after that, the Athenians will get the chance to compete for a conference crown, as well. If the next three games go the Classic City Canines’ way, the postseason possibilities well might be limitless.

For now, though, we have a big win over our oldest rival to enjoy. In the second half, a spilled beverage soaked the jacket of the fan seated behind us, and, when he commenced to squeeze out the liquid from his garment, the fluid that flowed forth brought with it the unmistakable smell of sour mash whiskey. The resigned Auburn fan seated to my left, detecting that distinctive scent and the nearby odor of concessions, remarked: “Bourbon and popcorn; it smells like Christmas!”

I believe in being magnanimous in victory, so I didn’t correct him by pointing out that it was Martinmas. Besides, he had a point; I did, indeed, feel a great deal like a young boy early on the morning of December 25, rather than like a middle-aged man late on the evening of November 10, but that probably is because there are few gifts better to a Georgia fan than a Bulldog victory at Auburn to lock up the right to hang a banner for a championship attained in Southeastern Conference play.

Go ‘Dawgs! Auburna delenda est!