Monthly Archives: September 2008

Sunday sanctuary sans spread struggles

By J.M. Comer

I’m afraid to commit my thoughts to words, regarding our 2008 Auburn Tigers as this season crawls along. I’m sure it would be a lot like peering into your Kleenex tissue after a sneeze — sure you made it, and it feels good after it is done, but it’s not a pretty sight.

I will say this: 2008 has not been “fun time” for me so far, even with one loss after five games. The only game I have enjoyed watching was our loss. Huh? How is that possible?

How can you brag about Auburn with a straight face at this point in the season?

And how is it that ESPN’s Gameday keeps following us around? (Next stop: Nashville?!?!?)

But I’ve found an escape. An immediate escape to my worried Saturday brow, my gnashing of teeth.

I spend my Sundays with J.C. and his crew. (And it isn’t Jesus Christ and his entourage of 12. Count me among the ranks of the Sunday mid-morning couch heathens.)

The Washington Redskins are winning big games and our Auburn alum are looking great. (And I apologize to those Auburn fans that love the Dallas Cowgirls. This observation probably won’t help you much … you blue-and-silver-T.O.-enabling-cow-pie-kickin’-hole-in-your-stadium losers. Also … HA! HA! HA! *deep breath* AhhhhhhhhHA! HA! HAAAAA!)

Redskins QB Jason Campbell is standing tall in the pocket and throwing laser beams to a wide assortment of weapons zig-zagging across the field.

And he took out the Dallas Cowboys and looked fantastic doing it. But Jason hasn’t had an easy time getting to this point. He has been maligned by Redskins fans after the loss to the New York Giants in the first game of the season. But Jason and his teammates have made slow progress … step by step … to a point where they can overcome obstacles like knocking off an undefeated, cocky Dallas team this past Sunday.

The Redskins are building off their progress. Growing as a team. Trusting one another.

On the defensive side, it appears that fellow Auburn alum Carlos Rogers is coming along as a force in the secondary. Finally. He led the team in tackles and had two big swats (I acknowledge they were close to interference. Close. But. Not. Interference.) covering WR Terrell Owens this past Sunday.

Sometimes … *sigh* … sometimes a coach comes right in and fills a vacuum and connects with his players. And gets his point across and communicates well. His system is solid and he brims with confidence.

(I’m attempting to draw a parallel here with the “offensive guru” and offensive coordinator of the Auburn Tigers, Tony Franklin, and ex-quarterbacks coach of the Seattle Seahawks, now head coach of the Redskins, Jim Zorn. If you can stomach it, please stay with me here.)

Jim Zorn is doing just what I described earlier with the ‘Skins. He seems, at this point, to be aggressive in his call playing. He focuses on finishing games well. He drills his methods (sometimes odd methods) into his players. His players have bought into his philosophy. And Zorn has total trust in the abilities of his athletes (especially Jason Campbell) and has opened up the playbook.

Two points separated Dallas and Washington at the end of the game Sunday. Two points separated Auburn and Tennessee on Saturday.

Jason Campbell and the Redskins are playing to win.

Our Auburn Tigers are playing not to lose.

And that’s just gross. And wrong. And not fun to watch. And probably not fun to play. Or fun to coach for that matter.

I can’t seem to remember the last time I’ve heard a Tiger gushing about Tony Franklin. Maybe I’m not paying enough attention.

I thought Franklin was a teacher and certified salesman of the spread or something. Right now, it’s like the bull is the proprietor of the china and rug shop:

“Welcome to The Big Steer’s China Shoppe! What can I help you with? I see that this vase has caught your attention madam … oh sorry about that. I walked right into that case of rare Star Trek collectible plates I was trying to sell. And it looks like I’ve destroyed another Persian rug with a big ol’ No. 2. *Sigh* Sometimes I regret leaving Wall Street for this place.)

So, for now, I’m getting my football enjoyment, my workweek escape, through the NFL’s Redskins and not the SEC’s True Tigers. And I never, ever thought I’d say that.

Our Auburn Tigers need something to build on. Some feather to put in their hat. Last year, that stepping stone was the win against Vanderbilt at Jordan-Hare. Let’s hope like hell that this Saturday, against a #19 ranked Vanderbilt Commodore team, with the nation watching (I can’t believe it either) that this team can find a way to improve, learn and trust each other.

I’d suggest looking to J.C. for your inspiration.

POST-PUBLICATION ADD ON:

I just remembered an e-mail that I got last week from Ike, a reader and friend of TWER. Thought you might enjoy this:

On Sunday [Sept. 21, after the LSU game], rather than watching Falcons or Tampa Bay, I went to Buffalo Wild Wings in Auburn to watch the ‘Skins game. They had it up on one TV, and the only other folks watching the ‘Skins game were Al Borges and his little boy. We were all rooting on Campbell. He’s a super nice guy. He was still dressed up in an Auburn sweatshirt and his boy had on an Auburn shirt too.

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4-0 Vandy Looks Forward To Playing Auburn?

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AU96 does Tennessee

I think this is the first video of the year. I could be wrong. My favorite part is the quick cut to the signal callers on the sideline.

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Thoughts from the West Texas observatory – Tennessee

My little stories behind my story of the game suck compared to this but whatever, here we go.

It was a strange week. I couldn’t blog much. I was busy. Doing strange things. I was in Lubbock, Texas writing about a Gin Blossoms concert at a fair. I could feel the lack of killer instinct from here. The text messages were few. (The best one came from Kate: “A bum and a crack addict just yelled ‘roll tide’ at me.”) The Letdown loomed.

The moment was ripe against LSU – ESPN, moonlight – and blood poured from the throat of Jordan-Hare. And we came up short. Against Tennessee, “murmurs” where whipped into a soft, effeminate puss. And we came out on top.

I’ll take 14-12 any day. I’ll take 3-2 any day. And I’ll be proud for this reason: it’s great to be an Auburn Tiger. But I’ll also be proud because we win when look so terrible. You can moan and cuss all you want — and yesterday, yeah, in the second half, I did a little bit, under my breath — but that says something about a team and it says something about that team’s coach.

We are freaking 4-1. But here’s the thing, boo birds: we should be 5-0. We’ve beaten Mississippi St., we should have beaten LSU, we’ve beaten Tennessee. Some Auburn fans say we can’t win in this SEC playing like this when we’ve won in the SEC playing like this for four years. Some Auburn fans continue to act as if we’ve lost three games.

To this I say: Katharine Hepburn never thought she was pretty.

Hepburn’s “Bringing up Baby” is one of my all-time favorite movies. I had it memorized as a young child – my mom would make me perform for guests. But it is a line from her much better known “Philadelphia Story” that comes to mind on this, the fifth Sunday of the Tony Franklin death watch:

“The time to make your mind up about people is never!”

Or at least not five weeks into a season.

It’s like this – the advertised advantage of Franklin’s version of the spread was the tempo, or so it seemed to me. The meer cat, super-quick, 300 plays a game speed. Not quantity over quality, but we were supposed to wear down defenses, we would score in the second and fourth quarters (on Saturday, did we even get 20 yards in the 4th quarter?) And yet our no huddle is no threat.

I’m not going to look at the statistics because I don’t need to. We’re not really any faster, we just can’t be. And since we haven’t been, I’ve expected compensation in other areas. Mixing it up. Trick plays. Reverses. Even the wheel routes of old. Burns and Todd in on the same play. Anything. But I haven’t. There was the snowed under whatever-it-was pass attempt by Robert Dunn (and while we’re at it, what I finally realized I like about Dunn is that he brings a certain badass swagger that is needed even on a team built around the Beatitudes. The Irons brothers had it, but Dunn’s seems more ‘thank-God-he’s-on-our-side’) and at least Fannin touched the ball a little bit… (to be honest, I’d be hiking it to him every first down)…

And so even I, eternal optimist of the Auburn night, will admit it, hands up in the air: I’m confused. We signed up for hi-speed, for WiFi, and we can barely check our e-mail. We wanted Ricky the Dragon and we see Ricky the Martin. And though our defense will keep us in every game we play, a point of seizure awaits this Auburn offense in every game, springing randomly, and once it does, it’s all we can do to feed ourselves. At the sight of the game-saving barely-first down, the family claps and takes pictures. Yes, ma’am, it’s painful to watch.

Still, the prevailing idea that we’re actually handicapped is crap.

Maybe it’s just the kind of fan I am, but I trust the man implicitly, in part because Tuberville still seems to, yes, but also because Tony Franklin exudes a sort of Margaritaville nonchalance that purs potential, just-wait-for-it, holy-crap-what-was-that Bobby Fischer potential.

He is the guy that actually speaks English on the customer service line, the guy that chats you up about football or music and then apologizes once he realizes the problem, “man, awww damn, there’s an outtage in your area, that sucks…” and then gives you a tip that something is coming, something big, you’re gonna want it, can I sign you up?

“Well, they should. If I was them, I’d boo. I’d boo me. I’d be angry. Everybody’s expectations were high. My expectations were high. If I was a paying fan I’d be upset. This product has not been good, and it was my product. I don’t blame them for being upset. I don’t take it personal. When they said how wonderful you were, I didn’t take that personal because I knew it wasn’t true. I said all along that I wasn’t very smart and y’all thought I was joking. Now you know. It’s pretty true.”

Good God in heaven — there is a Gizmo Duck waiting to be unleashed from that sort of humility! Can’t we all just concentrate and be positive and help him remember the word! And for crying out loud, it is not freaking “boo.” (It’s, say it with me, “War Eagle,” the greatest blatherinblatherskite in the history of college football!).

DO. NOT. BOO. Oh, it’s for the play calling? Hmmm, call me crazy but hating the sin but loving the sinner just doesn’t translate from the cheap seats. While I certainly think that Auburn players have enough brains to discern the object of disdain – an option read rather than the quarterback – do you really think that matters? OK, now the players know they’re about to go out and read a line that will offend half their “fans,” that’ll really build their confidence. I’d rather the stadium be half-empty than to hear one boo from someone in orange and blue. I think the players would agree with me.

More on everything else — Bammersbackism, quarterbacks, a sure to be scorching Thom Gossom column, etc… — later in the week, hopefully. Until then, War Damn Eagle, we’ll see you in hell, Commodores, ’93 style.

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100% Cotton … Ray Cotton

“When God made a quarterback, he made him like Ray Cotton.” — Meade High School coach Lance Clelland.

“I didn’t understand how important having hope for the football team was here. We want to give them all a reason to keep hoping.” — Meade High School QB Ray Cotton.

After three games this season, Auburn’s verbal commitment Ray Cotton has racked up 706 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Pencil thin mustache? Check!

Height of 6’5″? Check!

#17 jersey? Check!

Sound like someone we all know that plays on Sundays? (Although it seems that Cotton is getting tired of the comparisons already.)

Click for today’s Washington Post video featuring Cotton.

Click for today’s Washington Post story featuring Cotton.

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Back On The Plains (debut TWER column by Thom Gossom)

I talked with Thom yesterday and told him he should write a column for the blog. And he totally did! Hopefully, it’ll be a regular thing…

By the time we made it to the elevator to transport us to the top floor of Jordan-Hare Stadium at Auburn University we were both sucking wind and ready for a comfortable chair. We’d walked maybe a quarter mile, but when you use a walking stick because of shot knees and a bad back, and limp like old gimp-legged Chester in the TV series “Gunsmoke,” a quarter mile can be an Olympian feat. For the record, my friend, brother, and former teammate James Owens was the one hobbling along with the cane. I was doing the Chester imitation because of a knee that a doctor told me ten years ago, at age 45, looked like the knee of a 75 year old. But hey, we made it to the President’s Suite and what a sight! It was my first game since the infamous 2002, reunion I speak of in my memoir, Walk-On. Thousands of shades of orange shone brightly under the nightlights of the Jordan Hare. Full, and plump from a full buffet, we sat down for a fun football game between my alma mater, Auburn and those dreaded tigers from the bayou, LSU.

While waiting for the pomp and circumstance to end and the game to begin, James and I tried to catch up on our lives. But well-wishers kept interrupting. Many know me from television and film work, the recent publicity on the book, and my days on the Plains as split end #49 with the huge afro. Some knew James, but not nearly enough, from his history making days as Auburn’s first black footballer.

James and I reminisced about our time together. We were Shug Jordan’s first two black players in the early 1970s when integration found its way to Auburn athletics. It’s a bond we’ll share all our lives. We remembered the fun stuff. We laughed at the sorry second team offensive linemen that Coach Pap Morris would daily dog cuss. “YOU ARE NOT A FOOTBALL PLAYER! YOU JUST WANT TO WALK AROUND WITH THE FOOTBALL PLAYERS! YOU JUST WANT SOMEONE TO SAY, ‘HE’S ONE OF THE FOOTBALL PLAYERS.’ YOU JUST WANT TO GET ON THE BUS WITH THE FOOTBALL PLAYERS. BUT YOU’RE NOT A FOOTBALL PLAYER!” We laughed about going to the Goal Post Grill and being served more hamburgers, fries and shakes than we could have ever paid for. With very little money we would come out with full stomachs and big happy smiles. Sadly, we remembered our brother, Henry Harris, Auburn’s first black athlete. We wondered what his life would be like today. James said to me, “He’d be proud of you.” I hope so. He and James were my big brothers in those dark days.

At halftime (I’ll get to the game) we ventured into the letterman’s lounge. I’d already seen many of my teammates. Bobby Davis and Jimmy Sirmans both linebackers, greeted me warmly. The lefthander, a good guy, defensive end, Rusty Deen, was smiling as usual. Receiver Mike Gates and fullback Rusty Fuller, perpetual twins, jazzed me up. Gates again gave me a hard time about the car I sold him. I’m lucky they didn’t have the lemon law then. Randy Walls one of my favorites gave me a big hug. Randy, as a sophomore quarterback, led us to ten wins against one defeat in 1972. We became know as “The Amazins.” Coach Jordan proclaimed that team his favorite after 25 years of coaching, and our miracle 17-16 win over Alabama.

Among unsure former teammates, my memoir, Walk-On has caused a stir. Many were cautious in asking about it. One asked quietly, ”Thomas I was nice to you wasn’t I?” “Of course,” I said with my fingers crossed. Two concerned women, cornered me and blurted out, “I’m not in that book am I?”

There was one flashback to yesteryear. One of the former footballers, whiskey breath and all, felt the need to tell me and James and any one else who would listen, how he now felt like he was a black man and the one final wish in his life was to f— a black woman. “I feel black,” he announced. He embarrassed his wife as he continued with his faux soul brother act. “Just one time I’d like to f— a black woman,” he kept telling me. We begged off and fled back to the Presidents suite.

The game: I’m sure the spread offense will get better, but will it be good enough to beat the better teams in the SEC? It’s hard to say, “yes” right now. The offensive coordinator says Auburn will throw the ball even more than we did against LSU. Hell, that’s a no-brainer when you can’t run. Don’t know what happened to the “Bow your neck up and shove it down their throats” lineman and running backs we had before. The personnel is still there. But the linemen are pass blocking NFL caliber defensive ends almost every play with no running threat. Hell, let’s run a dive so our guys can fire off and knock the shit out of them every once in a while. Mario Fanning doesn’t even carry the ball (enough said). Ben Tate, a good runner, spends his running plays trying to go east-west. In the SEC that’s a waste of a good down. If you ain’t hitting it north-south, forget it. Tristan Davis fumbled once. That’s it for him.

The offense has been bad the last three years. Last year’s quarterback, Brandon Cox, was shot after the Georgia game of 2006. Offensive coordinator, Al Borges was very limited in what he could call with Cox. A pass over the middle had the whole stadium and AU fans watching television, cringing. The new quarterback wears Cox’s number 12. Enough said. If Kodi Burns can’t play alongside this guy, he doesn’t deserve a scholarship. Can 90,000 fans all be wrong? If Burns doesn’t know the system, the coach should teach it to him. That’s his job.

Also, forget the numbers. The numbers don’t mean anything. I saw the game. These pop gun offenses without a running quarterback can pile up big numbers and beat teams when you have the talent edge. The offensive coordinator says the quarterback played good against LSU. I saw the game. I hope he gets better.

At the end of the night, James and I boarded the elevator to begin the quarter mile trek back to the car. In the crowded elevator, a man struck up a conversation with James. “Did you play here,” he asked? “Yes,” James responded. He then asked me. I nodded, “Yes.” Another gentleman on the elevator pointed to James and told the inquirer, “He was the first.” The questioner didn’t get it. But, the other man didn’t go further, not feeling comfortable saying the first “what” on the elevator. Finally, I told the inquisitive man, “James was the first black football player at Auburn.” The man looked at James admiringly.

Thom’s book Walk-On, My Reluctant Journey to Integration at Auburn University, is available in Borders and Walden bookstores, J&M Bookstore and at walkongossom.com

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Thoughts from the West Texas observatory – LSU

(photo by the Incredible Scott Fillmer)

I thought we had it. I would have wanted an extra minute for the last drive, but even then I thought we had them right where we wanted them. Tuberville did to. And when, who was it — Rod Smith? — caught the 4th down throw off another great Todd scramble, things still made sense. But then, the yellow line appeareth and behold, it was short, sigh, damn, over. War Eagle.

There were good omens, though. The pre-game context, of course… the shot of the bouncy blond cheerleader celebrating our first sack, Nova, the rapture-esque (thank you Kenny) decibels a la Florida ’06, the pick six before half, the fact that we seemed to always slay defending national champs. But I suppose there were also bad omens. I don’t really buy into the Corso curse, but if you do, then that’s bad. Kudos to the priory of Aubie for again denying him access to the sacred head. Matthew 7:6.

That cant be good, it looks like they actually loaned him part of the suit! Pearls to swine? -- Photo by the incredible Scott Filmer

(photo by Scott Fillmer)

Also, what the h, Todd’s Taste of the Town? By no means do I fault the Creole Shack for doing their thing out there on Shug Jordan, I’ve never been there, but I mean, awesome, I’m all about it. But I can’t believe that ESPN would be so desperate for the easy copy, the easy irony. Well I can believe it, I’m just surprised they actually did it. Last year it was Byron’s, which is fine, great,  but the cajun place in Auburn? It’d be like highlighting Tuscaloosa’s little-known Punt, Bama, Punt Cafe when Auburn’s nailing the Tide this year. Can we not just go to Toomer’s? Sure they showed clips like everyone always does, but hell’s bells Todd, that’s your money maker right there. Do the history! Oh it’s so awesome, oh Jesus sold it as a kid, play it up like that, say it’s good enough to be a meal, thick historical cream! It’s Esquire Magazine’s #1 reason it’s great to be an American male, for cryin’ out loud! Or Lord, maybe just the Supper Club or something. Geez.

And while we’re at it, the entire broadcast sucked, an unending stream of faux pas, inaccuracy, and Holly Rowe, who I think I once liked, I can’t remember. But she kicked things off with an odd scolding of the Jordan-Hare crowd for being too loud when Auburn was offense, actually saying “They should know better,” and it was all downhill from there.

I think some guys that should know better are Mike and Todd. I barely know the game of football, but I was correcting those men the whole night. No, that was Auburn, not LSU. No that was LSU, not Auburn. Half the time they wouldn’t even catch or correct themselves. They were projecting make-believe penalties (against Auburn) onto plays, mocking the dyslexic, odd comments left and right. But none so odd as Holly’s commentary on the much-commented on condition of LSU quarterback Andrew Hatch after an educational decleating by Jeraud Powers. Hatch did not know where he was. He was slapping himself, shaking, collapsing, drunk.

“No, I know he doesn’t drink guys… because he’s Mormon.”

So, though I pray he recovers, I have to say that the demormonizing of an LSU quarterback — the thought of their cocky, horrible fans watching their Harvard man act a stumblebum after just your average Auburn hit — was one of last night’s highlights.

Others were Robert Dunn, Sen’Derrick Marks, and — beat me, whip me, call me Helen — Chris Todd. Sure, far from perfect, but good, especially in contrast to the previous weeks. He stood in there, he made big plays. We could have used a little Kodi here and there, but for that game last night, that environment, solo Kodi wouldn’t have gotten as close to what solo Chris almost could’ve, would’ve, maybe even should’ve pulled off. But again, together? Tag team? I think it works. Just put some thought into it.

But the worst omen of all? My theory is The Pants. We’ve heard nothing so far – no name, no figure (I guessed at least $5,000), but on Friday night, there was a transfer of power, a transfer perhap never intended. Pat Dye’s pants, his pants from the 1980s, were sold to the highest bidder. Perhaps they fell into the wrong hands. I’m not going to fault Coach for dropping trou on that wet, holy, windy day dead in the heart of his professional stride. God knows…  he did what he had to do. And it was beautiful. But though I went numb for several seconds from the thrill of the story of their recovery, perhaps, like the Ark of the Covenant, The Pants are imbued with a power beyond our ken, our worth and again, our morality. Earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, The Pants. Perhaps they should still be with the catfish.

Sure, there’s a lot to work on, more on that later. But there’s a lot be proud of, that’s enough for now. It’ll be another one of those seasons, one of those It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger seasons. Let’s Hang Tenn, let’s put Georgia back in their place, and let’s BEAT THE LIVING HELL OUT OF BAMA.

Shall we?

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