The most important Iron Bowl in history produced the most incredible ending to a game that I’ve ever seen. It was the kind of miraculous finish that you usually find documented in a grainy iPhone video at a high school game in New Hampshire on YouTube. Everything that was tied up in this year’s Alabama-Auburn game served to magnify the moment as Chris Davis crossed the Crimson Tide’s goal line - state bragging rights, the SEC West crown, A.J. McCarron’s Heisman candidacy, ‘Bama’s undefeated record and bid for a third straight national championship.
Yet, the spittle on Auburn radio man Rod Bramblett’s microphone had barely dried when the school’s athletics director, Jay Jacobs, decided to end the revelry.
Seizing the moment, Jacobs called on the college football world to do its civic duty and make sure the Tigers got the opportunity to defend his school’s - um, er - the SEC’s string of national championships:
"And a one-loss SEC team that wins in Atlanta — if it's us or Missouri — you can't get left out of the BCS after you beat the No. 1 team. We have a better argument because we beat the No. 1 team."
To the surprise of no one, the same old pull it out contest broke out Saturday evening. It likely won’t stop for weeks. It’s pretty much a rite of fall at this point: Everybody else sucks, nobody plays anybody good, defense wins championships, etc.
Whiz, meet Cornflakes.
Lobbying the pollsters in college football is nothing new. I guess you could excuse Jacobs’ hyperbolizing as part of his job description (assuming that there’s an “acting like a clown” stipulation in his contract). If Jacobs hadn’t raised the issue, some pundit would have.
But there was just something about this moment that, to me, crystallized a paradigm shift in today’s college football culture.
The passion that drives college football makes every tradition and rivalry and eccentricity important in and of itself. Games like Army-Navy and Ohio State-Michigan matter first and foremost because of what they are – the amalgamation of history and identity that gets unpacked and re-written every time they take the field.
Now, though, they serve as referendums on strength of schedule and fodder for fans' circle jerks over TV numbers that they don't even understand.
I don’t know what’s more quintessentially college football than the Iron Bowl, and, for Auburn, this was the most exciting moment in the history of the rivalry. Instead of basking in it, the school’s athletic director hijacked the celebration to mount an advertising campaign. Ultimately, the win wasn’t as much about knocking off the Tigers' rivals in the most spectacular fashion imaginable, but asserting Auburn’s place in the national championship picture.
As media conglomerates (okay, one media conglomerate) continue to elbow regional competitors out of the conversation, the homogenization of the sport’s culture is only going to spread. Pitching the Iron Bowl and Red River Shootout as “games with College Football Playoff implications” sells better to more people. Some day, the Civil War will be about as special as Jets-Giants.
Fun while it lasted, I guess.