While Newton remained impervious to the songs, the Alabama student section wasn't, making it rain on Newton with fake $100 bills. It was an ominous beginning. The defending national champion had undefeated Auburn lined up in its sights, taking aim at the Tigers' national championship dreams in the most intense rivalry in the country.
Once the Iron Bowl began, Auburn reaped its own whirlwind as the Tide rushed out to a 24-0 lead that should have been even larger were it not for big defensive plays that seemed like fingers in the Crimson Tide dam at the time. Boise State and TCU broke out the champagne and popped the corks. At long last, it seemed the pathway to the BCS title was open for a small school. Ohio State president Gordon Gee broke his remote throwing it at the television. Chaos appeared on the verge of reigning as day turned to night in Alabama.
How dominant was Alabama when all seemed lost for the Tigers? At the end of the first quarter, the Tide had 187 yards of total offense to Auburn's -8. Newton, the Tigers erstwhile Superman, was held to 87 yards in the first half, -10 rushing. How bad was it for Auburn in the first 20 minutes? The best play for the Tigers came when Auburn forced a fumble at the tail-end of a 41-yard gain. Amazingly, the ball skittered down the sideline and all the way out the back of the end zone for an Auburn touchback. Three times Alabama drove inside the Tigers' 20 looking to deliver the knockout blow via touchdown. And three times Alabama failed to score a touchdown. There was the inexplicable Mark Ingram fumble that tight-roped the sideline and carried into the end zone, a dropped touchdown catch on first and goal that would have made it 28-0 and finally a Nick Fairly explosive rush up the middle that caused a Greg McElroy fumble and left the game at 24-7 in the second half.
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Even with these stops, though, Auburn was down by 17 and Alabama coach Nick Saban was 37-2 when leading at the half. He'd never lost a lead this big. Ever. And Auburn had never come back from a deficit this big. Ever. Surely, this game was over, right? It was time for Auburn coach Gene Chizik to put together his best concession speech and argue why his Tigers deserved a chance at the BCS title despite a final regular season loss to Alabama.
Just make it respectable in the second half, right?
Only Chizik doesn't play for respectability, he plays to win. Asked after the game to step into the breach and make the case that a one-loss SEC team deserved a spot in the BCS title game over an undefeated Boise State or TCU, Chizik declined. "I just think that my opinion doesn't matter, to be honest," he said. Somewhere Gee got the vapors, choked out by his own bow tie.
In the second half, Auburn relied on the best player in college football, Newton, to take control of the game. On the second play of the third quarter, Newton hit Terrell Zachery for 70 yards and it was a 24-14 game. Bryant-Denny Stadium, which earlier had been more raucous than any game I've seen all year, began to stir with discomfort. Could Auburn really come back on the mighty Tide here in Tuscaloosa?
By the time Newton dove across the end zone to make it 24-21 with 20 minutes to play -- a score that broke Bo Jackson's season record for rushing touchdowns -- Alabama fans were as stunned as if they'd seen a unicorn run across the field wearing a houndstooth hat. But, surely, this was Alabama, the defending national champs with its own Heisman trophy winner on the sideline and a first-round receiver dominating. Except Julio Jones, the receiver who put Bama on his back in last year's Iron Bowl, was injured. The lead wavered, Bama wobbled.
Much to the shock of over 100,000 Alabama fans, Auburn marched down the field behind the brilliant play calling of college football's next multi-millionaire, Gus Malzahn. Until with 11:55 remaining in the game, Newton rolled to the right and threw back across the entire field to a wide open Philip Lutzenkirchen for a 28-27 lead. What had been the loudest stadium in America suddenly became the most silent. War Cam Eagle had struck and Alabama had no answer, especially not when McElroy was knocked out of the game on a vicious, and entirely legal, sack. This time, the SEC officials didn't flag Auburn for a bogus celebration penalty after a sack.
Ultimately, Newton didn't take the money and run -- tonight, anyway -- he took the Iron Bowl and ran with it, erasing the largest deficit in Auburn history and delivering a crushing finishing move to the Crimson Tide faithful. Alabama has had many tough losses in its proud football history, but I'm not sure it's ever had a more difficult one to stomach. Up 24 points on your most bitter rival and you crumble down the stretch? As Auburn coach Gene Chizik said, "That was a game that will certainly go down in history. ... That's hard to do against anybody." Exactly how long that history will last, remains to be seen. The specter of a continuing NCAA investigation is never far from Auburn's team. Asked in the postgame when he expected to hear something about the NCAA investigation, Chizik replied, "I'm not addressing any of that."
Even if Newton wouldn't speak when the game ended -- he covered his mouth and streaked across the field in celebration -- Auburn fans had the final word on his behalf. "Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer," Auburn fans derisively chanted from the upper deck of Bryant-Denny Stadium, turning the Crimson Tide cheer on its head, "Go to hell, Alabama."
Now Auburn will head to Atlanta to play South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game next Saturday, a spot it had earned before the victory over Alabama.
And from there? Well, if Sherman cryptically began his March to the Sea by mumbling, "Salt water," it's beginning to look an awful lot like Auburn's 2010 march will end in the desert. Glendale, Ariz. that is, home of cacti and BCS title dreams. Of course, deserts also have mirages, and it remains to be seen whether Auburn's undefeated season will, in the end, end up as imaginary as an oasis in a sea of sand.
But that will be in the future. Saturday night, Auburn fans celebrated their latest, biggest win in program history, one that already needs an iconic Iron Bowl name -- call it the CAMback.
Follow Clay Travis on Twitter here. With All That and a Bag of Mail back on a weekly basis, you can e-mail him questions at Clay.Travis@gmail.com.