As Good As It Gets

Chris Davis' game-winning missed field goal return for Auburn against Alabama will go down as one of the greatest endings in sports history. (USA TODAY Sports)

Chris Davis' game-winning missed field goal return for Auburn against Alabama will go down as one of the greatest endings in sports history. (USA TODAY Sports)

This particular era of the Internet is obsessed with black-and-white proclamations, with strong descriptions to describe everything: best ever, most amazing, most spectacular, most incredible. What a time we live in that the greatest things in history happen on a daily basis, if only you click.

But if ever there were a time, if ever we could earnestly describe a sporting event using these sorts of words, it was Saturday evening at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the best, most amazing, spectacular and incredible finish that any of us may have ever seen.

Start in the middle — the basic play: With the game tied, Auburn’s Chris Davis catches a 57-yard-field goal attempt short of the goal posts in the back of the end zone and races down the sideline and into the open for a 100-plus-yard touchdown.

Already one of the best plays of the year. Then build the context, expanding outward:

1) There is no time left on the clock. It’s the rare football walk-off win.

2) The play happened only because one second was put back on the clock, to the initial disgust of every person associated with Auburn.

3) Alabama’s Cade Foster missed all three of his previous field goal attempts. So Nick Saban sent in freshman backup Adam Griffith to try this long one.

4) Alabama entered the game overwhelmingly ranked first nationally in special teams play, according to Football Outsiders’ FEI Ratings.

5) The fourth quarter had already had a 99-yard touchdown, when AJ McCarron found Amari Cooper down the sideline to put Alabama ahead 28-21.

6) Auburn tied the game with only 32 seconds left, when Nick Marshall scrambled and found Sammie Coates, who ran for a 39-yard touchdown — with Marshall releasing the ball just before crossing the line of scrimmage.

7) Alabama entered the game undefeated, ranked No. 1 and winner of three of the last four national championships.

8) Auburn entered the game with one loss, with one of its wins already assumed to be the miracle of the season.

9) Last year, Auburn went winless in the SEC and finished 3-9, including a 49-0 loss to Alabama.

10) The Iron Bowl is one of the two most heralded rivalries in college football, getting a spark recently because the BCS national title has not left the state since 2008, on top of the Toomer’s Corner fiasco and other assorted attention.

11) The SEC has won seven national championships in a row.

12) There will be debate, and Ohio State (which beat Michigan 42-41 in what surely was going to be the game of the day) could still lose to Michigan State, but as of now the most likely scenario sees the SEC’s national championship streak end as the ACC’s Florida State and the Big Ten’s Ohio State tentatively make their plans for Pasadena.

I hope, in an afterlife somewhere, that O.B. Keeler saw the game and realized that a 12-0 Auburn win over Georgia was not the most dramatic result possible. I hope that the state of Alabama remains standing on Monday. I hope that Chris Davis, upon finishing his eligibility, never has to buy a drink ever again in Auburn, Ala. I hope that nobody poisons any trees, that nobody cloaks the ending in any sort of unnecessarily contrarian dreck, that the ending of Auburn 34, Alabama 28 can be accepted for what it really was: an all-time classic, the best possible finish to the most hyped Iron Bowl ever.

We watch sports in the hopes that moments like these can ever happen, for the shared, collective experience of the highs and lows, whether it’s millions of tweets of excited gibberish with friends you’ve never met or celebrations in living rooms with close family. The moment built to a crescendo, first, the realization that Davis can return the missed field goal, then that he had room, then that he was actually breaking free and running to daylight, and then the rest of that context crashing down as we shout OH MY GOD! like that Auburn radio color commentator and wonder if all this was really happening as Davis crossed the goal line and Jordan-Hare Stadium erupted.

It did. It was perfect. And if this is both the best finish I have ever seen and will ever see, I like to think that I will be satisfied.

5 thoughts on “As Good As It Gets

  1. You actually forgot a point of context: that Auburn had scored the tying touchdown with 0:45 left when the quarterback began to scramble, noticed a wide open receiver, switched the ball to his throwing hand, and just got the pass of before crossing the line of scrimmage. Just an amazing game, and I’m sure we’ll be second guessing Saban’s decision to go for that field goal forever.

  2. “One of the two most heralded rivalries in college football.”
    Two? Counting the national championships and Heismans between Ohio State-Michigan and USC-Notre Dame, which is the other one of the two?

    • Love USC-ND, but it’s undoubtedly Ohio State-Michigan right now. USC-ND is the best intersectional rivalry, but hard to beat the two heated, conference rivalries between neighbors.

  3. BTW, don’t think my nit-picking means I didn’t love what you wrote. You said it the best.