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Worst to First…What a Year!

You want to believe things will get better. We hit bumps in the road along the way in almost everything we do.  Life, work, relationships, and yes, even sports.   The bump the Auburn football team hit last year was pretty big, more like a mountain.  It devastated the team, their fans, and even caused the sale of Auburn merchandise and season tickets to plummet.  
Yet, you still want to believe, despite all the facts suggesting the upcoming year would be only marginally better.  Despite last year’s team going 0 – 8 in the SEC, I bought six season tickets for this year; the first in many years.  My faith was well rewarded.
Coach Gus Malzahn has gotten everyone to believe now.  He started with the players, the coaches, and the staff.  He then got the fans on board the “Gus Bus”.  More slowly, he gradually convinced the media, including the ESPN Game Day pundits.   
Last Saturday night, Gus convinced the rest of the sports world with an explosive win over Missouri in the SEC Championship game.  What a game it was.
I am not sure that I have ever stood for every single play through an entire ballgame.  It wasn’t just me; it was everyone on both sides.  If you sat down, you might miss yet another score.  My knees ached, but my heart soared as the Tigers completed a year that every sports fan in America thought was impossible.
Auburn has the biggest single-season turnaround to win a title in SEC history. Gus Malzahn has been part of the SEC’s three biggest turnarounds to reach the championship game: 2013 Auburn (seven-win improvement), 2010 Auburn (five-win improvement) and 2006 Arkansas (five-win improvement).
So now, we are making preparations to attend the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena, California.   Ironically, Auburn will be playing one of my very favorite teams, Florida State.  Once again, the Tigers will be the underdogs.   Maybe that is a good thing.
One of my sons-in-law graduated from Florida State, the other from Auburn.  Some of my grandchildren wear orange and blue, the others wear garnet and gold.   It will be a fun holiday season as the jawing back and forth has already begun.  The first present under our tree was wrapped in Auburn paper.  
Obviously, football is important in the South.  Some call it almost a religion; others say it is a way of life.  For me, it is still just a game.  It is much more fun if you win, but it is still just a game.
However, this year’s miraculous season for Auburn reaffirmed some lessons that I already knew.  Believe in yourself.  Don’t give up.  Things are never as bad as they seem (or as good).  It’s not over until it’s over.  One second can make a difference.  
Congratulations to Florida State and Auburn.  I’ll soon be on the Gus Bus headed to see you play.  After a season like this, everything is gravy.  War Eagle!
Dan Ponder can be reached at

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