Oh what a difference a year makes! Following the 2009 season, my expectations for 2010 were nowhere near as high as Kirk Herbstreit's. Thirty-two years of Auburn fandom has educated me not to place too much stock in a commentator's whimsy.
But that was before we as a nation met Cameron "Cam" Jerrell Newton, Auburn's third Heisman Trophy winner. I am not here to defend Newton's guilt or innocence; your mind is already made up, and neither of us will affect the NCAA's eventual, final ruling. I am here to tell you he is the greatest player I have ever seen play live. (I never saw Herschel, Bo, or Tebow, but I did see Michael Vick during his stint with the Atlanta Falcons.) Newton took a good, maybe even very good, team and made them champions.
But he didn't do it alone. Auburn's 2010 championship season is a perfect storm of epic proportions. Cam is phenomenal, but he stepped into a perfect on-and-off-the-field, offensive laboratory in which Gus Malzahn (don't ever leave) created a Frankensteinian monster from the parts of Cam, a senior-laden wrecking crew of an offensive line, and several swift-footed receivers and backs. As weak as the defense, led by that fast, stout beast Nick Fairley, may have seemed, someone was always ready and willing to make the big play when it counted. (None may have been more important than Antonio Coleman's punching the ball out of Mark Ingram's grasp on a sure TD.)
The BCS National Championship Game may have been a disappointment to some; I'll admit that every time I watch it, I long for Darvin Adams to hold onto that first pass (it would've made Cam 20-for-20 on opening drives for the season) and for Cam to muscle the ball to Eric Smith or hit Adams in stride in the second half. Yet as imperfect as that game was, those four quarters may have been the most exciting of my football life. (Interestingly, those four quarters were much less tense than any moment in the Arkansas, LSU, UGA, or Alabama game.) No game-winning field goal was ever as sweet and no game's end ever as relieving. After such a tough season, fueled by comeback after comeback, a win is a win, and a championship victory is forever. (No matter the future revelations, the game was won on the field by Auburn. No one can ever erase that memory.)
I cannot quite put into words what winning the national championship feels like. What I can say is it's a hell of a lot more satisfying than two undefeated seasons without a crystal trophy.