As Auburn coach Gene Chizik signed an estimated 800 autographs during Auburn’s Fan Day on Sunday, he met a young man who called himself Connor Vincent (or was it Vinson?) and vowed to walk on some day.
“I might get the crap beat out of me,” said the teen, one of an estimated 9,000 fans who turned out, “but I will play for you some day.”
The counterweight of a pretty 4-year-old named Lauren — wearing an orange hair bow and singing the entire Auburn fight song for the coach, who motioned is right hand like a band director — was restorative.
Oh, and Chizik signing a baby bottle? Priceless.
“It still had some baby milk in it,” he said.
It’s those moments of issue-oriented candor that tell us what kind of milk people are drinking, and two autograph-seekers summed up Auburn’s status.
“Thanks for that championship, coach,” a woman said, referring to 2010, when Auburn won its second national title in football. “I wasn’t around in 1957.”
Then came the man who expressed uncertainty in the form of hope.
“I hope we have the team to do it again this year,” he told Chizik.
In the minds of Auburn fans, it seems Auburn football circa 2012 stands somewhere between 2010 and 2011, when a Tiger team minus most of the stars that won a national title went 8-5 and suffered blowout losses to Clemson, Arkansas, LSU and rivals Georgia and Alabama.
That’s not to say they lack hope for a championship. Delusion was part of this mix, and it was loosely based in current issues.
“LSU losing the ‘Honey Badger’, we should be able to beat them, too,” one man said to Chizik, referring to top-ranked LSU’s dismissal of cornerback and 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu.
Indeed, get Auburn fans aside and ask them if 2012 is a year for championships or progress, and one finds a split.
But there’s a reason why Auburn was picked fourth in the SEC West Division this season, besides the fact that LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are pretty good.
Even legendary Auburn coach Pat Dye was in the news this past week, saying the Tigers are a year away from having championship-caliber depth and an experienced-enough quarterback.
Championships are always the ambition, and it feels good to cite them as an expectation. It’s a chin-up platitude, but fans get the reality.
“I think it will be better than last year,” said Selma tire rep Jamie Tellier, who wore Navy blue T-shirt bearing the No. 2, the number Cam Newton wore when he quarterbacked Auburn to its 2010 national title.
He was with his 4-year-old son Caden, and the two had just come through the Chizik autograph line.
“If I had to predict (a record), I’d say 8-4, 7-5, somewhere like that,” Jamie Tellier said. “You know, kind of rebuilding from that they had two years ago?
“They have, obviously, new coordinators this year, losing (Gus) Malzahn and our defensive coordinator (Ted Roof), but I think they’re on the right track. Recruiting is going well, so I think we’ll be all right.”
He said Auburn is two years away from competing for another championship, and this year is all about showing progress.
“Just as far as being more team-oriented, we’re going to progress a lot,” he said. “I think everybody is on the same page this year, and last year, it didn’t seem that way.”
Bill Bergeron, an assistant principal at Stanhope Elmore High School who brought 4-year-old grandson Braxton to Fan Day, predicted Auburn will win “more games than we won last year.”
He also hopes Auburn avoids a repeat of the ugly losses that tainted 2011, a season that saw Auburn win more games than some college football pundits predicted.
“I’m hoping we don’t lose any,” he said, “but I hope they’re good games, which means we’re close.”
Asked if 2012 will be a season for progress or championships, he described progress as “beating Alabama.”
“I’m always looking for progress and hoping for championships,” he said. “How’s that?
“I think we’re going to do well. We’re going to be right up in it.”