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'Go have a good time'

Facing Penn State links the careers of Auburn quarterbacks Bo and Patrick Nix

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Auburn Alabama

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix with his parents after defeating Alabama in the Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.

AUBURN — This father-son story involves a story that the father would rather forget.

He didn’t have a son yet, and there was no sun to be seen on the first day of 1996. Auburn football’s season went slip-slidin’ away against Penn State in the Outback Bowl. The rain washed away the memories.

Twenty-five years later, the son has a chance to create a happier memory.

Patrick Nix has always preferred to remember Auburn’s 1995 Iron Bowl win as his final college game. It was a triumphant regular-season finale and just the third time Jordan-Hare Stadium hosted the rivalry. Auburn had won the first two.

“Most Auburn people will understand this: Quite honestly, in my mind, my last game was the Alabama game at our place,” Nix said. “That was by far the most important game of that season to me. Making sure I was not the first quarterback to ever lose at Auburn was a big deal to me.”

Auburn faced Penn State in the Outback Bowl six weeks later. Nix remembers the rain. It was pouring in Tampa when the team woke up. The monsoon didn’t stop when the game started. Players were sliding 5 yards when they went down. Auburn went in with a game plan to spread it out and throw the ball a ton.

“Then you walk in there and you can’t do any of that,” Nix said. “It absolutely flooded. The field was awful.”

That benefitted Penn State’s more run-friendly plan. Auburn stuck around early and led 7-3 in the second quarter, but the Nittany Lions scored in the final seconds of the half to go ahead 16-7. Then they outscored Auburn 27-0 in the third quarter en route to a 43-14 final.

“When we beat Alabama at our place in ’95, to me as a quarterback at Auburn, I hate to say it, but I’d sort of done my due diligence,” Nix said. “The bowl game was a bonus.”

Still, playing a big game against Penn State can be added to the list of moments that connect Patrick’s career with that of his son, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix. When the junior leads the Tigers into Happy Valley on Saturday, Penn State’s White Out game will mark the third time the programs have met. The forgettable bowl game in 1996, with Patrick at quarterback, was the first.

Patrick and the rest of the family will travel for the game, as usual. And when it’s over, they’ll greet Bo with barely any mention of football, as usual. The last two years, Patrick has found that he’s most useful as a fan and supporter, not a coach. After games, Bo visits with the large Nix family-and-friend contingent in Auburn. The game is in the past.

“He’s a lot more concerned with seeing them and just being Bo,” Patrick said.

There was one thing bugging Bo after Auburn’s season-opening win against Akron, though. He had just broken the school record for highest single-game completion percentage (20-for-22). But he was still thinking about his first incompletion, which ended a perfect 11-for-11 start. He brought it up for a rare moment of football talk in the family gathering setting.

“The one on the move that he threw to (Kobe Hudson) where he barely missed him,” Patrick said. “He mentioned that he just barely missed it and felt like he could’ve and should’ve hit it.”

That Bo was agonizing over that after a 50-point win should come as no surprise. He and his dad have always had the same competitive nature — even against each other. Entering this season, they were remarkably tied in career passing yards at Auburn with 4,957 each and almost the same completion rate (Patrick’s was 58.8 percent; Bo’s was 58.7).

Bo’s first throw of 2021 surpassed his dad. Against Alabama State last week, he passed Patrick with his 32nd touchdown pass.

“It was amazing, absolutely amazing that we were identical in yards,” Patrick said. “It’s neat to watch him pass me and move up the records. There is a lot of competition in our household. A lot of fun.”

That competition includes the occasional exchange of light-hearted quips between father and son.

“It’s fun, the stats,” Patrick continued. “Now, I had no idea in those days that I would be competing with my son. I think if I had known, as crazy as it sounds, I would’ve fought to play a little longer in certain games, or maybe thrown a touchdown pass here and there, if I had known I’d be competing with him. He has the luxury of knowing where the bar is and what it is to go and beat it.”

Playing Penn State adds to the parallels between their careers. Bo has already faced challenging road environments throughout the SEC, but there’s an extra buzz surrounding the White Out tradition. After Patrick’s college career ended with Iron Bowl glory and Outback Bowl gloom, he went to Penn State’s home game vs. Michigan State the next season with friends.

“Neat environment; very similar to Auburn,” he said. “For me as a fan, I’m looking forward to going again and being part of a White Out and seeing it.”

As for his son: “People don’t realize how many top-10 teams and top-five venues Bo has had to play in. There’s not a whole lot of people walking into those places winning on a consistent basis,” Patrick said. “He’s been fortunate — I guess fortunate. I don’t know if that’s fortunate or not to have to play in all the places he’s had to play so far. But a lot of quarterbacks don’t get the chance to play at the venues he’s played.”

A quarter-century since his own Auburn career, Patrick has come to reflect on those road-game opportunities with a fondness. (“It’s fun to look back on,” he said, “but not always fun to be in the middle of it.”) That’s why his advice to Bo going into a game like this one is simple: No matter the result, savor it.

“For a lot of people out there, a lot of fans, the game is a lot more important than what we make it (as players),” Patrick said. “I think in our mind, yes, it’s super-important, but it does not define us. So enjoy it. You’ll never get to go and play in that atmosphere again for a White Out, so go have a good time.”