Auburn’s football team is in the middle of spring practice with three quarterbacks fighting for the starting job and it’s mostly crickets on the Plains.
“Nobody cares,” said Phillip Marshall, an Alabama sportswriter who has covered Auburn sports for 50 years.
That’s not March Madness. Gobsmacked is more like it.
The football school has lost its mind of over basketball with the Tigers’ unexpected romp to the first Final Four appearance in program history.
Most years, late March and early April belongs to football, the calendar’s second season in the south. There’s football season and spring football.
Not this year. Basketball has catapulted to the top rung. The hoopsters have taken over Toomer’s Corner, the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and College Street, which usually is covered in toilet paper on fall Saturdays after football wins but has gotten rolled with similar two-ply zeal over the basketball team’s run.
“I think Charmin or one of these toilet paper companies needs to go into partnership with Auburn,” assistant coach Steven Pearl said.
The state might need to borrow some rolls from their neighbors if the magic continues this weekend at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Auburn’s path to Minnesota has truly been nuts. The team’s NCAA tournament record before this year was 13-9 in nine previous appearances.
The Tigers won the SEC tournament championship this season so they had momentum and confidence, but the bracket reveal on Selection Sunday offered them a blue-blood smorgasbord.
To reach the Final Four, the Tigers figured they would have to defeat Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in succession.
Auburn, the football school.
“My first reaction was wow,” junior forward Anfernee McLemore said. “It seemed almost impossible when you first look at it. But then you start breaking it down and recognizing each team’s weaknesses and you say, OK, each of these guys is beatable.”
Check, check, check and voila. Here they are.
“We’re trying to make history, why not have it be potentially the most difficult road to the Final Four and national championship of all time?” Coach Bruce Pearl said.
Their moment on the big stage has turned so giddy that when Pearl started talking about being a “Cinderella story” and being at the “ball,” someone asked if he owns a dress — and he said yes.
“It doesn’t fit the way it used to fit,” he said.
Hey, at this point, he could coach buck naked and Auburn fans would scream “War Damn Eagle.”
“I would say that most Auburn people never thought this would happen,” said Marshall, a writer for the website Auburn 247Sports. “Mass hysteria is the best way I can put it.”
Fans sprinted from bars and restaurants to Toomer’s Corner as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Auburn’s 77-71 win over Kentucky in the Midwest Region final.
Per tradition, Auburn fans cover the intersection in toilet paper after every football win. For basketball, the TP threshold is significant win.
Longtime observers compared the scene after the Final Four clincher to wins over Alabama in football.
“It was like Christmas when we got back,” junior guard Will Macoy said.
More than 3,000 fans greeted the team at the arena at 11 p.m. Sunday night. Cody Voga, the basketball sports information director, got back to his office after midnight to begin Final Four preparations. He stayed until 8 p.m. the next day. He worked 38 consecutive hours without a break. Well, one break. His fiancée Kelsey brought him pancakes early in the morning.
“Oh my gosh,” Voga said, “it’s been an absolute a whirlwind.”
Bruce Pearl said Auburn “will always be a football school” but his team has turned the quarterback competition into a whisper.
“That’s one of the most amazing things about it,” Marshall said. “Spring football will be over a week from Saturday and there’s no talk about it. Or not very much.”
Everyone is too captivated by the basketball team’s remarkable run to the Final Four, a feat that required the Tigers to eliminate the three winningest programs in college basketball history in a row.
“Auburn is going to run out of toilet paper,” center Austin Wiley said. “They are very excited.”
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org