Dreams Of Gridiron Glory

Phillip Marshall writes about the opening of the 2003 college football season.

I don't remember much about the day I saw my first college football game. I remember Mississippi State's punter was trapped in the end zone for a safety and Auburn won 15-7 at Birmingham's Legion Field in 1957. I remember the excitement in the air. I was seven years old. I didn't understand a lot about what was going on, but I knew I wanted to be one of those guys on that field.

Of course, as time went on, I realized there was no way a boy who couldn't outrun a calendar, could trip over a blade of grass and suffered from asthma was not ever going to be on that field. But I have been fascinated by college football since that day almost 46 years ago. I would eventually make my living writing about the games people play, and because I live in Alabama, college football would be at the forefront.

It's difficult to imagine a better time than my time. I have witnessed some of the great football moments in state history and even in college football history. I was there when Bear Bryant became the winningest coach of all time, when Bill Newton blocked two punts and David Langner ran them both in for touchdowns and Auburn earned a win for the ages, 17-16 over Alabama. I've been in more than 40 states doing my job. I have known some of the greats ever to play the game.

I've seen the game go through remarkable changes--from one dominated by defense and kicking to the fast, athletic, wide-open game of today. I've seen the color barrier broken at Auburn and Alabama and in the SEC. I've seen Bryant, Shug Jordan, Bobby Dodd, John Vaught, Pat Dye, Steve Spurrier, Vince Dooley and so many of the greatest to ever coach college football.

Devin Aromashodu runs with the football in last season's opening game at Southern Cal, which was his first as a college.

Saturday, another college football season gets under way in our state. Combined crowds of more than 160,000 will watch as Auburn plays Southern California at Jordan-Hare Stadium and Alabama plays South Florida at Legion Field. It's a special time, an exciting time. Everybody can dream big dreams in August. The reality of autumn will separate the contenders from the pretenders. There will be celebrations and tears, exhilarating victories and crushing losses. So it always is.

Nobody is dreaming bigger than Auburn. The Tigers, ranked No. 6, have been picked to win a national championship by The Sporting News and The New York Times. They have all the makings of a championship team. They won't have to wait long to find out where they stand. USC also has all the makings of a championship team. The winner will probably leap into the top five. The loser will fall back. If the Tigers win, they will be hailed by many as champions. But they won't be champions. If they lose, they will be dismissed by many as imposters. But they won't be imposters. Saturday's game will prove only who is better on that day. The loser can still come back and do great things, even contend for a national championship. The winner can still hit on hard times.

Who will win? I haven't a clue. Sometimes I believe Auburn will win because of its talent and experience at key positions and the advantage of playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Sometimes I think USC will win because of its strength on the offensive and defensive lines. Barring a meltdown by one side or the other, this one will probably be decided in the final minutes. Maybe someone will make a play he will remember the rest of his life. Maybe it will be decided by the bounce of the ball.

The excitement is building rapidly to a fever pitch. The RVs were already arriving at midweek. A few minutes after 5 o'clock Saturday, the game will start in the sound and fury of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Somewhere in the stands, a little boy will dream.

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