Puzzling Performances, Puzzling Behavior

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the struggling Auburn football team as it prepares for a road trip to Vanderbilt.

I'm not here today to defend or criticize play-calling or to differentiate between what is bad playing and bad coaching. I'm not here to defend the performance of Auburn's football team in the first two games or to predict what will or won't happen the rest of the season. If you are looking for magical answers you might want to stop reading here. I have none.

In 34 years in this business, I don't remember anything as puzzling as Auburn's offensive performance the first two games, given the weapons available. If there is not dramatic improvement, the Tigers will lose at Vanderbilt on Saturday. But there are some things more indefensible than scoring three points in two football games. Among them...

Targeting the head football coach's wife and mother with a vulgar tirade in the stands at Grant Field.

Calling the offensive coordinator's home and leaving nasty messages for his wife and children to hear.

Hiding behind an Internet user name to go beyond justifiable complaints and criticism to ridicule coaches and players and even call them names.

Putting out signs calling for a coach to lose his job.

All those things and more have happened in the past two weeks. It's difficult to even imagine what will happen if Vanderbilt should win Saturday in Nashville. Such behavior is certainly nothing unique to Auburn. A brick once crashed through Bill Curry's office window when he was head coach at Alabama. There are countless stories about angry fans showing their displeasure by showing their rear ends. And it's sick, wherever it happens.

News flash to football fans everywhere: It's not about you. If your team wins, it does not mean you are a better person than the fan of a team that loses. In fact, it says nothing at all about you. Amazingly, there seems to be an awful lot of people whose own sense of self-esteem is tied up in the fortunes of the football team they happen to support. And if they are disappointed, they lash out. Simple human compassion is lost in the screaming and whining. It's always been that way to an extent, but the Internet and talk radio have made it worse than ever before. And no relief is in sight.

Football is very important to a lot of people. It teaches valuable lessons of leadership, loyalty, toughness and discipline. It is the ultimate team sport, one that requires 11 people at a time to play on the same heartbeat to be successful. Second-guessing and criticism are part of it. Rubbing it in the opposition is part of it. I thought it was hilarious (though not very smart) in 1999 when some Ole Miss students dug a tree out of Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville's yard and planted it at their fraternity house to celebrate their victory. But there's nothing funny about being abusive, whether it's toward coaches, players or family members.

I love college football and have since I was a child. People are passionate about the game, and that is good for those of us who write about it. But it's not what really matters in the world. What really matters is people dying in Iraq. What really matters is people going hungry. What really matters is dealing with the evil that visited our shores on that awful day two years ago when the World Trade Center buildings crashed to the ground.

Auburn might beat Vanderbilt on Saturday. It might not. I wouldn't be surprised either way. Regardless, players will go to practice after that game, go to class and move on. Coaches will break down film, call recruits and plan for another game. Life will go on.

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