Marshall: Football and the Gulf Coast Disaster

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the disaster affecting New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and the start of the SEC football season.

It's difficult to write about football today. The horrific scenes from my television screen--scenes of unspeakable suffering, scenes of evil, scenes of death--won't go away.

I keep remembering the festive week I spent in New Orleans just seven months ago. My wife and I stayed at a hotel near the convention center, which has become hell on earth for the thousands stranded there.

I remember laughing as Auburn players stormed the ESPN set at the Superdome after beating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. It was a place of joy that night, a place of celebration. Now, they say, it is littered with decomposing corpses.

I have lots of memories from the Superdome – Al Del Greco's kick to beat Michigan, Alabama's famous goal-line stand against Penn State, Pat Dye's decision to kick a field goal and tie Syracuse and on and on.

I have even more memories of the city of New Orleans, of good times, good food and friendly people. Now I wonder about friends like Marty Mule', a sports writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and hope they are OK.

I wonder if there'll ever be another Sugar Bowl in the Superdome or even another Sugar Bowl in New Orleans at all. I know the New Orleans I loved from the first time I experienced it as a college student is gone forever.

Modern technology brings it all into our living rooms. We watched the destruction of a major city. Now we watch it descend into anarchy. We see and hear of cruelty we deluded ourselves into believing could only happen in some other country not so civilized as ours.

I wonder how our country is going to cope with hundreds of thousands of displaced people with no money, no jobs and little hope. Then I look at my family and realize just how blessed I am.

The concerns of day-to-day life seem so trivial compared to the misery of people all along the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts.

But through wars and famine and plagues, life has marched on. And even through the worst natural disaster of my lifetime, it still marches on.

And that is as it should be, as it was meant to be. We can all do our parts as best we can to help those who are suffering, but then we do what we do. And in September, that means college football.

The season began as scheduled Thursday night. South Carolina, in its first game under Steve Spurrier, beat Central Florida, loser of 16 straight, 24-15 and looked like a team in for long and hard season in the Southeastern Conference. Vanderbilt won on the road, beating Wake Forest 24-20. And you have to feel good for the Commodores.

Come Saturday night, Auburn will play for the first time since that night in the Superdome, putting its 15-game winning streak on the line against Georgia Tech at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

It's going to be a very interesting opener in many ways.

In my memory, no team that finished unbeaten and No. 2 in the nation has been given as little respect the following season as have the Tigers. They go into the game ranked No. 16, and it is popular to pick Georgia Tech in an upset.

I'm having a hard time seeing just what it is about the Yellow Jackets that has so many people singing their praises.

I hear their defense is going to be outstanding. Then I see they gave up 30 points or more four times last season. I hear about quarterback Reggie Ball, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back P. J. Daniels. But I wonder how an offensive line decimated by graduation is going to deal with Auburn's defensive front.

When Tommy Tuberville said he believed this Auburn team is more talented, top to bottom, than last season's 13-0 outfit, I believe he was right. From what I have seen in practice, I expect Brandon Cox to be a top-notch SEC quarterback. Auburn has an offensive line and wide receivers that could be among the nation's best. It has a defense overflowing with speed and athleticism.

It has been my experience that the best teams are usually those strongest on the line of scrimmage. And Auburn is strong on both sides.

Evaluating opening games is tricky. The Tigers might lose and go on to a great season. They might win and have a disappointing season. But I have a feeling Auburn will have this one in hand in the fourth quarter..

My guess at the score?

Auburn 31, Georgia Tech 14.

Other SEC games:

Georgia 52, Boise State 24; Tennessee 27, UAB 20; Florida 38, Wyoming 17; Alabama 34, Middle Tennessee State 13; Memphis 30, Ole Miss 23; Mississippi State 28, Murray State 9; Louisville 42, Kentucky 28; Arkansas 49, Missouri State 7.


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