Students or not, some fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium embarrassed themselves and the school they claim to support Saturday. If they weren't embarrassed, they should have been. When quarterback Daniel Cobb's name was announced as a starter, they booed. When he threw an incomplete pass, one play after throwing a strike that Ben Obomanu dropped in the end zone, they booed again. Anyone who would boo a college athlete giving all he can give to win a football game needs to examine his own life. No, he needs to get a life.
I wonder how many of those who booed could last for one day going through what Daniel Cobb and other players go through to be on that field. I wonder how many of those who booed would have had the guts to fight back after having two ribs removed like Cobb did. I wonder how they would have felt if it had been their sons or brothers on that field.
It's disgusting. And it's gutless.
As Cobb said after Saturday's 56-0 rout of Western Carolina, he hears about the criticism. It is never offered to his face. Instead, self-proclaimed experts hide behind the anonymity of Internet message boards or hide in a crowd of 80,000. It's a modern phenomenon that, in sports and politics, if something is said enough it becomes accepted as truth. Somehow, Cobb became the focus of fans' disappointment in Auburn's 24-17 loss to Southern California a week ago. Never mind that the defense allowed USC to consume more than half of the final two quarters on two long touchdown drives. Never mind that tailback Carnell Williams limped through the second half with cramps. Never mind that Robert Johnson and Anthony Mix dropped touchdown passes. Cobb had the audacity to throw an interception and lose a fumble. That was all it took. There had to be a goat, and he was chosen.
If I'd been Cobb, I would have told all those fans what they could do with their boos, all those students who spent the week criticizing what they could do with their criticism. Instead, Cobb said Auburn has the greatest fans in the world. He showed class. The boobirds showed ignorance.
Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville shrugged it off Sunday, saying, "It comes with the territory." Maybe it does, but it shouldn't, at least not in college.
I don't know what this season holds in store for Cobb. I don't claim to be an expert in the intricacies of college football. I don't know when a receiver runs the wrong route or a back goes the wrong way or a blocker makes a mistake. But I will tell you what I do know: No fan, no matter how rabid, wants to win nearly as badly as Cobb and his teammates want to win. Those who boo aren't there in the winter when players run before sunrise until they can run no more, when they work countless hours in the weight room, when they push themselves further than they ever thought they could. They aren't there during two-a-days in the heat of August. Cobb, as much as any college player in America, deserves respect.
He was a big-time recruit out of Marietta, Ga. After a strange blood ailment rendered his arm all but useless, doctors told him his football career was over. He refused to give up, having two ribs removed to make it possible for him to play again. He won the starting job last season with a brilliant performance off the bench in a 23-20 win over Florida, only to find himself benched for the season's final two games.
Cobb already has a degree. The easy thing to do would have been to go on with his life, but Cobb refused to quit. Instead, he came back to try one more time, to reach for a dream and to do all he could to help Auburn win. He won the starting job fair and square in the preseason. He is a viewed as a leader by his teammates, and players don't fool their teammates. Cobb might lead Auburn to big things this season. He might not. He might start every game. He might lose his job. Whatever happens, he will leave with his head held high. He will know what it was like to be knocked down and get up again. He will know he stared down adversity and refused to give in.
And he'll surely know in his heart that the gutless wonders who boo and criticize from a distance never had a clue.