Marshall: Cox Still Auburn's Leader

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at quarterback Brandon Cox.

Auburn football players learned a hard lesson last Saturday. And it had nothing to do with learning how to make plays on the field.

They learned, as many college football players have learned at many schools, that a lot (certainly not all) of the fans who cheer them so lustily when things are going well will turn on them quickly when things go badly.

Through the years, I've heard many Auburn football players talk about the sheer joy of playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the connection they feel with the fans. I sure haven't heard that since last Saturday.

When quarterback Brandon Cox threw his second interception Saturday against Mississippi State, boos reverberated throughout the stadium. I would like to think they came from young people who didn't know better, but it's obvious that a lot of them came from adults with a strange sense of entitlement.

Some have said the boos weren't directed at Cox, but at Auburn's coaches. That's a joke. Anyone who was there knows there is no question what brought the boos. It was a poorly thrown pass that resulted in Cox's sixth interception in three games.

Cox was hurt badly. His teammates were hurt and they were angry. And I'm not sure some of them will ever feel the same. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it's a dose of reality they needed as they prepare to move on with their lives.

On Sunday afternoon, Cox was still feeling the emotions of it all. He talked softly and sadly.

"When it was going on, everybody came up to me and said they believed in me and still loved me," Cox said. "There are true fans at Auburn who love you no matter what. The fans who (boo), I don't care for."

Know this about Cox: Regardless of interceptions, regardless of what happens the rest of this season, he has the admiration and respect of his teammates. Of all Auburn's seniors, they'll most willingly follow him.

Why? Because of the kind of person he is. Because he showed toughness not many have last season when he played through painful injuries and helped his team win 11 games. Because he overcame great adversity to ever play for Auburn in the first place. Because he is a good person and a good teammate.

His teammates laugh at the notion that Cox is "scared" or "gun shy." They took it personally when the boos rained down.

"I think everybody feels the same way," senior fullback Carl Stewart said. "They might as well have turned on me. It was just horrible to see.

"… I was pretty upset. To be in your home stadium and have your fans boo you, that's just disheartening."

The start to this season has been a nightmare for Auburn players in general and for Cox in particular. They've won big since they put on Auburn jerseys. Being 1-2 with losses to South Florida and Mississippi State is a bitter pill to swallow, far, far more bitter for those who have paid the price in sweat and blood to play than for those who pay their money to watch.

Imagine how hard it is for Cox. He refused to give in when it seemed an illness might stop his college career before it started. He waited his turn and had a terrific season as a sophomore in 2005. He celebrated just the fourth 11-win season in school history in 2006.

He came into this season as a fifth-year senior. His dream was to take Auburn back to where it had been in 2004, when he was Jason Campbell's backup in a 13-0 season. He had a very good spring and very good preseason camp. Everything pointed to a joyful final Auburn season. Instead, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.

I don't know why Cox has struggled so on the field, other than he doesn't have the kind of playmakers around him he had in 2005 or even last season. I do know it hurts him worse than it hurts anyone else. I also know that, if he knew how to fix it, it would already be fixed.

Fans will cheer again the next time Cox makes a good play. Maybe, when he makes another bad one, some will boo again from their safe perches far above the field. As it did Saturday, that will say a lot more about those unleashing the boos than it says about Brandon Cox.

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