The Moral Victory?

“Only the strong survive. But the strong still get their ass whipped.”–Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, yesterday, after his Crimson Tide scored in the last minute to win against arch-rival Auburn, 26-21.

In 1981 in college football, Auburn was floundering. They’d hired a new coach the year before, a little known coach at Wyoming who’d played football at Georgia–Pat Dye. Didn’t have Auburn roots. Didn’t have experience. Referred to his new employer at The University of Auburn in his initial press conference. He redeemed himself minutes later after he was asked, “How long will it take to beat Alabama?” (The Crimson Tide had beaten Auburn 7 straight years)

“60 minutes.” The now famous reply.

In Pat Dye’s next 10 seasons, Auburn would be a serious contender in the Southeastern Conference, 60 minutes at a time, 11 times a year.

But it all started with a loss.

See, Auburn lost at home to Tennessee in 1980 (Pat Dye’s first season) 42-0.

The next year, at Tennessee, the Volunteers were leading 10-7 with a minute to play. Auburn had the ball inside the Vol 10-yard-line and had 3 plays to get a TD to win. They fumbled. Tennessee recovered. Tennessee won.

Auburn lost.

And this 34-second speech lives in Auburn lore:

They lost.

But that undermanned team sent a message: The Auburn Tigers were going to be back. Sooner rather than later.

Yesterday, when #2 ranked Alabama scored that touchdown in the last minute, but Auburn’s 31-yard pass into the end zone on the game’s final play, I thought of that 1981 team.

So, yeah. Auburn lost.

And the Tiger fans and players are saying we should never settle for “moral victories,” even if they’re acknowledged by the opposing team’s coach.

I suppose they have a point.

But how about settling for the reality that we now have every reason to believe that the Auburn Tigers are going to be back. Sooner rather than later.

I can’t believe no sports writer in the Deep South made this connection before I did, either.

It’s so obvious.

And, just like that team gave us Tiger fans hope (it didn’t hurt that a recruit named Bo Jackson was on board, either), yesterday’s team gives us hope again (and it doesn’t hurt that a recruit named Michael Dyer committed to Auburn, either)…

…because we’ve seen this before.

Pity the team Auburn faces in a bowl game this year, and fasten your seatbelts in 2010.

You heard it here first.