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BCS title game is one for the ages

Auburn and Oregon produce the best championship matchup ever.

January 10, 2011|Bill Plaschke

From Glendale, Ariz. — A college football season of a million chills had been reduced to two ticks.

One side of University of Phoenix Stadium, dressed in orange and drawls, had just screamed, "Timeout!" The other half, dressed in yellow and dread, were clutching each other and murmuring.

The Auburn kicker, Wes Byrum, his uniform pants spotlessly white, dug his cleats into the slippery grass. The Oregon defenders, their jerseys stained green and red, lined up to stop him.

From where I stood on the sideline in these final moments in that deafening domed house Monday night, it was oddly, blazingly hot.

Then it was wildly, breathtakingly over.

Snap, hold, boot, boom, done.

Ending what might have been the most exciting college football season in history, Auburn finished off Oregon in perhaps the best championship college football game in history, taking a 22-19 victory on Byrum's 19-yard field goal as time ran out.

Did you see what holder Neil Caudle did after the kick? You probably didn't, because he simply fell on his back and covered his eyes and lay on the ground while most of the state of Alabama rushed wildly around him.

"Anything is possible," said Cam Newton, Auburn's amazing quarterback who proved it.

Did you see what the Oregon players did? Again, you probably didn't, because they hunched and staggered into the tunnel with eyes red and mouths agape.

"It hurts, it really hurts," running back Kenjon Barner said. "We never give up, and we didn't give up tonight, but to come so close and have it end like this, it just hurts."

I know how they both felt. It was inspiring to watch Oregon fight, it was exhilarating to watch Auburn fight back, but more than anything, it was exhausting to experience nearly four hours of college football at its nutty finest.

"I hope you enjoyed the show we put on for you guys," Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris said.

No offense to Texas' national-title victory over USC in the Rose Bowl after the 2005 season, but this might have been the best Bowl Championship Series show ever.

Oregon jammed the game down Auburn's throat, outgaining the Tigers, 125 yards to 21 in the first quarter. But then Auburn spit it back, gaining 258 yards in the second quarter.

Oregon worked its tricks. Auburn showed its toughness. Oregon soared on its fluorescent green. Auburn pounded with its traditional blue.

Oregon turned a fake point-after try into a two-point conversion, turned a fake punt into a long first down, swirled and stuck and refused to be thrown through the ropes. Auburn shrugged and kept hitting, bloodying and battering the Ducks nearly senseless, Newton doing whatever he wanted, throwing through guys and running over them.

"We knew we had a really good team, but they really came out after us hard, we kept going back and forth," Oregon defensive end Kenny Rowe said. "I cannot tell you how hard it is to lose a battle like that."

The thing was, Oregon had seemingly lost this by the end of the third quarter, when Auburn stuffed Barner on fourth and goal from the one-yard line. The Tigers led, 19-11, and seemed powerful enough to push the exhausted Ducks through the fourth quarter.

But then, with 4 minutes 40 seconds left, the Ducks worked in one last swat, Casey Matthews poking the ball out of Newton's hands, Oregon recovering and starting on its 45-yard line.

I was on the sidelines then, and what happened next will never be forgotten by anybody who was there.

Darron Thomas, the Oregon quarterback, ran fearlessly, threw crazily, connected on a 29-yard dump pass on fourth down, eventually dropped it in the hands of LaMichael James for a two-yard touchdown pass with 2:33 left.

Then, running to the right, with the noise and heat making it difficult to even breath, Thomas threw across his body to find Jeff Maehl in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion to tie it.

This game was going to overtime, right? At that point the two teams were nearly identical in total yardage, identical in resilience, the rival Southeastern Conference and the Pacific 10 Conference finally converging in one great game, two great teams, stereotypes gone, conferences irrelevant, just great competitive football.

"We were all expecting overtime," Rowe said. "Then, all of a sudden, it wasn't."

All of sudden, it was as if those stereotypes did live and those conferences did matter. In true Southern fashion, Auburn powered down the field with both smarts and toughness.

Smarts when Michael Dyer kept running after seemingly being tackled by Eddie Pleasant, a brilliant maneuver because he had actually fallen on Pleasant and never touched the ground. It was an even better maneuver because Oregon initially didn't even keep chasing him, and Dyer wound up turning a short jog into a 37-yard sprint.

Said Dyer: "Just trying to make a play, just keep my feet moving."

In the end, the Auburn guys kept their feet moving, and the Oregon guys didn't, Dyer running 16 more yards later in the drive to set up the winning kick. In the end, the SEC team was only two ticks tougher, two ticks quicker, two ticks better.

"Everybody left everything on the field," Thomas said.

On that field long after the game, several Auburn players were literally rolling in the orange and blue confetti that had been sprayed upon their victory. Two of those players were even making snow angels in the stuff, a wonderful reminder of how we had just witnessed brilliant theater by giant kids, a football game for the ages, a national championship that in some ways everyone shared.

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