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BCS CHAMPIONSHIP

Auburn's Chris Davis talks about his stunning Iron Bowl touchdown run

Davis became famous after his return of Alabama's field-goal try for the Tigers' win. But his focus is on the BCS title game ahead.

January 03, 2014|By Gary Klein
  • Chris Davis' stunning game-winning touchdown return over Alabama will live forever, but the Auburn senior is focused on the team's next game, the BCS Championship against Florida State.
Chris Davis' stunning game-winning touchdown return over Alabama… (Dave Martin / Associated…)

Chris Davis' life changed the moment he completed one of the greatest plays in college football history.

The Auburn senior rarely walks by a television without seeing a replay of his game-winning return for a touchdown of a field-goal attempt by Alabama in the Iron Bowl in November.

Davis became an instant folk hero at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium, which still might be shaking. He received a standing ovation in a geology class. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and is constantly posing for pictures and signing autographs as the Tigers prepare for Monday's Bowl Championship Series title game against Florida.

"I'm trying to put that moment behind me," he politely told reporters Friday.

Good luck with that.

Davis' play will live on, not just in football-crazed Alabama and the Southeastern Conference but — thanks to ESPN and YouTube — all over the globe.

"We have one more game left, and it's the biggest game in college football and we're looking forward to winning that game," Davis said. "When the season is over, I'll be able to embrace the moment."

Davis patiently waited for his chance to return kicks and to give the Auburn faithful the memory of a lifetime.

He has started for three seasons at cornerback but did not return kicks until this season.

"I'd been asking," he said, "but I never got the opportunity to do so."

Davis has averaged 20 yards per punt return, including one for an 85-yard touchdown against Tennessee three weeks before the Alabama game.

Auburn players spoke this week about first-year Coach Gus Malzahn's zealous preparation for unlikely situations. But Auburn had not practiced for the Alabama scenario.

With the score tied, 28-28, officials restored one second to the game clock, allowing Alabama to attempt a 57-yard field goal.

Davis was on the field-goal block unit, his job to disrupt the kick or watch for a fake. Auburn defensive back Ryan Smith was in the end zone to possibly field a short kick.

Malzahn called a timeout to freeze Alabama kicker Adam Griffith and he also decided to make Davis the return man.

Davis anticipated a miss, but he expected the kick to go out of bounds. If it fell short and he caught it, he liked his chances against an Alabama field-goal unit stocked with large and slow linemen. "I knew I was going to have a chance to outrun those guys," he said.

As the ball was kicked and traveled toward the end zone, Davis concentrated first on catching it. There was no strategy in place for a return.

"I think some of our players were going to the sideline getting ready for overtime," he said. "When they saw me return the ball, they set up the blocks. Alabama players were just watching the kick."

Davis caught the ball near the back of the end zone, beneath the upright. He ran to the five-yard line, veering slightly right before cutting diagonally to his left toward the Auburn sideline. He got several key blocks, including one from Smith, slipped a tackle at the 20 and turned upfield in front of teammates and coaches, mindful of not stepping out of bounds.

"I knew I was going to be close so I just decided to tiptoe the sideline," he said, "not let my heel touch the ground."

Teammates looked on in disbelief. "There's a picture out there of my jaw dropped to the ground," running back Tre Mason said. "He hit the corner faster than I've ever seen him run. Everyone was going crazy. It felt like the floor was shaking, that's how loud it was."

Davis slipped a final Alabama defender at the Auburn 45.

Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall watched the play unfold on the stadium video board. "When the last dude like pulled on his shoulder and he slung him off and I didn't see anyone else in front of him but two of our teammates, I knew we had the game won," Marshall said.

Auburn defensive backs Jonathon Mincy and Robenson Therezie escorted Davis the final 50 yards to the end zone. "I was saying to myself, 'Wow, this is unbelievable,'" Davis said. "It was just a great feeling."

Davis cannot recall much of the ensuing celebration: He was beneath a dog pile of teammates.

"Getting hit upside the head and getting jumped on," he said, "but it was all good."

When he finally emerged from the pile and took in the scene as fans celebrated on the field, Davis said one of the first people he saw was his grandmother, Edith Brown.

"I don't know how she made it with all those people on the field," he said. "It was a great feeling to see her after one of the most memorable plays."

Florida State defensive back Terrence Brooks said this week he had watched some of the Auburn-Alabama game on the team bus but did not turn it on when he got home.

"All of a sudden, I got a bunch of texts and calls. 'Oh, did you see that?'" Brooks said. "I caught it on 'SportsCenter.' I was definitely like, 'That did not just happen.'"

But it did.

Davis' return rocked college football and sent the Tigers to the Southeastern Conference championship game, in which they defeated Missouri to earn their second BCS title-game berth in four years.

As a freshman, Davis played in the 2011 BCS title game against Oregon. But he suffered an ankle injury covering the opening kickoff.

"I hope I can make it through the first play" on Monday, he quipped.

Regardless, he has etched his name into college football lore, a memory he can one day share with his 3-year-old son, Chris III, and generations of Auburn fans.

Asked how he would like to be remembered, Davis said, "I can't really speak on that."

Then he chuckled.

"I know I'm going to be remembered around this place," he said, "and that's a good thing.

"All the hard work paid off."

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

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