Commentary

Loose Tigers not feeling the pressure

Originally Published: January 7, 2011
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Twitter might not be the most scientific vehicle for studying societal moods, but it can be useful.

And if a Thursday afternoon outburst on my Twitter feed is any judge, much of America is curling its lip in the direction of the Auburn Tigers.

[+] EnlargeJosh Bynes
Chris Morrison/US PresswireJosh Bynes and the Tigers were all smiles at the BCS title game media day.

I tweeted about visiting a gas station near the media hotel for the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game and being shocked at the luxury cars in the parking lot: a Rolls Royce, two Jaguars, a Mercedes-Benz, a BMW and a Lexus. Didn't think much more about it -- until the responses started rolling in.

What followed was a torrent of Auburn shots from the Twitterati.

"Which one was Cecil Newton driving?"

"Scam Newton and his family are there?"

"I guess AU parents have arrived."

In a span of just 30 minutes, 26 people tweeted their best Auburn bashes. They were referring to the NCAA rules controversy that surrounded Tigers quarterback Cameron Newton after ESPN.com reported in early November that Newton's father, Cecil, used a middleman to solicit a $180,000 payment from Mississippi State boosters to sign his son.

(A smaller group took shots at Ohio State and Terrelle Pryor, which have had their own NCAA rules taffy pull recently.)

Combine that with the general tone of e-mails and reader comments I've received, and it seems safe to assume that Auburn would not be the most popular of national champions if it beats Oregon on Monday night (ESPN, 8:30 ET).

A whole lot of college football fans don't like the fact that Newton retained his eligibility despite the finding of rules violations by his father. They don't like the fact that the undeniably powerful and undeniably smug Southeastern Conference is in position to win a fifth straight title. They don't like defensive tackle Nick Fairley's reputation for late hits and cheap shots.

They don't like Auburn very much.

But if you think that bothers the Tigers, you're as misguided as any offensive coordinator who thinks his line can block Fairley one-on-one.

They don't care.

[+] EnlargeCameron Newton
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireCam Newton and the Tigers heard some boos while attending a Phoenix Suns game.

"That's fine," said linebacker Josh Bynes. "We don't care who everyone is rooting for."

"It wouldn't hurt my feelings if people don't root for us," receiver Kodi Burns said.

Black hats for all the Tigers, please. They'll wear them with pride.

"We got booed at the [Phoenix Suns] basketball game pretty seriously the other night," center Ryan Pugh said. "Outside the SEC and the southeast, we probably aren't real well-liked, because the SEC has been winning."

Actually, there might even be some cracks in the Solid South. SEC fans love bragging about their domination, but fans at three league locales might cross party lines and back the Ducks.

Mississippi State fans saw their school lose out on Newton and know that the Bulldogs were shaken down for cash to sign the quarterback out of junior college.

Florida fans saw Newton transfer away under a cloud of off-field controversy, stemming from his ownership of a stolen laptop and reported academic cheating incidents.

And, of course, Alabama fans generally wish nothing but doom and despair on hated rival Auburn.

"I would hope Alabama fans will root for us," said defensive end Michael Goggans.

Did you root for Alabama against Texas in the title game last year, Michael?

"To be 100 percent honest with you, I didn't."

That theme was universal among Auburn players at Friday's media day: We'd like the Crimson Tide to support us -- but no, we didn't support them last year.

"I'm pretty sure when Alabama won the national championship they looked down on Auburn and said, 'Yeah, we got it,' " Bynes said. "If we win, we're going to be the same way. … It's pure hatred."

Despite the rising level of Auburn antipathy, it certainly does not appear to be wearing on the players. Neither does the pressure. They have been a jovial, loose group all week.

Lee Ziemba
AP Photo/Matt YorkLee Ziemba and the Tigers have enjoyed their time in the spotlight.

Newton and other players were spotted at a club one night. They had no curfew until the latter part of this week, and even then it's an indulgent 1 a.m. Oregon, meanwhile, has had its players in the hotel by 10 every night.

"We've shown all season we can be mature about those situations," offensive tackle Lee Ziemba said. "Our coaches do a great job of making sure we're not wound too tight."

Nobody has been looser than Fairley, the Lombardi Award winner. He's taken to Twitter with the same zeal he expends chasing quarterbacks, tweeting up a storm from Arizona.

When word was relayed that Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas said Fairley is a dirty player, Fairley's Twitter response was, "Why is people tweeting me telling me about what someone was quoted saying about me? He has the freedom of speech. And he used it."

And when someone else chided Fairley for his fractured grammar in that tweet, his response was, "Didn't know I was writing a paper. Thought this was twitter."

So while it might be hard for some people to root for Auburn in this championship game, it appears equally difficult to rattle the Tigers with criticism. They just don't care.

"My ultimate goal is to get ahold of that crystal ball and put my lips on it," Bynes said. "That's all that matters."

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.