Cam Newton, Auburn feted at home
With an estimated 78,000 fans on hand, including hundreds of students crowded onto the field before the stage, the Tigers celebrated their first national championship in 53 years.
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It also turned into a farewell for stars Newton and Nick Fairley, both skipping their senior seasons to enter the NFL draft. Newton slapped hands as he danced along the line of students, then struck a Heisman pose at the podium and sang out, "War Eagle."
He thanked the fans for standing by him through the revelations that his father, Cecil, sought payment to sign with Mississippi State, a scandal that shadowed Newton for the season's final two months.
"You never stopped believing in me," Newton said. "People have asked me over and over, how did I handle the distractions. The simple answer is, God, family and you, my Auburn family. You never lost faith in me and that means more to me than words can ever say. You will be in my heart forever."
The biggest applause came when Auburn introduced Fairley and Newton. Both took turns at the podium, along with Gov. Robert Bentley -- who is from Tuscaloosa -- and others.
Coach Gene Chizik related a story that he said demonstrated what kind of teammates Newton and Fairley were.
"Thirty minutes before the national championship game, and I didn't know whether they were going to come back or not," he said. "I called them in and said, 'I want you guys to be team captains.'
"I didn't know if they were ever going to get a chance to walk out on that field again. They looked at me simultaneously and said, 'Coach we can't do that. You've got to pick two more seniors.' "
Former players presented Newton with the Heisman Trophy and Fairley with the Lombardi Award on the stage. The Southeastern Conference and various national title trophies also were presented, before fans gathered for a reverse Tiger Walk back to the football complex.
The scoreboard clock had 20:10 remaining. And the board read 22-19, the final score of the title game against Oregon.
Auburn topped rival Alabama in one category. The Crimson Tide's similar event last year drew an estimated 38,000, but those fans hadn't waited nearly as long.
The Tigers hadn't won a national title since 1957, and that team's quarterback, Lloyd Nix, was among the speakers.
Chizik took the opportunity to praise the fans and his team once again.
"You are the best fans in the United States of America," he said. "And you have helped us and been a huge part of being the best football team in the United States of America."
As for the team: "I was asked right before the national championship, 'Coach, do you have a great team?' We'd won 13, and I said, 'Ask me in one more week.' I can emphatically say this is a great football team."
Chizik said he told athletic director Jay Jacobs before his hiring that a title was coming.
"I said, 'I don't know how long it's going to take. I'm not going to put a timeline on it -- but we will win a championship. You can bank that one,' " the coach said.
This team will lose 23 seniors, 13 of them starters, and its two biggest stars.
Newton and Fairley are projected first-round picks, with the All-American defensive tackle drawing buzz that he might be the No. 1 overall selection.
Newton was asked if it was worth it to leave Auburn with labor problems and a potential lockout hovering over the NFL.
"It's kind of a bittersweet situation that we're in right now, because what other way can you picture us going out than the way we went out this year?" he said. "With a lockout looming, will it happen? That's the risk you've got to take."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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