AUBURN, Ala. — T’Sharvan Bell knew Auburn fans liked their football.
But the veteran cornerback didn’t fully understand the gut-wrenching passion with which the fans follow the Tigers through thick and thin every day, every week, every year, until he spent five years here.
Bell was reflective this week, looking back on an injury-riddled career that will culminate in a swan song over the next eight days. The farewell begins on Senior Day today at Jordan-Hare Stadium against Alabama A&M, when Bell and 12 other championship ring-wearing seniors are celebrated in a pregame ceremony.
“It’s the real deal. This is a football place,” Bell said. “People eat and sleep football all the way around. I didn’t understand it, not even in 2010 — but now as we’re going through these tough times, you can see that. All they want to do is win. As a football program with great tradition, that’s what they expect. It’s our job to give it to them.”
Bell and other seniors said their legacy will be multifaceted, reminding fans they were underclassman contributors to the 2010 BCS champions but also the leaders of a wayward 2-8 season which has seen the program reach nearly unprecedented depths.
“After we play Alabama, I believe I’m going to be able to forget about this year and move on,” senior tailback Onterio McCalebb said. ”I love the Auburn fans and I know they love me. I don’t think Auburn fans will base our performance off this season.”
Auburn has never lost eight SEC games in a season before, and that’s what confronts the Tigers if they can’t record an upset of seismic proportions at fourth-ranked in-state rival Alabama on Nov. 24.
But first things first. The Bulldogs, a 7-3 FCS team, come calling to Jordan-Hare Stadium to conclude the Tigers’ four-game homestand. Head coach Gene Chizik is calling for the crowd to extend a proper reception to this intimate yet memorable senior class, which also includes tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, wide receiver Emory Blake and linebacker Daren Bates.
“I think they should get an outstanding one, and I think that they deserve it for the work they have put in for this university,” Chizik said. ”I think it would be extremely fitting that they go out the way they should go out, and that is on a very positive note.”
Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace (Central-Phenix City) spoke to the value of getting the job done for mentors like Blake, who have helped his progress as the centerpiece of a struggling offense.
“We owe it to those guys,” Wallace said. ”They’ve spent their years here and gave their all for Auburn. So it’s really important for us to go out and perform for those guys and just get the ball to those guys and let them have fun.”
McCalebb’s sentiments likely are copied to some degree in most the seniors’ minds, which is why Chizik has placed every priority this week on winning for that group.
“My hat is off to those guys. They’ve endured a very tough year and in your senior year, that’s the last thing that you want to do,” Chizik said. ”But as Auburn men, they’ll continue to love Auburn when they leave here. That I know. They’ll continue to make sure that Auburn always stays an important part of who they are and what they do.”