June 27, 2013
Auburn's locker room was joyful on the night of Jan. 10, 2011. The Tigers had beaten Oregon 22-19 in the BCS National Championship Game, and the celebration was ongoing. But the Tigers' tormentors weren't ready to give up.
After all, Cam Newton was there. In their eyes, that must mean something sinister was going on.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof smiling broadly, stood amid the discarded tape and wet towels. Pete Thamel, then with the New York Times, walked up with a pleasant look on his face. Then he asked his question: Was Roof concerned that Auburn would have to forfeit its national championship?
Roof continued to smile, but looked puzzled. Then it hit him what Thamel had asked. The smile went away. He glared at Thamel and said nothing. How did Thamel report it?
"The silence of the normally talkative Roof underscores the awkwardness of this Auburn victory."
Thamel's pal Thayer Evans wrote that Cecil Newton's presence in the stands with a ticket "raises questions about Auburn's commitment to adhering to NCAA rules."
In the week leading up to the game, Auburn players and coaches were peppered with questions about Newton and his father and all the rest of the garbage you know by now was eventually thrown out by the NCAA. Meanwhile, Oregon coach Chip Kelly was the toast of the town. The Ducks were cool. Auburn wasn't.
The relentless pack of self-appointed guardians of the game took great pride the week of that BCS Championship Game in asking what they wanted all of us to believe were hard, penetrating questions of Auburn coaches and players.
"Even if you guys were told the truth, you wouldn't believe it," Auburn middle linebacker Josh Bynes told them all one day. "The truth doesn't sell."
A strange thing happened on Wednesday.
Sanctions were handed down to one of the teams that played in that game, and it wasn't Auburn. Oregon was punished by the NCAA and Kelly was given an 18-month show-cause order. The order is largely symbolic, since he's coaching the Philadelphia Eagles now, but any school wanting to hire Kelly would have to show cause why it should not be sanctioned. A show-cause order amounts to a blackball until it expires.
The two-plus years since that national championship have been rough for Auburn. The Tigers were 8-5 the following season and then went 3-9. But they haven't been sanctioned or even found guilty of a major violation by the NCAA in going on 21 years. Gene Chizik lost his job after the 2012 season, but he doesn't wear the NCAA's scarlet letter. Newton left college still smiling, unbowed by the scandal that wasn't, and is now a very wealthy man playing quarterback for the Carolina Panthers.
Thamel has taken his strange brand of reporting to Sports Illustrated, where he wrote a story about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and his loyal girlfriend. Oh, yeah, she never existed. Evans seems to have vanished from the national scene. Not sure what the deal is there.
Much to the chagrin of Thamel, Evans, radio host Tim Brando and various other columnists and commentators, Auburn's coaches and players still have their championship rings.
In short, when Auburn and Oregon met, one team was already playing fast and loose with the rules. And that team wasn't Auburn.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: