The scene inside, around Jordan-Hare Stadium on a surreal day for Cadillac Williams

The scene inside, around Jordan-Hare Stadium on a surreal day for Cadillac Williams

The lights went out and that familiar voice rang out over the speakers at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Go crazy, Cadillac! Become crazy!

Auburn’s reimagined pre-game video opened with Cadillac Williams’ iconic 80-yard touchdown run in the opening play of the 2003 Iron Bowl, featuring the late Rod Bramblett’s legendary call . Jordan-Hare Stadium was a powder keg ready to explode.

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Nearly two weeks of buildup and anticipation led to this moment: Williams’ first home game as Auburn’s interim head coach. He didn’t want tonight to be about him, but there was no denying he was the man of the hour under the lights on Saturday. He flashed on the screen at the end of the trendy video, looked at the camera and issued the same challenge he had proposed earlier in the week: “Auburn family – Let’s. Go. Mad.”

As Williams led his team out of the south end zone tunnel, arm in arm with his players – a tradition carried over from his days as a player – a sold-out home crowd was at his disposal. Auburn fans got the mission on Saturday night, and they created an unforgettable atmosphere on a surreal night for Williams and the Tigers, as they ended their five-game losing streak with a 13- 10 against Texas A&M.

“This place is special,” Williams said. “And to see the fan support, like, they put drums in my back, and they energized me.”

The environment at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday was worthy of an Iron Bowl, an episode of the Deep South’s oldest rivalry or a top-10 game. Under normal circumstances, a clash between two last-place teams — each on a five-game slide entering the game — had no right to produce that kind of atmosphere. Of course, these were not normal circumstances on the Plains. Not by far.

Amid a tumultuous season for Auburn that included the firing of then-coach Bryan Harsin on Halloween, Williams’ promotion to interim coach brought optimism and comfort. Auburn’s fan base has rallied behind one of their own — a former All-American and one of the greatest running backs to come through the program. Williams’ message after his first game as head coach last week was that Auburn was fine. On Saturday, Auburn fans chose to return the message.

Auburn announced a sale at Jordan-Hare Stadium earlier in the week, and players knew a noisy environment awaited them Saturday night. If they had any doubts, those were instantly cleared when team buses stopped at the intersection of Samford and Donahue for Tiger Walk just over two hours before kick-off. The streets were lined with hordes of fans eager to show their support. One woman turned to her companions and observed, “It hasn’t been like this for two years.

Even longer, at least since before the pandemic.

That day was different, however. This day was for Auburn. For his past, with several former Williams teammates present to support their brother on his home debut. For his present, a locker room of players, many of whom had two coaching changes during their time on the Plains and got bogged down in a disastrous season, without a win since September 24, until Saturday night. For his future, a crowd of rookies lining the sideline before the game, and Williams proclaiming after the victory that Auburn “didn’t die; We arrive.”

“When we got off the bus, man, we saw that Tiger Walk, man,” running back Tank Bigsby said. “We immediately said, when we walked into the locker room, like ‘Bro, it’s back.’ This is the feeling we were looking for.

That sentiment continued as Auburn entered the field after Tiger Walk. The student section was already packed. Williams turned around and recognized them with a few punches as he walked the court for the first time as the head coach of his alma mater. At the end of the pre-game warm-ups, Williams broke huddle and caused another roar from the crowd as Auburn returned to the locker room.

Then came the game itself. The uproar at Jordan-Hare Stadium caused a false start on Texas A&M ahead of its first shot of the night. The crowd kept the energy going for 60 minutes, turning the 87,451-seat stadium into a lunatic asylum. As Robby Ashford knelt and the final seconds ticked away, Auburn players rushed to the student section in celebration. They climbed the ledges and let six weeks of frustration slip away, enjoying the moment for themselves and their acting coach as they joined the crowd in a post-game surf swag like it was all over again. 2017.

“It’s like a weight on our shoulders,” defensive lineman Colby Wooden said. “We haven’t won for so long. It feels like an eternity. But, my God, it feels so good to win. It’s a deep breath – we breathe in and we say “OK”. But we know we have to get back to work.

Williams joined his team in the southeast corner of the stadium, but not before he got drenched by a Gatorade water cooler on the sidelines (team captain Derick Hall was one of the culprits responsible for the freezing shower of Williams’ victory). Williams twirled a towel above his head as he trotted across the pitch, beaming with pride and overwhelmed with a range of emotions.

The magnitude of the moment was not lost on him as he celebrated in front of Auburn’s student section, billowing his arms up and down and – to borrow a phrase from Bramblett 19 years ago – going insane.

As Williams turned and headed for the locker room, where Hall presented him with the game ball, the Auburn students let out one last chant of appreciation before heading off into the night: “CADDY! CADDY!”

“These people love Coach Lac, and Coach Lac loves Auburn,” Hall said. “One thing I’ve heard a million times: If you love Auburn, Auburn will love you back. It’s 100% true…. We knew coming in tonight that this environment would be just amazing, and the Auburn family introduced herself and showed herself.

When Williams finally made it to his post-match press conference, he grabbed the match ball in his hands before carefully placing it on the floor beside him at the desk. He tried so hard not to make this night all over himself; he gets too much credit, he says.

For a brief moment before his moving opening remarks, however, he couldn’t help himself. A reporter jokingly asked if the match ball was for the media. Williams grins from ear to ear as she shakes her head and takes a sip of water.

“No,” he said. “That’s me. That’s me over there.

The ball and the night belonged to Williams.

Tom Green is an Auburn Beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.


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