NEW ORLEANS — Jeoffrey Pagan looked away for just a second. Then he heard the roar, looked back and horror set in.
The most stunning finish in college football history — or something very close to it — is amazing to see. Unless you're on the losing end.
Alabama enters the Sugar Bowl on Thursday night carrying a heavy burden. The memory of the last time it donned Crimson Tide game jerseys.
Auburn stunned its archrival 34-28 on Chris Davis' 109-yard return of a missed field goal on the game's final play. Alabama has won three of the last four national titles. But now, Auburn will play for the crown.
And the Tide is in the consolation Sugar Bowl, still trying to figure out exactly how it lost.
“Surreal and sickening all together,” Bama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said of the feeling.
Will the Tide be angry and take it out on the heavy underdog Sooners? Will the Tide be dazed, still wondering why it's not playing Florida State in the Big Bowl?
“Was what it was,” said Bama linebacker Trey DePriest. “There's nothing we can really do about it now. We didn't play our best football, and we got the results that came from that.”
The game has drawn plenty of great monikers. Kick Six. Shock and AU. Kick Bama Kick.
Indeed, the Tide was left kicking itself. The game was headed to overtime, until Nick Saban persuaded officials to check the replay. One second was placed back on the clock, and in came Alabama freshman Adam Griffith to try a 57-yard field goal.
But Auburn sent the speedy Davis back, just in case the kick was short. It was, albeit barely, and a little wide.
“I was on the sideline,” said Pagan, a Bama defensive end. “I was actually watching the whole way. Our kicker, he could hit those. I was cheering him on. I was behind him the whole way.
“When it was short, I kind of took my eye away a second until I started hearing the crowd. Then I looked back, saw the return.
“It was a tough feeling. An experience I'll never forget. Or my teammates. Something we have to live through.”
OU's Sugar Bowl hopes could hinge on Alabama's mental recovery. How does a crestfallen team rally? How does a team that knows how close it came to history get up for this game?
Sugar Bowl? Solace Bowl is more like it. Will Alabama be delivering wounds or licking wounds?
Davis ran very fast en route to his heroics. Except in Tide eyes. In Tide eyes, the whole thing slowed to a crawl.
Linebacker Trey DePriest: “Slow motion to me. He caught the ball and he was running, I really couldn't believe it, either. I was just shocked as everyone else. I knew what was happening. I didn't want to believe it.”
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: “It was very crazy. It kind of went in slow motion, that last play. My whole life went in slow motion as I seen the guy run down the sideline.”
Alabama coaches saw Davis go deep. They knew it was a possibility. Knew that if Griffith's kick came up short, a sprinter could be running in the open field against a bunch of Bama lumberjacks, since girth is a requirement to block for a field goal.
“Obviously before the timeout, we all saw, as coaches, the return guy back there,” Smart said. “So the emphasis was put on covering the kick, because we knew there was a possibility if it didn't get through the end zone they would have a chance to return it.
“So to see him catch it and get past that first wave, it was over about the 50. It went from surreal to sickening.”
Thus comes Alabama's New Orleans mission. Don't let that fluky play beat you twice.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.