Andrew Brooks, a Tiger Host with Auburn’s football program, left his seat the instant Greg McElroy’s pass dropped into Darius Hanks’ outstretched hands for the touchdown that gave Alabama a 21-point lead in the first quarter of the 2010 Iron Bowl.
He knew he needed to go somewhere, anywhere, to escape the deafening roars of Crimson Tide fans. He settled on a bathroom stall somewhere behind the north end zone at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“I just sat there and remember saying, ‘God, why do you hate me?’” he recalled.
And then he prayed.
So many Auburn fans have a similar story from that day. Some shed their coats despite the cold and rain in order to display their lucky shirt or jersey more prominently during the second half. Those watching at home switched seats or even rooms in order to change the mojo.
Auburn came back – well, “Camback” – to win, 28-27, in one of the most memorable Iron Bowls ever played. Cam Newton was the hero, throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for another after the undefeated and No. 2-ranked Tigers fell behind 24-0 early in the second quarter.
Nearly every one of those Auburn fans will tell you that what they did played some part in that miracle.
Andrew goes one step further – he’ll tell you that if not for that bathroom prayer and ensuing Tiger victory, he might not have gotten married to Madison Brooks.
Madison and Andrew Brooks outside University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona – the site of the BCS National Championship game that Auburn won over Oregon. (Photo: Madison Brooks)
Prayer was actually part of Andrew’s responsibilities for the Tigerettes and Tiger Hosts, students who hosted Auburn football recruits and their families on gamedays. He was the group’s chaplain. So at every home game, before Tiger Walk, the group would gather and he would ask for two things: that everyone stays safe and Auburn wins.
But he didn’t do that before the Nov. 26, 2010, game in Tuscaloosa. TTH didn’t work road games – he just made the cross-state trip as a fan. It wasn’t until one of the Tigerettes turned to him during the Crimson Tide’s early onslaught and yelled, “Did you pray before this game? You didn’t pray, did you?” that he knew he made a mistake.
So Andrew went into that bathroom stall and prayed that the Tigers would win.
Iron Bowl: Alabama vs. Auburn all-time results
Three plays that happened after that stand out in his mind to this day: Antonio Coleman punching the ball out of Mark Ingram’s hands as he sprinted free down the visitor’s sideline, Trent Richardson’s dropped pass in the end zone. Nick Fairley’s strip sack of McElroy.
Had the ball bounced even slightly differently on any of those plays, the outcome might have been completely different.
“I know this is fan lunacy or whatever, and it’s not my prayer that did it, but it’s just eerie,” Andrew said. “It looked so bleak, then it was like, OK, something’s brewing.”
Andrew said he went back to the same bathroom he prayed in before leaving Bryant-Denny Stadium. Other than the faint sounds of “Reverse Rammer Jammer” still being sung by Auburn fans, it was dead quiet.
Everyone remembers what happened. Auburn outscored Alabama 21-3 in the second half. Newton hit Philip Lutzenkirchen for the game-winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The Tigers moved up to No. 1 in the BCS standings and blew out South Carolina to win the SEC championship.
That sent them to Glendale, Arizona, for a date with Oregon in the national title game. Andrew made that trip, too. His grandfather lived nearby in Phoenix, so he had a free place to stay. He and his parents flew in a few days early.
Andrew and Madison did know each other then, but not well. They had only just met earlier that semester, through their roles in Young Life. They had only ever hung out in groups.
She corroborated his story: Jan. 10, 2011, was the day that led to them becoming a couple.
Madison’s journey to Arizona was complicated. She and her brother were supposed to arrive the morning before the game, but their flight out of Atlanta had engine trouble and had to make an emergency landing back at the airport. The next one they got on was delayed due to a snowstorm. They didn’t end up arriving in Phoenix until after 2 a.m.
During that time, she texted everyone she knew who was already there trying to find a ride from the airport. She wanted to figure out who was closest and would therefore be the least inconvenienced. It wasn’t Andrew, but he volunteered anyway.
They texted for hours. Andrew and his family picked Madison and her brother up. They ended up spending the entire day of the game together, attending all the fan activities around University of Phoenix Stadium.
They watched the game separately. But when it was over and Auburn had beaten Oregon 22-19 to cap a magical season, they met up again and embraced. They started dating less than a month later and were married 18 months after that, in August 2013. They recently moved to Syracuse, New York.
Maybe all thanks to The Camback.
“Whenever anyone says something bad about Cam Newton, I’m like, ‘Dude, I literally owe my life to him,’” Andrew said. “Whatever children I have one day, whatever life I’ve built with my family, it’s due to those little miracles.”
Josh Vitale is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshVitale. To reach him by email, click here.