We took a look Thursday at who led the way this season in the SEC in attendance.
Alabama averaged 101,821 fans at home games to finish first in the SEC and fourth nationally. According to NCAA figures, the Crimson Tide also filled Bryant-Denny Stadium at 110.5 percent capacity, which led the SEC and was second nationally.
Several of you, after taking in the SEC attendance numbers, have inquired about the best game atmospheres this season.
Not counting the SEC championship game or any of the bowl games, I’ve come up with my top 5. These were all games I attended.
Now, there were certainly other games that I didn’t attend that would warrant consideration. Among those games, just from talking to people who were there and watching on television, would be Arkansas’ 38-31 double-overtime victory against Mississippi State on Nov. 20 in Starkville, Miss., Florida’s 34-31 overtime victory against Georgia on Oct. 30 in Jacksonville, Fla., Auburn’s 35-27 victory over South Carolina on Sept. 25 in Auburn, Ala., and Auburn’s 49-31 victory over Georgia on Nov. 13 in Auburn, Ala.
Here are my top 5 in order. Notice that Alabama plays a part in four of the five, although only one of the games was in Tuscaloosa.
1. Alabama 24, Arkansas 20, Fayetteville, Ark., Sept. 25: The whole city of Fayetteville was bursting at the seams with anticipation all weekend. The scene Friday night on Dickson Street was fantastic, and I can still hear the roar from the Razorback Stadium crowd in my ears and feel the energy. The Hogs’ stadium may seat only 72,000, but it sounded like 172,000 on that festive September Saturday afternoon in the Ozarks.
2. Auburn 24, LSU 17, Auburn, Ala., Oct. 23: Don’t underestimate the role Auburn’s fans played in the Tigers’ national championship. Jordan-Hare Stadium was consistently the loudest venue in the SEC this season, and the fans stayed in it even when the Tigers fell behind early in the season in comeback wins over Clemson and South Carolina. I still think the place is shaking from the after-tremors created by Cam Newton’s jaw-dropping 49-yard touchdown run.
3. South Carolina 35, Alabama 21, Columbia, S.C., Oct. 9: When Alabama pays a visit to a place it doesn’t normally go, there’s always a different pep in those fans’ step. In this case, the Crimson Tide were ranked No. 1 and riding an 18-game winning streak, and the Gamecocks’ fans were ready. The Cockabooses were rocking. Even PGA golfer Dustin Johnson was on hand and soaking up the atmosphere, and South Carolina’s team delivered a performance for the ages in taking down Alabama and launching a party in Columbia that didn’t end until sometime that next week.
4. LSU 24, Alabama 21, Baton Rouge, La., Nov. 6: Even when LSU was unbeaten earlier in the season, Tiger Stadium never really roared. Well, it roared in the second half of LSU’s first win over Alabama since the Tigers’ national championship season in 2007. Even though the game started in the afternoon, it had that night feel to it as Tiger Stadium truly came alive. When Jarrett Lee completed that third-and-13 pass to Rueben Randle for 47 yards to all but clinch the game in the final minutes, you couldn’t hear yourself think. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There’s no place anywhere on the college football landscape quite like Tiger Stadium and all that surrounds it on game day. OK, go ahead and cue those first four notes from the Golden Band from Tigerland.
5. Auburn 28, Alabama 27, Tuscaloosa, Ala., Nov. 26: It was like turning off a water faucet the Friday after Thanksgiving. With Alabama racing out to a 24-0 lead in the first half, it was pure bedlam in Bryant-Denny Stadium. But as Auburn started to claw back in the second half, the cheers turned into groans. When it was over, and Auburn had completed the greatest comeback in Iron Bowl history, an emotional Auburn coach Gene Chizik celebrated with the Auburn fans in their corner of the stadium. Meanwhile, the Alabama fans left stunned in silence. A couple of hours later, the Alabama campus was a virtual ghost town -- the kind of eerie quiet you never hear at that place after a home football game.