The Auburn miracle season finally came back down to earth following a 34-31 loss to Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game.
All the highs and rushes from last-second victories in the regular season finally caught up to them: A 100-yard Seminole return for a touchdown and a last-minute touchdown drive gave the Tigers a taste of their own medicine.
Demoralized from being on the wrong side of fate for the first time this season, the Auburn players couldn't believe it. Some sobbed in the locker rooms while others tried to grasp what happened. The atmosphere was tense; it was quiet.
First-year head coach Gus Malzahn, who guided Auburn through this historic turnaround season, led the team in a prayer and gave them one final speech before the post-game interviews.
It wasn't one of his famous "BOOM"s with a fist-pump on the sideline. It was more sincere; it was what the players needed to hear.
"OK," Malzahn said. "I know we are all disappointed. We are stinkin' competitors. I'm just gonna tell you this: We feel like crap right now, but everybody in this room is stinkin' champions. They fought their butt off. We make a play or two, we end up winning the game.
"Here's what I don't want you to do: I don't want anybody to have their head down. I don't want anybody playing the name game, all that crap. Man, we're all in this. I could have done a better job, too. We got beat. We're gonna give those guys credit. We're gonna show class, all right?
"Because you learn the biggest lessons in life through adversity. But I'm gonna tell you, when everybody looks back on this team? They're gonna remember that it's the biggest turnaround in college football history.
"I'm just gonna say this to you seniors. I know I talked to y'all last night. We love every one of you. You're the ones that got us here. We'll never forget the senior class. I just wanted to say that. What you guys did? You laid the groundwork for the best years to come.
"I'm just gonna tell you right now, I'm proud of you. You fought your butt off. They had to make a play or two to win. It's OK to be disappointed, crap, we should. That's OK. But let's just make sure we're together. We're different than everybody. I want everybody to understand, OK? All right."
The speech took 79 seconds and it helped define Malzahn as the calm, loving coach he is. When his student-athletes were crushed emotionally, he helped them find meaning to the devastation.
It was not about football; it was about life.
"I want them to know me more as a person before they leave," he said. "There's a lot more of this deal with being a team than football. You learn a lot more about life than you do [football]."
*** All quotes are from USA TODAY. The original article and quotes can be found here.