AUBURN, Ala. -- Air Force reserve Lt. Col. Dave Heideman craned his neck and tried to peer between other fans’ heads to catch a glimpse of Tigers coach Gene Chizik briefly addressing the crowd during Tuesday’s homecoming celebration for the BCS champions.
No luck. The crowd was just too deep.
But Heideman would have been hard to miss for anyone looking out into the sea of Auburn fans with his 4-foot-tall, glittery sign painted with a No. 1 on one side and a tiger-eye logo and “War Eagle” on the other.
“These are some very loyal fans out here,” said Heideman, a 47-year-old Auburn alumnus whose wife, Marty, made the sign. “I don’t even know how cold it is right now; maybe 30 degrees. This is the core of the Auburn soul.”
Heideman was among several thousand Auburn fans who lined metal barricades outside the school’s athletics complex to greet players and coaches as they exited buses and entered the building for the first time since defeating Oregon on Monday night in the BCS national championship game.
For many of them, it was a long, chilly night.
The first estimates placed the team’s arrival at roughly 6:30 p.m., but after flying into Montgomery, Ala., unloading its gear and making the drive to Auburn, the team arrived at roughly 9:30 p.m.
Many of those waiting stood outside in near-freezing temperatures for more than three hours, but few appeared discouraged enough to leave.
“I wanted to be able to tell my kids one day that I was here for this,” Auburn student Brett Miller said.
The championship game’s history was a common theme for fans toughing out the chilly, windy weather. Auburn last won a national championship in 1957, and Auburn student Taylor Bradford said he did not know for sure he would have another chance to experience the homecoming in person.
“This is something we get to be part of for the first time in 53 years,” Bradford said. “I don’t want to miss this.”
Looking around campus and the surrounding neighborhoods, it was clear to see there had been little break in the celebration. Toilet paper covered trees blocks from Toomer’s Corner, and even cars left parked overnight were dotted with sheets of it.
“It’s everywhere,” Auburn student Ryan Freeman said of the toilet paper. “If you went out (Tuesday), you saw it. We were really excited about this.”
Chris White, 706-571-8571; follow Chris online at twitter.com/le_chriswhite and at facebook.com/lechriswhite.