A quick note before you begin this article. This is by far the hardest piece I have written maybe ever. Now how could a topic I know so well be hard to write about? Well, it’s simple. How could I possibly be brief or put into words what this topic means to me? How do I let you all in on a lifetime of memories, experiences, sights, sounds, and growing up in one piece? Long story short, I agonized over this one. It was hard to write, but I did my best. All that being said, this one is dedicated to my dad who made me an Auburn fan for life.
Have you ever been to Auburn, Alabama? Don’t worry. Not many people outside of the state have. Heck, not many people from Alabama could even point to it on a map to be honest. And let’s get this straight. I’m not commenting on people in Alabama not being able to read maps. I’m from Alabama, went through the public school system, and I READ MAPS JUST FINE.
Anywho, if you’re not looking for Auburn, you will most certainly miss it. From Birmingham and west Alabama in general, you have to take 280 East all the way until you’re just minutes from the Georgia border. Seriously, don’t blink or you’ll pass right by the sign. It’s a small, non-descript thing just off the highway, and there are two other cities listed on top of Auburn. You’d think the city inconsequential if you didn’t know what lies to the right of that arrow.
Once you turn at that marker off highway 280, you’ll go through a very rural stretch of land past the fisheries and various barns…laugh it up, Bama fans….that will eventually spit you out right in the middle of Auburn’s campus. It comes up seemingly out of nowhere, but words cannot describe how picturesque this wooded campus is. It’s like someone placed a bustling community right the middle of an East Alabama farm. And well…that’s kind of what happened. Once you’re there, you can’t help but notice the signature red brick buildings that have stayed remarkably the same over the years. You show me an Auburn fan who doesn’t get moved by the sight of Samford Hall peeking over the tree lined streets, and I’ll call him a Bammer.
And speaking of the campus, let’s talk about those trees for a second. Excuse me if I get a little heated. You see, prior to the “Camback” aka the 2010 Iron Bowl (28-27, bitches), Auburn fans used to celebrate each and every victory by rolling the massive oak trees of Toomer’s Corners. Yes. We literally throw toilet paper into the trees. Google it if you can’t envision what I’m talking about. Actually, let me just make this easy for you.
Side note: When I witnessed the Kick 6 at a sports bar in New York a few years ago, the small tree outside the bar had been rolled. I love you, Auburn.
Anyways, some hillbilly with little-to-no education or respect for nature named Harvey Updyke decided he was butt hurt when Cam Newton led Auburn all the way back from a 3-score deficit IN BRYANT-DENNEY STADIUM to knock of the Alabama Crimson Tide, 28-27. *deep breath* He called the Paul Finebaum Show the very next Monday and described to Paul what his low-life self had done.
That’s right. This redneck had nothing better to do after the game than drive to Auburn and literally poison our trees. He killed the oaks to the point that they had to be taken down just a few months later. This was devastating to the Auburn family and took a beautiful chunk out of the Auburn campus landscape. I will never forgive this man as long as I live. And yes, 99.9999% of Bama fans are not like this, I know. And did you think just because the oaks are gone, we will stop rolling the trees? Exactly.
UGH. Ok tangent is over now that you’ve got just a sliver of the history. This piece is supposed to be about why I love Auburn. Not classless Alabama fans. Let’s get back on track. So, how did this whole me being an Auburn fan come to be? Well, let’s go back to the very beginning.
In the waning hours of November 17th, 1987, I was born in Montgomery, Alabama to a proud pair of Auburn fans (my Mom had recently converted, thank God) basking in the height of the Pat Dye years. Little did I know, but at that moment, my fate as a lifelong Auburn Tigers football fan was sealed. You see, in the state of Alabama, you don’t really get to choose these things. When you’re born, you’re pretty much stamped with “Alabama” or “Auburn,” and that kind of sticks with you the rest of your life. Luckily, I was stamped with the latter, and I’ve bled orange and blue every single day since.
Before I go on, I don’t want to short change the rest of the SEC. We’re all rabid, but what sets the state of Alabama apart is how frequently the fan bases are forced to interact with one another. In fact, I literally couldn’t go a day in school without running into an Alabama fan (unfortunately). And vice versa. I’m sorry, but residents of Columbus and Ann Arbor just don’t know what that’s like. And Tallahassee and Gainsville may as well be in two different states. Clemson and South Carolina? Ok…that’s closer. But I digress…
You see, when you pledge allegiance to Auburn or Alabama, you don’t just casually check the score every now and then. You eat, sleep, and breathe your respective team. You tout every Heisman winner, every victory, every exciting play. It’s a way of life. Some may call us crazy. That’s fair. We’re getting all worked up over football. But what I think the rest of the country doesn’t realize is that these schools mean so much more to us. It’s connected to our roots, our traditions, our families, and our culture in general. Cheering for Auburn makes me feel Southern. It makes me feel like a member of my family.
As you may expect, I have a vast collection of memories associated with the school. The earliest football memories I have are of fall afternoons in 1993 cheering on an Auburn team that would have a miraculous undefeated season…while on probation and a bowl ban. I was too young to understand the intricacies of the NCAA and it’s rules, but I knew that I was witnessing something special. And I knew I was hooked after celebrating with my dad following an upset of the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
“11-0…..EEEEEEELLLEVEN AND OOOOHHHH!!!”
I can still hear Jim Fyffe on the radio call to this day. RIP, Jim.
A little later in my adolescence, we started making a habit of going to the game as a family. My parents had both worked at the university at one point, and even though we no longer lived in Auburn, we still felt a very close connection to our family friends and the community there. We went almost every home game, and my mind is flooded with vivid tailgating memories.
I remember playing football with my brother and other kids of our age. I remember sliding down a hill near our tailgate spot on a stray piece of a cardboard box. I remember picking up fried chicken from Kroger and chowing down accompanied by a Coke from our blue and white cooler. I even remember my dad dressing up in various outfits (i.e.-Jim Carey’s Mask character…remember this was the 90s…) and actually finagling his way into the beloved Auburn tradition, the Tiger Walk. Yes, my dad participated in the Tiger Walk. More than once. I remember intricately carved pumpkins lining the buildings on campus during the month of October and how excited I would get for Halloween. All of these things happened at Auburn. All of these things defined my childhood and eventually my adult passion for Auburn.
As the years passed and my brother and I got more involved in extracurricular activities, friends, girls (not as often as I would have liked personally), and being teenagers, we found less time to make it to Auburn. However, this just happened to coincide with the boom of televised college football on Saturdays, which in turn made me a fan of the sport as a whole. Regardless of what big game was on, though, my family never missed a televised Auburn game. Especially me and my dad. Even though we weren’t tailgating at the stadium, we were still sharing this bond together and making it even stronger.
I live in New York now. My brother lives just outside of Tampa with his wife and three kids. My dad still calls Alabama home. Even though we are far apart, you better believe we have a weekly game day thread going during every Auburn game. Every bad call, touchdown, or great defensive play is commented on by us like we’re in the booth and America needs to know what’s happening. It’s great, I love it, and that’s my connection to Auburn and my family even when we can’t be together. I love that we keep this alive. It’s like being right back on that hill sliding down on a box, eating fried chicken, and driving back to Birmingham late that night after the game. It’s like we’re there, and it defines my Saturdays now in my adult life.
Not to be morbid, but I don’t know how much time I’ve got left with my dad. Heck, none of us has a guarantee about tomorrow no matter the age. Regardless, I do know that these moments we share about Auburn football are memories I will carry with me the rest of my life. From the tailgating of my youth, to the games we watched together as a teenager, and even to the text thread firing up every Saturday. It’s what I’ll remember most about my dad when I’m his age, and it’s hopefully something I can pass on to my children. My brother is already beating me to the punch at that. When I visited my nephews last month, they proudly waived the Auburn flag after each touchdown…and sometimes just because. He’s trained them well. And hey…they don’t know every word to the fight song yet, but give it time!!
So that’s what Auburn means to me. Family. From the 2004 undefeated season when my brother marched in the Auburn band, to Kick 6, to the prayer at Jordan Hare, to the Camback, to the dark years when Brother Oliver took over…all of these things have shaped my memories. Good or bad, all of these events through the scope of Auburn football have brought me closer to my family. We’re experiencing them together as an Auburn family.
That’s why I never miss a game. That’s why I bleed orange and blue. That’s why it means so much to me. That’s why I curse Alabama every chance I get. It’s my family. It’s my dad, my brother, my mom, my godparents, my cousins, and every moment we’ve all shared together. I love Auburn because I love my family.
Thanks for indulging me in this journey…and WAR. DAMN. EAGLE.
And by the way, did you think I would write about Auburn and not post this clip? This one is for you, Bama fans.
Oh, and for all the baseball fans out there…look at what I dug up on my last trip to Auburn…
Follow Jake on Twitter, @jakebridges03!
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