I am not an Auburn football fan because I enjoy Auburn’s victories. I enjoy Auburn’s victories because I am an Auburn football fan.
A, then B. One, then the other.
This is important.
If the costs of going without are–obviously–far higher, that doesn’t mean there aren’t drawbacks to a certain level of education. When I settled down beside my bedroom radio to listen to Jim Fyffe call Auburn to a perfect ELEVEN and OH season in 1993, I wasn’t thinking about the unavoidable life-altering violence of the sport, the occasional, inevitable warping of academic values that accompany a top-end Division I football program, the painful parallels between fandom and drug addiction–that the lows always feel lower than the highs feel high, but that no matter how low we get we’ll always, always come back in the search for one more rush.
Nope, at 15, I didn’t think about any of that. Just like I had all season, I just wanted to hear Fyffe say TOUCHDOWN, AUBURN! and listen to James Bostic run for enough yards to make it to the moon and back and Stan White go out like the winner he deserved to be and Auburn’s magic act–what else was that season, if not magic?–go on performing for one last week. This was Auburn, I loved Auburn, that was all.
Then I grew up and got a master’s degree in a liberal arts field (from Auburn) and wound up thinking all the time, which usually is a plus but not always, and then a few weeks ago Zac Etheridge lay motionless on the field for what seemed like three days and was thisclose to never walking again and I could not help–I tried, honest, I try all the time, but I really could not help–but think Why am I supporting this? Why do I care so much?
There are all kinds of reasons I care so much, most of which I won’t get into here. But the biggest one is called: Auburn.
By which I don’t mean the city of Auburn, even though I love the city and miss it the way I miss whatever I’ve chosen to give up during Lent.
By which I don’t mean the University, even though I care more about its well-being–this is the truth–than its football team and take a kind of pride in it I probably won’t feel in any other capacity until I have children.
By which I don’t mean the football team, even though the past three months of work I have done here at WBE is (I hope) all the testament you need to how much I have invested in their fortunes.
By which I don’t even mean the “Auburn family,” that wonderful network of family and friends and random alums in the far-flung corners of the country that not only know what the hell War Eagle means but understand it as the greeting, valediction, and oath it is.
I mean all of those things. Auburn is big enough to contain them all. They are all tied together, each connected to the other in ways impossible* to sever or separate. This is Auburn. We are Auburn.
And even as just one member of that Auburn, just one speck in the warm and loving sea that is his community, I have the right to say: War Eagle.
I like to think of Auburn as unique, special, better than the things and places that are like Auburn but are not, and I believe with everything I have that in many ways, it is.
But there also many ways in which is not unique or special or better. If I had been born in a place that was not Columbus, Ga. and raised somewhere that was not Dadeville, Ala. by parents who were not Auburn fans, I would tell you today that somewhere else was unique and special and better.
But I couldn’t give less of a crap about that. Because Auburn is mine. Auburn is what I have. Not somewhere else. Auburn. And that alone is enough no matter how special or not-special it is.
This is, of course, always the way people feel about their home, wherever or whatever home is.
And so today I want like nothing else in the world for Auburn to beat Alabama. Maybe there’s more to Auburn than a football team and glorious victory on the gridiron … but today, there isn’t.
Today, there’s the blue jerseys with the white numbers and orange stripes on the sleeves. There’s the shakers, more than any one of could ever count. There is Tiger Walk. There is passing around a shared plate of potato salad in our favorite tailgating spot by the tennis courts or a block over from the Haley Center the way we all share the dream of victory. There is a band playing the songs we will all still hum when we are all very old. There is Pat Dye, somewhere, and there are the ghosts of ’49 and ’72 and ’89 and ’02, and there is Zac Etheridge, still there is Zac Etheridge, unbroken and unbowed. There is Gene Chizik, running out of the tunnel, God bless him; Gene, I’m so sorry for what I said.
There is an eagle, a real live eagle, that soars out of the sky like hope. His name is War Eagle and there is his name, to be spoken to every one we meet because he is Auburn.
Today, those things are all there is. Those things, and our rivals, Alabama, who we hate for a list of reasons that no one has enough time for but simply enough: because we are Auburn. This is Auburn.
Go Tigers! Beat ‘Bama!
Unfortunately, I live far, far away from all of the wonderful things listed above and won’t see them things in person today. But that only makes them more important–for those of us who cannot enjoy Auburn the city, or Auburn the University, or Auburn our friends, the Auburn football team that appears every fall weekend on our television set is as close as we can get to Auburn. I have grown up and I have thought things about football I’d rather not think, but the fact is that I write this to you wanting today’s victory as badly as I have wanted any victory, ever, even that one back in 1993.
Why do I care? Because Auburn does. I will always care. Always.
Let’s go, Auburn. Win.
War Damn Eagle.
*Some people will try, of course: fans who never attended and don’t care about the school, students and professors who wish the football team would just go away. That’s all right. To each his own. But they’re in the slim minority, of course.
Toomer’s photo via our own Kenny Smith. Hope that’s OK, Kenny.