On Monday, the Auburn Tigers inherited the mantle of “national champions” from the Alabama Crimson Tide. Today, thanks to a contract between Dr. Pepper and Walmart dictating the accompanying Coaches’ Trophy be displayed at several Walmart locations across the the state before coming to Auburn, many Auburn fans are afraid they’ll also inherit an unwanted stereotype.
“I hope we’re not that damn cheap,” said James Whitman, 72, when told of the trophy’s scheduled stop this Sunday at the Auburn Walmart. Today the trophy will be on display at a Montgomery-area store (for a complete schedule, go here). Whitman, who attended Auburn in the ’50s and who had just returned from a whirlwind trip to see the Tigers play for the national championship (due to Birmingham weather conditions, he made it to the game with only an hour to spare), was one of thousands who braved freezing temperatures outside Auburn’s athletic complex to welcome the team home from Arizona Tuesday night. “That just cheapens the deal,” he said. “I hope we’re better than that.”
Last year, Alabama fans were widely ridiculed by blogs and websites* such as Deadspin and PeopleOfWalmart.com (“Alabama, you win the national championship and take it to Walmart. You are making this easier than Colt McCoy did.”) for standing in line for hours at Walmart stores to pose for photos (in full hounds tooth regalia) with the crystal football in front of a pyramid of Dr. Pepper Fridge-Packs. The arrangement was eventually revealed to be contractual, involving only the decisions of Dr. Pepper (the trophy’s sponsor) and Walmart, not the University of Alabama. The perception, however, remains the opposite: that Alabama’s athletics department was simply pandering to its fan base.
The same will likely hold true in Auburn’s case, despite the fact that the university won’t even take possession of the trophy until after the tour; managers at the Auburn Walmart say they expect a thousand Auburn fans to come to see the trophy.
When asked if he would be one of them, Whitman was emphatic.
“No… no…hell, no,” he said, lighting a cigar. “I’d be the first one out there with a picket sign.”
And he might not be alone. An aptly-named Facebook group “Keep Auburn’s BCS Trophy out of Walmart” was started Tuesday, the day after Auburn won the BCS Championship, to protest the events. It currently has 60 “likes.”
“The real crime here is that the world at large believes it’s a southern thing, and that Walmart is our idea of culture or something,” said Auburn Elvis, an Auburn fan (and Elvis impersonator) who routinely travels to Auburn sporting events from his home in Chattanooga to cheer on the Tigers as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and who had considered protesting the display. “And since no non-SEC team has won since Dr. Pepper’s been paying for the trophy… we’re the one’s who look like hicks. Had Oregon won, it’d be displayed at one of their Walmarts whether they wanted to or not.”
The issue has been on the mind of some Auburn fans since before the Tigers even had a trophy to display.
Last week TWER published an open letter to Auburn administrators written by Jim Magruder, an Auburn alum (and father of TWER contributor John Magruder), that read in part:
I need to know that our University – upon earning a prestigious honor such as a national championship in football – would never stoop so low as to display the trophy at a Walmart store – or a truck stop, a Burger King, a Greyhound bus station, an outhouse, etc. Please PLEASE tell me that the state’s premier University would only display said trophy in the most appropriate and dignified way – not in front of piles of second-tier soft drinks, motor oil, and diapers. PLEASE tell me it will never ever happen.
Magruder went so far as to suggest that Auburn not only attempt to opt out of the arrangement, but dare Dr. Pepper to sue the university if the soft-drink company refused a payoff to compensate it for lost advertising.
Glenda Vandegraf would probably second that motion; when informed of the Walmart tour while waiting for the team Tuesday night, her mouth dropped open.
“Really? That’s awful, like, really, that’s just awful,” said Vandegraf, a sophomore at Auburn majoring in elementary education. “It’s just like, ‘let’s be trashy.'”
Her friend, Chris Edwards, an Auburn senior majoring in economics, felt the same way, responding “Can we please not?”
Both Vandgraf and Edwards said their problem with the arrangement has nothing to do with Walmart per se (“I mean, I go there to buy things,” says Vandegraf.), just with the idea of Walmart as a proper venue for the $30,000 trophy.
“If you put it in the middle of the stadium and have Nova there, heck yeah, I’d be there,” Vandegraf said.
Would they be there at Walmart? She and Edwards both slowly shook their heads.
“I might be there only because Sunday is when I buy groceries,” Edwards said.
Not everyone gathered Tuesday night had a problem with the display.
“Well, why not?” asked Mike Glisson, who played for Auburn in the late ’80s and who currently serves as offensive line coach for the Auburn High School football team. “Why not let the fans get up to the trophy, or players or whatever. That’s great. That’s what it’s about. There’s a lot of people who have gone to school for Auburn and it’s a big thing for them.”
Auburn alum Heath Truitt, the owner of local bar and music club The Independent, understands the sentiment, but either out of personal taste or fear of a what-goes-around-round ribbing from across the state, summed up what seems to be the consensus fan opinion on the matter thus:
“Couldn’t it at least be at Target?”
* Including this one.
Auburn photo by Cliff Welch.
UPDATE: Another Facebook group (“Show Auburn’s BCS Trophy Respect”) has started in response to the Coaches’ Trophy tour; this one encourages Auburn fans to adhere to a dress code (“Sundresses for the ladies are strongly suggested. Men should not wear jorts or wife-beaters. If you have bad teeth, smile only with your lips. Have your hair brushed or keep your hat on”) and seeks volunteers to serve as bouncers “to prohibit any Bama fans, Georgia fans, people dress inappropriately and others deemed as unfit to stand next to the Trophy.”
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