The Crimson White, the University of Alabama’s student newspaper, stirred my memory recently with its full-page message to note Auburn’s trip to Coleman Coliseum for men’s hoops. The page, in its entirety, blared: “HEY AWWBURN, WE’RE THE FACE OF THIS STATE. SORRY. ROLL TIDE.”
I was editor of The Auburn Plainsman in 1999-2000, my senior year. Before assuming those duties, I spent hours and hours turning the yellowed pages of bound volumes as far back as I could go. We had hard copies back to the 1930s. I learned Auburn history this way, reading stories of Luther Duncan, Ralph and Caroline Draughon, Harry Philpott, Wil Bailey, Lloyd Nix, Fob James, Tucker Frederickson, controversies surrounding Hanly Funderburk and Charles Curran. I encountered beloved figures like Dean Foy, complicated ones like Dean Cater, Red Bamberg. I read columns by my predecessors: David Housel, Jerry Brown, Beverly Bradford, Rheta Grimsley, Tim Dorsey and many others. It illuminated campus walks to know the people behind the names that graced Auburn buildings and streets. It gave me context as I observed, reported and opined about my school, warts and all. The process also crystallized for me a certain tone for an Auburn person, the way we talk about our institution, the way we internalize it, for better or worse. When I saw that Crimson White edition, another consequence became clear to me in a way I hadn’t thought about before: the way we think and talk about our rivals.
It was once a Plainsman tradition – lapsed by the time I got to Auburn – to plaster “BEAT BAMA” above the front-page flag in the largest, boldest print we could muster the week of the Alabama football game. So for the Nov. 18, 1999 Plainsman, we renewed the old practice. Auburn didn’t beat Alabama that year, Tommy Tuberville’s first for the Tigers. That same Plainsman edition even acknowledged a possible loss to the heavily favored Crimson Tide. In an editorial, we welcomed Alabama fans to our campus for just the fifth time as football visitors. We asked, politely, should they find themselves in a happy mood Saturday night, to celebrate anywhere other than Toomer’s Corner. We asked them to respect our campus and our traditions, regardless of the scoreboard. Yes, there now is great irony in that plea. The same editorial also implored Auburn students and fans to live up to the way we frame ourselves: celebrate with our players in victory; salute our players and leave quietly in defeat, allowing the north end zone its rightful exuberance.
The point is this: We made our coverage of that game and the weekend about Auburn. Even our entreaty to the visitors still found its roots – literally – with Auburn (and it was not printed in 48-point type). I believe we reflected the long tradition of how The Plainsman captures the Auburn spirit, while still doing the important (and sometimes unpopular) job of holding the institution and its leadership accountable. I believe The Plainsman’s historical tone reflects the outlook of the wider Auburn family, from multigenerational legacies to anyone who adopts the university as her own, degree or not.
I cannot pretend that I ever earnestly cheer for any UA sports team. Yes, I have hurled the word “hate” in their direction. But my use of that word embarrasses me, and it certainly doesn’t define my experience and identity as an Auburn alumnus. Our existential character at Auburn is expressed by who we are, rather than who we are not. It’s an accounting of our demonstrable attributes, without a need to disclaim abstract negatives. It also doesn’t turn on trumpeting our positive identity at others as a suggestion that they lack the same.
Certain characteristics cannot be possessed merely by claiming them and in fact are by their very nature out of your grasp if you have to talk about them at all. Class, supremacy, tradition, influence, wisdom, discernment. If you have to tell people you’ve got it, you don’t. And if you have to frame yourself almost entirely using contrasts, then you aren’t secure in who you are. (That goes double if you cannot even identify your foil by proper name.)
As applied to my Auburn perspective, I try to avoid saying things like “Auburn is unique.” I do believe Auburn is special in ways that are not present on every college campus. But there are many schools of varying sizes and scopes that claim the notion of family and camaraderie beyond the sports arena. The plethora of trumped-up “traditions” printed on T-shirts in college bookstores doesn’t mean there aren’t real, authentic ways of life to be cherished and celebrated on campuses not called Auburn.
Have you met a Texas A&M cadet or listened to Midnight Yell Practice? Ever walked through The Grove, fall Saturday or not? Ever watched the Golden Band from Tigerland march down the hill in Baton Rouge, listened as the music reverberates off Tiger Stadium? Did you ever stop to appreciate the sheer joy of Mr. Two-Bits in Gainesville? Ever talked to a devout Southern Baptist who went to Samford or Mercer? Ever talked to a dyed-in-the-wool Methodist who is a legacy, many times over, at Birmingham-Southern? What about a Catholic from a small, protestant town who ends up at Spring Hill or another Jesuit school? Have you talked to a Virginia Tech alumna since the massacre? Ever seen an interview with a senior who got to dot the “I” in Columbus, Ohio? Ever stopped to think about what Georgia folks feel like when they see us snapping off a piece of hedge – something I vowed never to do again after watching a few Alabama fans try to roll Toomer’s Corner when I was a senior? Ever noticed the Notre Dame players gather to sing their alma mater along with the rest of the Irish students after the game?
I suppose that in merely spending the time and thought to write this I engage, at least to some degree, in the same self-congratulation and comparison-based boosterism that struck me in the Crimson White. And I readily admit that my position is easier after Jan. 10, 2010 – as evidenced by the difference in my mood and reaction to Alabama’s 2009 championship (post-2004 resentment, inebriated Facebook bombast) and their 2011 title (we’ll be back there, and, man, wasn’t last year amazing).
So let me redeem myself with these calls to action.
To my Auburn family: We aren’t the only ones who call ourselves special. We aren’t the only ones who ARE special. We are Auburn. There should be no rest of that sentence. There is no, “We are Auburn, and you’re not.” As in: “WE’RE THE FACE OF THIS STATE” and the implied “NOT YOU!” I’d like to think we’re collectively sound on this point, but no broad brush is completely accurate, and we’ll always have outliers and backsliders.
To my UA friends, particularly the young, impassioned journalism students: You might roll your eyes at my line of thinking. It may fit every stereotype you have of the “Auburn family” as a defense mechanism to cope with the stream of football championships ever flowing in Tuscaloosa. Yes, rivalries are meant to be fun and student newspapers can get away with things that other newspapers cannot (BEAT BAMA, for example). There are wagers to make, ribbing to be done. Fans can flaunt team accomplishments, on occasion, without violating good taste. But if you’re honest with yourselves, you’ll recognize the difference between friendly ribbing or healthy pride and the way the Crimson White used its press to address visitors to your campus. CW editors, ask yourselves what your decision and tone say about how you define yourselves as Alabama students and fans. What does it say about how the University of Alabama defines itself? I assure you it’s a much better feeling when your self-understanding focuses inward. Tell me what the University of Alabama is to you without any reference to Auburn. I’d actually be interested in your view, because I enjoy listening to people talk about the experiences and associations that help make them who they are. I didn’t live in Alabama for 28 years without forming bonds with people who love UA every bit as much as I love Auburn. I don’t sit in here in Louisiana and stew about LSU, because I’ve made many friends and attended many a tailgate with fine conversation, good music, cold beer and jambalaya or etouffee so plentiful it’s stirred with a boat oar. I even argue with my Auburn friends who insist upon using that stupid “corn dog” line – and do so completely sure of my loyalty.
CW folks, Alabama DOES have an impressive trophy case, the subjective debate over the number of championships notwithstanding. All Alabamians can take pride in your academic institution. Tuscaloosa is a fine college-town atmosphere. None of that is proven or disproven – or affected at all – by anything happening in Lee County or Athens-Clarke County or East Baton Rouge Parish. If you decide to make Alabama be about Alabama, you’ll find yourself in a realm of contentment, humility even, rather than trapped in a foolish pride infused with childish insecurity. That won’t ever require you to say “War Eagle” or pull for any orange and blue team or, GASP, congratulate us out loud when our team wins. You might even find that you can still engender the envy you seem to desire. For there will always be rival fans who focus more on you than on their own team and school, including at Auburn.
Bill Barrow, a former Plainsman editor, is a 2000 journalism graduate. He lives in New Orleans with his wife Michelle Krupa, a Notre Dame alumna, and their son Nathaniel, the best little Irish Tiger around. Bill and Michelle both write for The Times-Picayune.
More Barrow: Our Turf, Our Terms: The modern meaning of Dec. 2, 1989.
Photo via @6pintsofkramer.
* The tale of the A.U. “Squirrel” Club
* Celebrated Playboy photographer loved first visit to Auburn in ’81
* Auburn Parkour face plant featured on Tosh.0
* War Eagle Moment at the SAG Awards
* Twisted Metal developer is an Auburn fan
* “My wife was the Auburn Tiger.”
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What a wonderful, well written piece. A very fine job, Mr. Barrow.
Great Response! War Eagle.
Are you referring to the same Tim Dorsey that is the author of Torpedo Juice?
Excellent, excellent, excellent response!! It’s GREAT to be an Auburn Tiger!!
Very well said. They do seem to desire envy.
Bill Barrow says
WarEagleDG: One and the same. I’ve never met Tim, but I can tell from his 82-82 Plainsman volume that he had a heck of a mind and wasn’t afraid of anything when he was 21. And he’s obviously got a range of talents to have put together such a run of books over the last decade or so. Auburn should be really proud of him.
I’ll not defend the silliness in the CW, just try and put it into proper perspective.
First, it was a play on “the Face” kid, and his 15 minutes. If you saw the guy anywhere on his media tour, you know he’s a bright, nice, self-effacing kid who knows exactly what this is – 15 minutes of fame.
So, the CW tries to get a little mileage off that.
There’s also a “tradition” (inasmuch as either Alabama or Auburn have basketball traditions) that the Bama students read a newspaper as the opposition’s starting lineup is announced – to show casual disinterest. The CW will, from time to time, put something in large print to try and garner interest from TV cameras, the other players, etc.
All that being said, I detest the intentional misspelling/misrepresentation of the other team. As much as I hate the “Bammer” or “UAT” garbage from Auburn fans, I despise “API” or “Awwbarn” or “the Barn” from ours as well. It’s beyond childish, and isn’t creative or interesting.
The CW is a better paper than this, generally. I’m sad to see this sort of thing in the pages today.
Todd Gilbert says
This should be commended first for unbelievable writing. Second, a commendation should be given for the maturity necessary to replace a natural unhinged response with a controlled and cerebral conclusion. This is a virtue we should all exercise.
MJ Scott says
Game. Set. Match. Well played, sir.
I look forward to the day Bill returns to work in the state of Alabama.
Wow, what a well written response. War Eagle!
JB Jones says
Class all the way, as I wouldn’t expect anything less from an intelligent AU fan. UA continues to show the classless product that comes from that institution (generally speaking-there are exceptions).
John Carvalho says
A few thoughts provoked by Bill’s usual excellent work:
1) We had a similar debate my year as Plainsman editor (1977-78) about doing a “Beat Bama” banner. The staff saw how it was done in the old days as an ad hoc “window decal.” I didn’t like the idea; probably too stuffy for my own good. But we compromised and did it across the top of sports.
2) When I first saw a pic of the page, I tweeted that it must be a hoax, like that posting about prostitution in the Bama dorm. If not, it is a journalistic nightmare. In my opinion, if the CW wants to be taken seriously as a newspaper, it can’t resort to high schoolish things like this.
3) And from what I saw during the game broadcast, if they were hoping that fans would hold the page up to distract Auburn, they failed there too.
4) Tim Dorsey is a great story. Was The Plainsman editor during Hanly Funderburk’s presidency whose paper ran a weekly headline, “Please, Hanly … ” that eventually became a legendary t-shirt. He is now a legendary South Florida crime writer. And as down to earth as ever.
Tyler Newland says
Your well formed and intelligently stated argument is the perfect counterpoint to the asinine attack on our fair university. What an excellent representation of everything the Auburn family strives toward. War Eagle, sir.
Thank you, Ann, for completely missing the point – which was to NOT do exactly what you’ve done…
Oh Bill Barrow…quit making sense! Great article!
Well said, Bill.
I’m fine with a little newspaper jabbing, even making a sign similar to this, but the intentional “Awwburn” spelling reeks of the ignorant sidewalk fan base and has no place being used by anything university endorsed.
It’s still better than misspelling ‘Tuscaloosa’ in the banner hed.
As always, Mr. Barrow, very well written. I will file this one away in my “Bill Barrow” file along with my Bill Barrow for Plainsman Editor T-shirt.
Excellent piece. WAR EAGLE class of 2010
Jeff Holoman says
Nice piece, Bill
Deanne Southerland says
I think the time has come to make Auburn part of the Eastern Division of the SEC. We do not need to play Alabama in every sport every year. I believe that would put a stop to all the ill feelings among members of the sports public, the schools and their newspapers. It would probably extend the life of trees in South Alabama.
Ell, I think we all appreciate your even-handed comment. But reading newspapers as the other team is announced is something student bodies all over the country were doing decades ago. We did it at Auburn when I was there in the early-mid 80s and it was going on everywhere. I doubt it originated at UA. I’m making a minor point here and don’t mean to be uncivil.
In another little Plainsman historical note, I recall when Chris Roush became editor during my AU years he replaced the motto “To foster the Auburn spirit” with “A spirit that is not afraid.” I believe the “not afraid” motto came from an earlier era and remains on the masthead today.
I expect nothing less from the CW. Bill, this was a great, even-handed piece – somebody’s got to keep it classy around here. FWIW, I came on Plainsman staff right after you left, and we continued to hear stories of your awesomeness for years after you graduated 🙂
Jessica O. Swink says
Well written, Bill. Thank you for writing.
This latest escapade from The Crimson White reminds me of the maroon “This is OUR State” billboards and commercials in Mississippi. Not a fan of those, either.
There’s a reason we had a corner of The Plainsman newsroom dedicated to cutouts from The Crimson White. It’s good to learn from bad examples. After all, we believe in education, which gives us the knowledge to work wisely and trains our minds and hands to work skillfully.
I hope the current Plainsman staff doesn’t bother to respond to this stunt in any way. It wouldn’t be worth their time.
Thanks again for writing.
Just now reading this–very well done. It put into words some things I’ve felt but haven’t been able to explain.
Jeff Rushing says
bama likes to think i they are ” the king of the world” just because of their football program. I never seen them yet to see them named “Best College In Alabama” by any national publications