It is a spirit. It is an attitude. It is a way of looking at life and at one another. It is, almost, a way of living. Unless you have experienced it, you will never know what it is; you will never understand it. Once you have experienced it, you will never be the same. A part of you will, forevermore, be an Auburn man or an Auburn woman.
— David Housel
David Housel leans forward in the booth at Chappy’s Deli, his main hang out. He greets the older man two booths away. He takes a sip of coffee.
“John Wayne was an Auburn Man,” he says.
He takes another sip.
“So was Gary Cooper, especially in High Noon.”
Sip, sip, sip, sip.
Shug Jordan. Pat Dye. Tommy Tuberville. George Petrie. All Auburn Men.
But what is an Auburn Man?
Petrie thought that Auburn men and women believed, as he did, in things like education and honesty and the human touch. And because they did, he believed in Auburn. And he loved it. And wrote all about it in The Auburn Creed. (The title of Petrie’s biography published 60 years later? Auburn Man.)
But the existence of the Auburn Man obviously predates the Creed, written in 1943, because the Auburn Man is referenced in it (at least a lowercase version). And unless we think Petrie, Auburn’s first football coach, was the original Auburn Man, then the Auburn Man predates Auburn football.
“One doesn’t have to be a huge athlete or SGA president to be an Auburn Man,” says Eric Clemmons, an Auburn junior in forestry and wildlife sciences. “An Auburn Man uses his class and character to put a positive light on Auburn. I think of someone who bleeds orange and blue and will carry the Auburn name with pride.”
George Brown, senior in communication, says he connects the attributes of an Auburn Man to altruism, as well as to a sense of character and class.
Both Clemmons and Brown use nebulous words like “class” and “character” in their definitions, words often used to describe good people, but never clearly defined.
Ruth Crocker is director of Auburn’s Women’s Studies Program, which might make her an Auburn Woman. She defines class as “income, wealth, background.”
She’s not sure Clemmons’ definition is accurate. She’s not sure if it’s balanced.
Crocker feels that Auburn is a diverse campus full of differing ideas and opinions and that the idea of the Auburn Man of traditional “class” and “character” is antiquated and bigoted.
“[That] image of the Auburn Man is dated,” Crocker says. “Maybe it never was a reality.”
David Housel (somewhat) agrees with her. The idea of the Auburn Man is complex, he says, and not necessarily divided along gender lines.
“I think when you say Auburn Man and define it on the Auburn Creed, like most people do, I think that dates and antiquates and does disservice to the Creed,” Housel says. “I think the Auburn Creed and the Auburn Man (persona) extends to people of all faiths and all sexes. I don’t think you define, or limit, love of Auburn to gender.”
But he thinks old man Petrie had it right: an Auburn Man might not be definable by the Creed—after all, the Creed will be interpreted differently in different generations—but an Auburn Man can always be identified by it.
The post-war students Petrie wrote for thought of the Auburn Man as “a scrappy underdog who had ideas and principles he was willing to fight for,” Housel says. “Auburn’s nature, its persona, was a fighter.”
That echoes what Wayne McLaughlin, class of ’52, told me. An Auburn Man, he said, is loyal, and doesn’t lose faith in Auburn. An Auburn Man doesn’t boo. An Auburn Man is there till the end.
Exactly, says Housel.
“(An Auburn Man) sticks with Auburn through thick and thin,” Housel says. “And Lord knows Auburn has been through thick and thin.”
Housel, class of ’69, feels the “glory days” of Auburn Man-ness was the 1960s, when he was roaming The Plains, ha ha ha. (That’s another piece of the Auburn Man puzzle, he says—not taking yourself too seriously.)
Back then, he says, there was a lot of that Gary Cooper-style sense of duty and dedication to do what was “right.”
What is right? Housel doesn’t know. He is not sure how anyone can know beyond watching Cooper and John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart do what they do.
Take Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. He wasn’t sure what was right, Housel says. He went with his gut, and (with a little help from on high) came back to reality.
The rightness of an action might be debatable, he says, but not the person behind it. To Housel, the Auburn Man is a combination of the tough and soft—a Wayne, Cooper and Stewart cocktail, each part integral, stirred, but not shaken, by the Creed.
And if that’s the case, then the personality of an Auburn Man is more than that of the Auburn fan. It’s wrapped around the Auburn Creed, but not only the creed. It’s all gunslingers and “come get some” mixed with love of family and respect of self. It’s dedicated to duty and striving to discover right action. It’s complex and confusing and more and less.
“There is no simple definition of a good Auburn Man,” Housel says. “Because a good Auburn Man is a good man who learned to be a good man through the influence of Auburn.”
This he tells me sitting, and sipping, in the last booth of the main room at Chappy’s, his back to the wall. When I sat down and introduced myself, he told me he always sat near walls, a habit learned when he was athletic director.
The Auburn Man says he was afraid he might get shot in the back (presumably by an Auburn Man).
Ben Bartley is a student at Auburn University. Most of his time is spent doing as little as possible, eating and controlling manageable vices. He will one day graduate with a degree in journalism and maybe find a job. Fingers crossed.