I can’t have normal human interactions with Auburn athletes. Not that I haven’t tried; I’ve made my awkward attempts (my bad, Landon Knox – name redacted to protect the innocent). But to me, even after four-plus years, they’re celebrities – orange and navy clad infallible superhumans.
Like former Auburn basketball player Lyle Mavis.
Former Auburn basketball player Lyle Mavis is tall, real tall. You have to be real tall to be Auburn’s career leader in blocked shots. I know this because Wednesday night, Lyle and I became the best of friends somewhere deep in the depths Auburn’s Mos Eisley cantina (minus the Max Rebo Band, sadly): SkyBar.
“You got a non-wrinkled dollar I can borrow?”
Turning around: “Hey, you’re Lyle Mavis.”
He took the dollar out of my hand and fed it into the machine. Worked on the first try.
“Thanks, Lyle Mavis. What you up to these days?”
“Just doing what I do.”
“Me too, Lyle Mavis,” I said, punching 55 for death in a box.
“Well, War Eagle, Lyle Mavis.”
“War Eagle, man.”
…see what I mean? I blame my Dad. He started the brainwashing early; Young Ben loved to dress up in his itchy Auburn replica uniform and watch the AttitUde: The Story of the 1993 Auburn Tigers VHS on repeat, so much so that the tape is all blue screen and static now, this being my favorite moment:
“…so it’s fourth down and 14 to go. Nix this time will go for it with 6:22 left in the third period, Auburn trailing 14-5. Out of the shotgun, Patrick Nix. Alabama bringing everybody. Nix is gonna float one for Sanders, Sanders… OH HE CAUGHT IT AT THE TWO! AND HE DIVES IN! TOUCHDOWN AUBURN! TOUCHDOWN AUBURN! OH MY GOODNESS! SANDERS WENT UP OVER TOMMY JOHNSON OR ANTONIO LANGHAM, HE CAUGHT THE BALL AT THE TWO, HOW HE HELD IT I DON’T KNOW, BUT HE DIVED INTO THE ENDZONE, AND AUBURN’S RIGHT BACK IN THE THICK OF IT, WITH A BACKUP QUARTERBACK, TRAILING 14-11! A 35-YARD PASS PLAY, PATRICK NIX TO FRANK SANDERS!”
There was even a period from 1st-3rd grade where I colored every picture orange and navy (my teachers never appreciated my advanced Auburn aesthetic).
None of the above makes for a well-adjusted child, one able to separate images on the moving picture box from the reality of student athletes. For 18 years, Auburn athletes, especially football players, were demigods. Every fall Saturday, I would sit in front of my Technicolor’ed altar and pray. Back then, God was an Auburn fan.
Then I went to college and I realized something (most) everyone realizes at some point — athletes are normal people who have just happened to win the genetic lottery. That’s the only real difference. In the football-wacky South, where millions upon millions of dollars are spent and made for a grown man to be able to wear the jersey of a 20-year-old kid, that’s easy to forget. We have collectively created this monster.
But College Ben doesn’t worship Auburn athletes anymore. No, it’s more of a begrudging envy mixed with bitterness and denial of the just-world fallacy. Because I now know that in the small utopia-like world that is Auburn, athletes are demigods.
And I’m fine with that. March on, hard fighting soldiers. Bodie Kearns can have all the sorority coeds his now gloved hands can grasp. Enjoy the blonde with the (*ahem*) friendly smile and winning personality, Les Lyrum. I wasn’t even bothered by Fart Feddins and Garrett Botter barking drug references in the movie theater lobby from the movie we just left.
Their behavior doesn’t bother me because I know I’d be the same way. My daily attire would be the same as theirs — full Under Armor regalia with my number prominently displayed. I’d milk the hell out of my status for four years. (“My name Ben. Me play football. Take off top, now.”)
Tiger Woods wasn’t immune. The media and most people I talked to acted as if Woods raped villages and murdered babies. All he really did was destroy the idea of the ideal athlete — the one who loves God, America and family. Put in the same situation, a lot of men would’ve acted the same exact way. (Granted, he should never have married – that was a mistake.)
But America needs its athletes. They represent the repressed need for brutal, gladiatorial combat while simultaneously acting as vessels of purity onto which we can transpose our daily problems. That’s why they can’t get in barfights. It’s not fair, of course. But it is what it is — great power, great responsibility, and all that.
Ben 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. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Did you read his story ‘The Mysterious Auburn Man”? It was reprinted in the winter issue of Auburn Magazine).