“It’s human nature to be average,” Nick Saban tells me via the matinee screening of “Nick Saban: Gamechanger.”
That’s an aphorism – “a terse saying embodying a general truth.” But because it’s Saban’s aphorism, Saban’s truth, I found myself wanting to reject it. I am Auburn, he is Alabama. We are natural enemies locked in eternal battle, so natural, so eternal that the thought of me, a college-student in my navy Auburn shirt with the faded-from-repeated-washing lettering, surrounded by the scattered, middle-aged crimson bodies of four no doubt die-hard Alabama fans, who had likely never sat in a college class, much less at Alabama, shut-ins probably, the five of us watching various athletes and media peoples preach the gospel of Saint Saban—Saban who doesn’t want to be average, ever – is still difficult to process.
But there I was in Montgomery, bored, skipping class, driving around our state capital on a Friday afternoon seeking any non-college-related activity, and somehow, instead of catching an art-house flick, taking a stroll downtown or touring a historic site, I pull into Eastdale Mall out near the AUM campus after seeing “Nick Saban: Gamechanger” on the marquis. I’d like to think it was a whim. I honestly had not heard one word about “Gamechanger,” shocking as that sounds. At that point, I might have been the only person who hadn’t. I soon found out it was a documentary about Saban’s coaching career and time at Alabama and how he changes games with hard work and black magic. For an Auburn student, that was a pretty non-college-related activity. And for a writer, surely good for material. I bought a ticket.
I’ve never entered a movie more skeptical, more ready to satirize, vilify and deconstruct. I sat in the dark, notebook ready, smug, malevolent grin in place, ready to destroy Saban and his Alabama acolytes—the piece would practically write itself.
Then the music started… mixed with the flashy editing… and I got chills, honest-to-God chills . . . while basically watching Alabama football porn. Somehow the movie had hit all the right receptors in my brain, the ones connected to football and Saturdays and youth. I’d been tricked.
Not just tricked –seduced. I found myself impressed by Nick Saban. Each tingle felt like a betrayal of my Auburn heritage. The music, editing and lofty words had bypassed the logic centers in my head and hit me right in the gut. It’s hard not to be impressed with the man, with his gamechanging-ness. Even as an Auburn fan, an Auburn fan forever and ever amen, I cannot deny the man’s abilities. We hate him, but I think we all know his power. He is not average.
The first thing you notice when you walk into Alabama’s locker room is just how clean everything is. Sterile even. There are no televisions or murals of former players. The colors are muted—grays, blacks, silvers and crimson; it’s like walking into a Sin City scene. The lockers are arranged numerically and lack any personal affects. Each one contains the player’s jersey, number and name facing outward, cleats, helmet, which has been buffed, pants, undershirt, current game program and a small piece of paper with a list of former Alabama All-American’s who wore the same number in years past taped to the top.
Various trainers and helpers wander the room, shining helmets, straightening shoes, making sure everything is perfect, perfect and in its proper place. A carpeted scripted A on white background dominates the center of the room. The white is the color of beached bone. I was warned not to step on or near it, sacrilege or some such.
Walking from locker to locker, I got the sense that the names on the jerseys are unimportant. Greg McElroy is Alabama quarterback No. 12. He isn’t an individual; he’s an idea. His position, his job, has overtaken his personal importance. He has been sacrificed at the altar of Alabama football. That list of the All-Americans only feed this idea. To remember his relative lack of importance, all a player has to do is look at his locker.
Maybe this is part of The Process. To be your best as a player, Nick Saban has to break you down and rebuild you in his image. Throughout “Gamechanger,” Saban talks about “finding players who fit his system,” players who want to work and who will listen. Nick Saban seeks cogs for his machine.
To humanize Saban, the director of “Gamechanger” includes interviews with his children. The son says Saban is a great father. He works hard, he uhh…, he uhh… leaves early and gets home late. And uhh… he makes sure to spend at least five minutes with the family every night, because he’s a good father. The daughter, Kristen, loves “Daddy Sabes.” She even made a sign for his birthday. When they’re on the lake, Daddy Sabes cranks up the Eagles and plays air guitar. Can you picture it? Nick Saban with the family, listening to the Eagles, pantomiming guitar strumming and enjoying water-related activities? (Nick Saban would like the freaking Eagles.) That’s the movie’s only real attempt at showcasing Saban’s non-Sisyphean side.
The rest is Saban working: making calls, evaluating recruits, reviewing film, starring in ESPN commercials where he plays Jenga against Mac Brown. Alabama fans took pride in his refusal to celebrate the national championship for more than a day. “It’s about next year.” Or: “It continues.” Or some other pithy statement implying impending Alabama football imperialism. The next day, Jan. 8, Saban and staff met at 7:30 to begin preparing for success in 2010.
Here’s the thing: Alabama fans freaking love him for that. They love that he works that hard, that all he thinks about is winning and “dominating his opponent.” His inherent lack of likability and his abruptness excused as honesty only endears him more to Alabama fans. He’s an asshole, but he’s their asshole; they don’t just allow it, they celebrate it.
I’m not so sure that would fly at Auburn. Or at least I like to think it wouldn’t. Being an Auburn Man or Woman is about more than winning and losing. It’s about the process, not The Process—how you conduct yourself on a daily basis, with pride and respect for Auburn. Because “Auburn was great before we ever got here.” I’m not so sure there’s any room in The Process for such talk.
I also like to think Auburn wouldn’t welcome Saint Nick because Auburn has always been a family, a family of individuals, something Saban and The Process discourage. Bo and Pat. Shug and Dye. Cadillac and Ronnie. While Auburn values team and unity, it – the essence of Auburn… fans, students, alumni, the city, everything which makes Auburn Auburn – has always been about the person you are, the person Auburn makes you.
Alabama has never been about the individual. Before Ingram, Alabama fans took a sort of pride in not having a Heisman winner. They could then eagerly remind all within earshot of 12. “We ain’t got a Heisman, but we got 12. Whoo weee. Roll Tide.” And they’re right. Alabama has had more success as a team. And that is the ultimate goal of football: team success. Which makes Alabama’s heroes national championship trophies and the old white men who focused, laser-like, the talented masses of crimson-clad 18-22 year olds. Their fans worship years. The parts don’t really matter, only the outcome, The Process. (Adlib your own grayshirt joke.)
And Auburn? Not sure, honestly. I’d like to think it’s a mixture of both—the respect for the individual and a love of team. Really, I’m way too much of an Auburn fan to give a clear, non-biased account.
But I do know it’s not Alabama. Maybe that’s enough right there.
“Boy, you’re standing on hallowed ground. How does it feel to be on a real field?” Surreal should’ve been my answer. Surreal and slightly disgusting. Instead I made a joke or said something self-effacing. I was deep in enemy territory and it seemed like the right play. The asker happened to be a police captain from the town adjacent Auburn. He is an Alabama fan, a real Alabama fan, as is his daughter, with whom I’ve somehow become romantically entangled—enough to be standing on the 50-yard line three hours before the kick-off of the Alabama-Penn State game.
“Let me tell you, Auburn’s a great place. My daughter graduated from there. Got her a fine education. But there’s just something about Alabama. When I hear that Million Dollar Band. . .” whispers the Mayor of town adjacent Auburn, his hand on my upper arm, his face inches from mine. Before the stadium tour, he was knocking back screwdrivers and trying to elicit “Roll Tides”. Mixed with his rambling spiel is Queen’s “We are the Champions.” Highlights from last season play on the four new jumbotrons. The voices of the Mayor, Freddie Mercury and Eli Gold all mix to a barely comprehensible drone. If Alabama had re-education camps, this is what they’d play over the loudspeakers, I think.
So yeah, basically, on Friday and Saturday of last week I did a lot of weird Bama-related shit. Two days of that does weird things to you if you’re an Auburn fan. Up is down. Good is bad. Your equilibrium gets jacked up.
I knew I was going to Tuscaloosa for the game before walking into “Gamechanger.” And so I began thinking of myself almost as an explorer. I would watch their movie and walk their tainted town and return full of knowledge and understanding. I would expose their lies and narrow thinking. I would serve as combat journalist, but instead of bullets and bodies, I’d report on arrogance and assorted jackassedness.
I watched. And watched. And watched.
Then, the very next day, I was in Tuscaloosa. Amongst the heathens. I did it all: I toured the locker room. I walked on the field. I meandered through the Bear Bryant Museum. I even saw last season’s championship trophy. It was terrible.
I started to question long-held assumptions: What does it mean to be an Auburn fan? An Alabama fan? Does the choice say something inherently about you as a person? Is it an arbitrary decision largely based on factors outside human control?
Not sure, honestly. But we like to at least pretend the choice matters. To live in Alabama is to view the world in one of two ways, either as an Alabama fan—the king of the hill, the traditional power, the rightful heir—or an Auburn fan—the consummate underdog, the striver, the little brother. The initial decision might be arbitrary (your dad went to Auburn or your best friend from childhood liked Alabama or 1,000 other reasons) but everything after is deliberate. Once the choice is made, you are pushed to pathological hate of the other side, for better or worse.
But does your choice really say anything about you as a person? I don’t know. That’s what this is at least partly about. I wish I knew; I’ve spent hours trying to find the words to explain it, all for naught. Maybe the question is too complex. Maybe there isn’t an answer or single truth. Regardless, I think it’s worth considering.
We’re a state split between two sides, each side assuming superiority – two ways of life, if you want to get hardcore about it. Two ways of looking at the question. Two football teams. What does that say about us as human beings?
“We have an opponent in this state that we work every day, 365 days a year, to dominate.”
I’ve been raised to hate Alabama from birth. In Sunday School, I’d get into shouting matches with the Alabama children, my War Eagles being met by four or five Roll Tides. From kindergarten through third grade, I only colored with orange and navy. Walking through the halls, it was easy to pick out my tree or house or fire truck.
Part of me is still that 10-year-old boy, spent blue and orange markers covering his desk, his teacher eyeing him disapprovingly as he finishes yet another Auburn-themed masterpiece. That 10-year-old boy didn’t stop to consider sociological implications or “reason.” He loved Auburn and hated Alabama. That was enough.
The 10-year-old version of me understood enjoying sports rationally is boring. Older, less wise Ben tried enjoying sports with Vulcan-like logic once in 2009. Don’t do it. It sucked. Be exceedingly irrational. I’m now convinced that’s the only real way.
Because the most meaningful part of sports is their meaninglessness. Same goes for writing about sports. On some level, it’s all meaningless. In our blind grasping and grafting we fabricate dichotomies and metaphors and grandiose statements to add some heft to sport. The undersized white middle linebacker is heart, grit and willpower. The deaf outfielder is courage and faith. Miraculous recoveries and tragic collapses. We all know the stories.
And the stories are why we watch. Or at least that’s why I watch. For me to enjoy sports there has to be something more than just technical proficiency. I watch sports for less tangible reasons. I watch sports for the sense of community and schadenfreude and because I played sports and because my dad introduced me to sports and because of 100 other reasons I cannot articulate.
All of that, all of this, is true for me, but it might not be for you. You might be an Alabama fan who doesn’t mind Auburn or you might be an Auburn fan who doesn’t hate Alabama. To a certain extent, we all get to create our own sports reality. In my reality, Auburn is inherently good. Alabama is inherently evil. I am, it is.
Being around them – watching their propaganda, walking their cursed grounds, hearing their blasphemies, reminded me: I hate Alabama’s machine-like approach. I hate crimson and white. I hate Big Al. I hate hounds tooth. I hate the town of Tuscaloosa. I hate non self-aware arrogance. I hate Rammer Jammer. I hate obstinate ignorance. I hate balloon-necked Jimmy Sexton chuckling as he says Nick Saban has to “win or be miserable.” I hate being referred to as the “University of Auburn.” I hate Got 13? bumper stickers. I hate all processes, but I especially hate The Process. I hate Nick Saban. I hate the University of Alabama and everything it represents.
And I’ve just about decided I don’t care why.
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 [email protected]. (Did you read his story ‘The Mysterious Auburn Man”? It was reprinted in the winter issue of Auburn Magazine).
Foy Onion says
I find myself on the precipice of engaging in the activity from which I asked others to abstain.
From the Urban Dictionary:
Troll n. – One who purposely and deliberately (that purpose usually being self-amusement) starts an argument in a manner which attacks others on a forum without in any way listening to the arguments proposed by his or her peers. He will spark of such an argument via the use of ad hominem attacks with no substance or relevence to back them up as well as straw man arguments, which he uses to simply avoid addressing the essence of the issue.
Karen, your picture is on the T-shirt. Please go back to the al.com comment threads.
Thanks, and War Eagle!
I think Karen has transcended trolling and moved directly into thread crapping.
Also from the Urban Dictionary:
Thread Crapping v. – Thread crapping occurs when a person comes into a thread and posts something contrary to the spirit/intent of the thread, often derailing the discussion or turning it into an argument.
For example, coming into a thread titled “I love my new Apple Macintosh!”, and posting “PCs are better and cheaper” is thread crapping.
Wow, great read. I have moved to NC from Alabama a year ago and have had the hardest time explaining the Auburn/Alabama hatred. This hits the nail on the head. WAR EAGLE!
The redneck idiots, such as yourself, are what ruins what could potentially be a respectable rivalry. Why? Because you hate Alabama more than you truly love Auburn. Every other word that comes out of your mouth is anti-Alabama. Even by your own admission, YOU’RE WEARING A GATOR SHIRT THIS WEEKEND for freak’s sake! That is what you call little man’s syndrome at its finest…. You’re just an Alabama envying female from Phenix City, a town slightly more civilized than Auburn, only with less rednecks.
Anyway, when you ROLL TOOMER’S CORNER after ANOTHER TEAM LOSES (‘Bama of course), hearing players run their mouths about Alabama during the offseason, Ben Tate’s quote, David Housel’s quote, scheduling your only bye week THE WEEK PRIOR TO THE LAST GAME OF THE REGULAR SEASON, each and every day all of your message boards contain half anti-Alabama posts and half Auburn, and last but not least, this article to its entirety – sums Auburn up to a T. Seriously, even PAT DYE called you guys out a few weeks ago at that QB club in Montgomery for worrying more about ‘Bama than Auburn. And he’s RIGHT!
Have you even toured your own Athletic Department? I have… and guess what it mainly consists of ANTI-ALABAMA MATERIAL! Above the bulletin boards, just outside of the practice lockerrooms, you’ve got a gigantic sign that says “Remember the Feelling: The Iron Bowl” containing all of the AU wins from the last decade. ON that very bulletin board, are the words “Know your opponent” with a picture of Mark Ingram hoisting up the Heisman Trophy underneath it. Now, let’s advance to the lockerrooms where Saban’s infamous “dominate this opponent” quote hangs on the wall. In the coach’s conference room, hangs a large banner which reads “BEAT BAMA!”
The primary difference between Alabama and Auburn is, Alabama centers their thoughts around championships and victories, whereas Auburn centers their thoughts around ALABAMA! That’s the way it’s always been, and that’s the way it’ll continue to be.
I don’t hate Auburn because of Chizik, or the fact that the town and University is a joke because if that’s the case, I’d hate Troy as well. I hate Auburn of its fans – the ‘Bama obsessed, second-rate, inferior fans. The fans who can’t go a second without thinking about ‘Bama. The fans who cheer more for a ‘Bama loss than they do an Auburn win. Sadly, that’s 90% of your fanbase. Go figure, I wake to a Facebook post FROM AN AUBURN FAN, containing a link to this page. This is where I have to hurt feelings because I’m so sick of the ‘Bama envy that drives even your adult fans into acting like 2 year olds…
Your University, as a whole, contains nothing but outdated, mildew encrusted, dilapidated buildings and streets. Your town is a freaking joke, and it’s nothing but a one-horse, pissant town WITH NO NIGHTLIFE WHATSOEVER, considering there’s only like 3 bars in that entire town! The only form of entertainment that town has going for it is rodeos endorsed by AU (how sad). Your university houses students in trailer parks. Your students are nothing but a bunch of snuff spiting, racists. You recently had a fraternity shut down due to parading around as Klansmen on Halloween. And lastly, the cow pastures and chicken houses are enough to do me in. If you’re not a greek, I don’t see how anyone manages to survive in that godawful town…
Could that possibly be why you guys envy the number 1 university in Alabama? The fact that a lot of you were forced to endure four years of torment and hell in Mayberry, aka Auburn, it literally drove you to despising Alabama for it? I apologize on behalf of UA, but that’s not our problem.
Your town and school is the punchline of the SEC. Even people from OXFORD AND STARKVILLE laugh at your campus. That’s embarrassing… really, it is!
The University of Alabama and Auburn University are lightyears apart from each other, in every category known to mankind. It’s like comparing a corvette to bicycle.
And this whole “Family” talk is the biggest crock of cow shit I’ve ever heard. You guys were so supportive of your respected university, you would not have gone into meltdown mode during the Chizik hire. You would have respected the decision made by your university’s powers that be. Also, you guys would SELL OUT every home football game. In addition to that, have you even seen your basketball attendance figures? It’s flat out EMBARRASSING! You guys can claim to be the most loyal supporters in the nation, but until the numbers begin to show that you are, you guys are nothing but a handful of hypocrites who’ll find any cop-out that they can to try and boast themselves above all the rest.
But until you guys learn to support Auburn more than you hate/envy ‘Bama, you’ll continue to never be even close to a fourth of what The University of Alabama is, nor will you ever be.
Should I also note family members wouldn’t boo Brandon Cox or Kodi Burns? Or trash Tony Franklin every day until his inevitable firing? And if winning was not important, you guys wouldn’t have ran off your most successful coach in modern history, just because he posted one losing season in 10 years? I promise you guys: if Chizik (a great man by the way – definitely does not belong at the helm of AU’s program) loses to Alabama this year and next, you guys will run him off as well – and if Malzahn leaves this year, a complete disaster could unfold in 2011. Anyway, then, you’ll proceed to hire another victim to restore the “family motto” only to have it decapitated, two years later.
The family appears a little more dysfunctional than anything…
SCD – Really? I wouldn’t worry about Auburn because you know nothing about Auburn. You should know about running coaches Perkins, Curry, DuBose, Franchione (oops, he ran away), Price (oops, he strippered away), and Shula.
Hmmm…and booing? Not only did Bammers boo all through several seasons, most left after the first quarter…after they threw bottles on the field.
P.S. what the hell is wrong with you?? You are some sort of raving, ph
raving, bitter dumbass that knows nothing about anything . Please stay in Turdtown..oh, that’s right…you didn’t/don’t go to the Crapstone. And don’t even get me started on the cesspool that is Turdtown…
Or the fraternity that was just shut down at UA, or the big drug bust of a UA student recently or the racist frats or the thousands of toothless trailer trash tattooed mullet heads that show up for every game but don’t have tickets so they loiter outside peeing in the bushes…
Take your incohernt, blathering comments and shove them up your…oh, first take your head out of there, and go away.
This is why you don’t write articles about that school down the road. You bring the worst of the worst of their fans in here to ruin the blog. It’s bad enough they can’t stay off the AU message boards, but most won’t put in the effort to come find AU blogs unless someone links to it. I’ll admit a few have had some reasonable and thoughtful input. Yes, both side have some reasonable fans and both sides have some fans that are so outrageous you don’t want to claim them. I’ll agree that there are some AU fans more obsessed with bama losing than auburn winning. They are probably the same ones that sit behind me at the game and tell me to sit down (my response to them being that if they want to watch the game without standing up and yelling to support our tigers they should just stay home because the view from a recliner is much better anyway).My biggest problem with AU is the arrogance and entitlement exhibited by SOME of their fans. I think I’m just unlucky that I cross paths with these fans way more often than the reasonable ones! If I didn’t know better I’d say they comprise a very high percentage of the fan base ;). When I was growing up Alabama was on a roll and it was not cool to be an Auburn fan. I was Auburn because my family was and that’s how I was raised, but also because of the attitudes of the bama fans toward me. I didn’t want to be associated with that. They were rude and obnoxious. The more things change the more they stay the same I guess. I had a pretty open mind when I was young, but just could never get bama. I think it has to do with being humble. I’m not sure I’ve met a bama fan that knows the meaning. They are too busy running their mouths. Even when they were losing. Worse when they are winning. And that bama fans is why we do put so much emphasis on beating you. Most of your fans are just unbearable to be around 99% of the time because of how much they run their mouths, but when Auburn beats you that # drops to about 90% and makes life a little more bearable for us AU fans. War Eagle
Foy Onion says
Weagle251, I think SCD just illustrated your point perfectly. Wow. Somebody’s got diarrhea of the keyboard.
Foy Onion, I started to read it, but all I saw was
correction, my biggest problem with “UA” not AU.
I know Andrea personally, and she’s the stereotypical Auburn fan: one who hates Bama more than she truly loves Auburn.
I do apologize to you for the novelistic rant, but I had just awakened and go figure my oldest brother is posting a link to this page on my Facebook wall, especially after having to read numerous Facebook status updates from Auburn fans claiming they’re buying Gator stuff for the weekend, chomp chomp, GO GATORS, and yadda yadda yadda. If the vast majority of those type of fans would put forth that energy into their own program, imagine what AU could accomplish! You visit an LSU, MSU, UA, UT, UF, UGA, or UK board, they’re chatting about their teams and or their respected opponents for the week. You visit an AU board, they’re talking about Alabama, Auburn, and whoever Auburn is playing that week. It’s pathetic. It really is!
Like I said, I don’t have a problem with Auburn. I even work there on occasion. It’s their fans that I dislike – not the fans who are classy and truly love Auburn, but the fans who hate Alabama ten times more than they love Auburn, and sadly, that’s a good 90% of the Auburn fans I know (ie my brother and Andrea).
I’ll never deny the fact that Alabama has a track record of running dozens of coaches off, but for you guys to boldly state you don’t care about winning is a bold-face lie. Heck, a mere two weeks ago, most of your fans on message boards were tearing a hole into Auburn football, despite the fact that you were 3-0! And I can recall when you guys threw debris on the field after losing to South Florida a few years back. Tuberville had ONE losing season in 10 years, and you guys run him off and then blast your administration to the moon for hiring Chizik. Chizik is a GREAT MAN and other than against Alabama, I want to see him succeed, just for the simple fact that he’s too good of a person to be criticized, or scrutinized by the doom and gloom crowd. You guys just don’t know, but Chizik is the type of guy the world could use a few more of.
With that being said, until most of you learn there’s more to life than the University of Alabama and Alabama football, this rivalry’s only going to get nastier and even more immensely hostile than it is now. And it’s sad because IT’S JUST A GAME between two outstanding institutes for higher learning.
Excuse me, I don’t know who the “you” you’re speaking of, but I do not know any of them…I only know Auburn grads that have more to do than get on redneck message boards and rant about crap. And if you only know two people who hate Alabama and that’s 90% in your world, you need to get out more. Making broad statements about people you know NOTHING about…now that’s pathetic. Especially since you are on an AUBURN blog spewing hate and the very crap that confirms everything most Auburn people can smell from across the state.
I live in Auburn but I don’t hear too many people talking about Alabama or worrying about them. However I hear lots of ala fans calling paul finebaum ranting+ raving foaming at the mouth about Auburn’s success this year spewing pure hate! Did not hear Auburn fans doing that last year when tables were turned we just went on about our business and were happy for that other school across the state. You could not pay me to live in ghetto, trashy Tuscaloser. Give me the loveliest village on the plains any day.it is like a village where we care about each other a lot more than we worry about what they are doing at ala. The entire nation is talking about Auburn this week and trust me we have plenty to do in this little village! I even know lots of ala alums who live here and love it.Anyone who has ever lived in Auburn rarely wants to live anywhere else!War Eagle!Auburn People truly love each other! ala can’t stand that they don’t have that.