First in TWER’s Lost Interviews series.
It was August 2008. I pointed and said “that’s awesome” and he said “thanks, I always liked the old Aubie.” And since losers like me can’t help but to get real technical about these things I said to myself “no, it’s not Aubie, just the old tiger,” because it’s not Aubie, just the old tiger, and I was actually kind of bummed for a second that a guy I thought must be afflicted with the same compulsions (because he’s got a freakin’ tattoo of the old tiger) could slip up like that, and doubly so when he told me his real name and I realized who he was… the son and namesake of legendary Auburn Sports Information Director / Ticket Manager Bill Beckwith …. but then I thought “well, Brotherman has it tattooed on his arm, so Brotherman can call it whatever he wants.” He handed me my change and a scrap of paper with his email address, and I took my Momma’s Love and nachos and told him “War Eagle” and that I might try to interview him or something one day, and he replied “War Damn Eagle,” and I walked out the door and didn’t come back for a whole year.
When I got back from Texas, and it was time to start thinking about what sorts of stories we wanted to tell with The War Eagle Reader, Brotherman was of course one of the first folks that came to mind. Truth be told, he was the first interview we did, even before Alice. I went back to Momma Goldberg’s and got a “yeah, I remember you”, and I asked him if he’d still be down for an interview and he said to email him, which I did, and told him the time, the place. Sunday, the steps of Samford Hall. It was mid August 2009.
He showed up. He looked pretty clean cut, actually. I took out my old recorder and my little video camera. A bunch of sorority girls showed up. It didn’t phase Brotherman. He kept talking about the way things used to be and always will be for guys that could scrawl underground novels about the tunnels and towers and secrets of their college towns by the bare-bulb glow of a cinder block efficiency for as long as it took to tell the story, and guys with matches, and guys whose nicknames are carved into the wood that once framed the bar they tore down however many years ago that guys like me salvage from the scrap heaps for our own personal museums. Brotherman is one of those guys, and he’s a good one, a real good one, and he’s ours. He’s 57. He has a freaking tattoo of a tiger wearing Terry Henley’s jersey holding up a dead, bleeding elephant by the trunk on his arm. On his back is a tattoo of the decal of the old tiger spanking the elephant; he got that one in a barn somewhere near Savannah. He has a tattoo of a noose around an elephant’s head dangling from an eagle’s beak on his shoulder. He rides a bike. Dude was getting busted for selling bootleg Auburn shirts back in the 80s. And of course it turns out that a lot of people already know him as the biggest fan Auburn Baseball will likely ever have, the king of the K-Korner. He told me that was his next tattoo — an Auburn baseball. Let that sink in… an Auburn baseball tattoo. Dude is a warrior, a townie nursed on the holy sweat of our fathers–a martyr.
My brother Zac showed up with his camera (and I think he was inspired). We walked to Haley and posed Brotherman for pictures. That was actually kind of the main idea — documenting those tattoos. And Brotherman trusted me to do it, I think. I knew too many things to be some kind of punk. I’d kept the faith. I’d keep keeping it. He knew it.
“Hey man,” I said. “War Eagle!”
“War Damn Eagle.”
The weeks rolled on. TWER was wild, it waited for no man. I lost the tape recorder. I found it, but it was broken. I managed to get a few things down, but not enough for the Pulitzer I was going to craft around ol’ Brotherman. There was the video, though. My wife Jennie worked on it for a while right after I shot it. She deserves most of the credit for that. I finally came back and tweaked it. Maybe it captures something.
Last time I saw Brotherman was a few months ago outside Little Italy. I was leaving. There was only one other pizza waiting to be picked up — pineapple and pepperoni. He was on his bike. His hair was a lot longer. Kind of wild. It’d been nearly a year and I hadn’t done anything with the interview. I thought he’d be disappointed in me. Maybe he was. I was. But he didn’t ask about it.
It was raining just a little. I tried to keep things light. “Let me guess — pineapple and pepperoni,” I said. I was thinking maybe he’d stop, smile, go “how’d you know that?” Instead, he looked at me like I was psychic, like we were having a moment. Or maybe he and the CIA were having a moment. And that maybe this whole thing had been a…
“I heard them call out the order,” I said real quick.
“Oh,” he said. He walked in and got the pizza. He walked back out.
“You still working at Momma Goldberg’s?”
“Aww, naw,” he said. “Hadn’t been there for a while.”
“Oh, really? What are you doing now?”
He smiled. He got on his bike. A man with a pizza on a bike in Auburn.
“You’re looking at it,” he said. “War Damn Eagle.”
Here are some of the nuggets I managed to salvage from the old recorder:
“… so my Dad started working in the athletic office putting together scrapbooks and stuff. And then be became sports information director and had an office in Petrie Hall, and downstairs was the the old athletic offices and the football, basketball teams dressed there. I hung out there all the time. I practically lived there. I grew up going to everything in Auburn. Football, baseball, basketball, track. He was SID for a long time and then sometime in the ’60s he became ticket manager. I think it was Buddy Davidson who became Sports Information Director. And [his dad] worked under Jeff Beard. He (Beard) was my godfather. [His dad] would keep the ticket money in a shoe box. He introduced a lot of different practices to Auburn University and Auburn football, like season ticket packages.”
He came up with the idea for season tickets?
“Basically, yes. He put in the plans for the Great Auburn Scholarship stuff which other teams across the nation saw and followed and started doing. Somehow Dad got the idea. He got donations from people for the athletic department and other sports here. He was a real good salesman, real good at raising funds. So that’s what he did. He was the ticket manager, and I grew up and the kids who grew up with me all got to go to football games for free. We’d sell programs, sell Coca-Colas at all the athletic events in Auburn. It was pretty cool. [The clock tower chimes.]”
Where was your dad from?
“He was from Americus, Georgia. He graduated from Auburn, but he graduated later. He was SID and in order to actually become ticket manager he actually had to go back and take a couple of courses from Auburn. So he went back to school in the late ’60s when he became ticket manager.”
He always had an interesting look to him, to me. Like someone you’d see in a Disney movie. He used to write a column for the program, didn’t he?
“He used to write one for a little while before David Housel started.”
So where did y’all live growing up?
“In the Wrights Mill Road area, Samford Drive. A little cul-de-sac. Had 14 kids in it — 13 boys and one girl between six houses. We played football games, baseball games.”
Who would you be?
“In baseball, Mickey Mantle. In football, Tucker Frederickson, Jimmy Sidle. Sidle was pretty much it. He had a metal plate put in the back of his neck. He had a twitch because of the plate and when he was quarterbacking, and had that twitch, at the line of scrimmage… [can’t make it out.]”
So what do you think about the Iron Bowl being played on Friday this year?
“I don’t like it. The Iron Bowl helps the economy, it helps the town. But this year they put the Alabama game on Friday after Thanksgiving. That’ll cost millions to Auburn and next year it’ll cost millions to the city of Tuscaloosa. Who’s going to get the money from playing that game on the Friday after Thanksgiving? It’s going to be Auburn University, not the city of Auburn. Football is supposed to be played on Saturday at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.”
Why is Auburn better than Alabama?
“The people. We’re a really close-knit community. Back when I was growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, we had maybe 7,500, 5,000 regular students, two elementary schools, one high school, and of course that was in the mid-’60s, but everybody knew everybody. And you still know a lot of people in this town. That makes all the difference between Auburn and Alabama. There’s the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama at Huntsville, the University of Alabama at Birmingham. We’re Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama.”
Have you ever gotten into a fight over a football game? What’s the most confrontational you’ve ever been at a football game?
“[Laughs]… uh, I remember losing to LSU one year and wanting to be alone after a tailgating party. I was sitting off by myself drinking a beer and everybody else was talking, and this one LSU fan just kept dogging me, dogging, dogging me. So I stood up and went over to my friend and said ‘hold this,’ and turned to the LSU fan and he looked at me and looked at my friend and said ‘aww hell, this guy means business.’ And he turned around and walked away. I sat back in my chair and finished my beer. I think that was the year the barn burned.”
So who’s the worst after Alabama?
“Hatred wise, I mean… you can’t print the words I can say about LSU. They’re horrible. They do things that make me glad I’m an Auburn fan. And I mean, Florida… I remember we used to sit in the lower section in Gainesville, right below the students, and they would actually urinate in cups and throw the piss down on the Auburn fans. You have assholes everywhere, but you definitely don’t have as many in Auburn. It goes back to us being a close-knit community. We welcome everybody. Everybody is welcome in Auburn, no matter who you are, what team you play for, even if you’re from Alabama. We’d have tailgating parties with 200 people and 100 would be Alabama fans. And we’d have elephants on the grill and we’d be listening Rollin’ in the Hay and Ziggy, and we had a great tailgating spot and we’d have bands play and just make it a fun atmosphere.”
Ever been to a game in Tuscaloosa?
“I’ve been to Tuscaloosa for every game since we’ve gone back. This last year was probably my worst experience. No one ever told me ‘welcome to Tuscaloosa’ or to the University of Alabama one time. None of their fans. I was called an SOB, an MF’er more times than I’ve ever been called that in my entire life [the clock tower chimes again] by those people drinking brown whiskey or moonshine or whatever they do up there. Did I feel safe? No, I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t feel safe in Birmingham. You didn’t want to stick around. Sure, we got beat last year, but even the years we won, they were the same way. Maybe not as bad. I mean, last year, you were undefeated till then. You’re supposed to be happy, happy to welcome people and give them a challenge to beat you.”
Were your tattoos showing last year?
“No, it was raining, I was pretty much covered up.”
So why the tattoos?
“Something just came to my mind, that I just was kind of like, ‘I want a way to make sure people know where I’m from.’ People know I’m an Auburn fan. People know I’m an Auburn Tiger. I’m an Auburn fan–everybody knows. See that Aubie, the old-timey Aubie? See Terry Henley right there? They know what I am.”
So you’re a Henley fan?
“I’m a great Terry Henley fan.”
Do you know him?
“Very well. He knows I’ve got him on my arm.”
So what is it about Henley?
“He was a jokester. He was a competitor. He played hurt. You knew you’d get the job done with Terry. He was the SEC Player of the Year his senior year and lead the SEC in rushing. He probably carried the ball 350 times that season. He was just a workhorse. He’d look dead tired and he’d still want the ball.”
Did your dad know about your tattoos?
“He knew about the one on my back, and he knew about the tiger on my arm. ‘Boy, why’d you do that?’ He was always kind of a ‘why do you want to grow on your face what grows wild on your ass’ kind of guy. But he knew I wasn’t getting them taken off. He knew me. I’m going to get another one, an Auburn baseball tattoo.”
“That’s where my first love of Auburn is, really. Baseball. [Oh… forgot to mention that Brotherman’s brother was this guy].”
“Well, I played baseball. At Auburn High. I quit playing my junior year.”
Did you play at Auburn [University]?
“Well, I went there for a little while. The university kind of asked me to leave because I didn’t like going to classes. I was going to major in journalism. I was the voice of the Auburn High School football team, and baseball and basketball. And the voice of Auburn University baseball. I was calling the baseball game, it was Auburn and Florida, when Governor Wallace got shot. He got shot during that game. I heard it on the headphones. I called Coach Nix and the coach of Florida and they got together and turned around and postponed the ballgame.”
Photos by Zac Henderson
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