Partisan pranking is part of the pageantry of college football, the back-and-forthing between Auburn and Alabama being a prime example. Bama students graffiti-ing their own campus and blaming Auburn? Simply primo. And of course there’s the fun-poking — or, in Bama’s case, tradition-killing — episodes of late. But in terms of risking international incident and the desecration of icons of antiquity, what happened in Cairo in 1942 has to take the cake.
Just before taking on Rommel’s dreaded Afrika Korps in Operation Torch, Auburn native and graduate Capt. Earle R. Smith (’30) — he managed the football team his senior year, played baseball as a freshman, and was a four-year member of the Wirt Literary Society (Auburn’s version of The Finer Things Club) — serving with an AAF unit attached to the British 8th Army, bribed his Egyptian tour guide to look the other way while he scaled the side of the Great Sphinx of Giza.
Then he bribed him to bring him a chisel. And to stand lookout.
Sure, it was the eve of Nazi Armageddon. But it was also the eve of the Auburn-Georgia game. And Smith wanted to do his part.
The story went kinda viral, regionally, and periodically returned to the headlines on slow news days over the next decade. But here’s the Plainsman’s version, written two years later, in the summer of ’44, when Smith returned to campus to offer a first-hand account.
Gazing upon the huge, inscrutable countenance, the captain, always a loyal Auburn man, decided that [the Sphinx] had been silent long enough and that henceforward it should proclaim, or at least exhibit, to the whole world a symbol of that dauntless “Spirit” which has made the college of the Plains famous throughout the world of sports…
After a laborious assent, the Auburn grad went at his job, chiseling away under the relentless desert sun. He cut “War Eagle” in bold letters across one cheek. His reward would come when Auburn men of the future, looking on that inscription, would thrill with pride.
I’ve never been to the Sphinx. I’m assuming that inscription is by now illegible. Still, this Auburn man of the future thrilled with pride simply reading about it.
(But if Al from Dakhla learns about it, the whole damn desert will be Spiked.)
Here’s a photo of Smith stylin’ and profilin’ as manager of the Auburn football team (dutifully scanned by fellow Glomophile Kenny Smith).
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