In 1990, a young British woman Denise Ford swore she’d never return to America. That’s how much she hated George Strait and Clint Black and Reba and the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum and pretty much everything else she heard and saw in Tennessee.
“I felt like I was in the 1950s.”
She was with her parents on holiday. Her dad was considering taking a job in the states. The trip lasted three weeks. America was beautiful, sure, but she was 18, and it was torture. Denise—Dee—told her parents it was never happening again.
Today, it’s happening again. A few hours ago, she handed the keys to Jimmi the house sitter, kissed the dogs goodbye, and headed for Terminal 3 at Heathrow, teenage vow be damned.
There was one spot in the parking lot—No. 43. Of course she took a picture.
That’s how much she’s come to love Auburn. All thanks to a typo.
By day, Dee drives her Mini around the Kent town of Gillingham estimating the value of houses and office space for banks. She’s good at it, owns her own business. By night, she’s an after-hours pet safety point person for the Gillingham police department, because in addition to her surveying gig, she’s a dog nut (as in she does dog shows and everything). Believe it or not, dognapping, apparently, is a big thing over in England. So, she keeps her phone on all night in case the cops need her to put out a digital version of the Twilight Bark.
All of which is to say that Saturday night, Jan. 25, 2014 — the night @dee_ford_ won the Senior Bowl MVP Award — was hell for @dee_ford.
There she is trying to get some sleep and her iPhone keeps vibrating and beeping till the crack of dawn (and then some), not with Amber alerts for labradoodles but with talk of wars, talk of eagles…
Had she been hacked? Is this what cyberbullying looked like? What is Auburn? Who the hell is Jay Jacobs?
“Please stop retweeting @jayjacobsauad’s tweet about Dee Ford. He used my address not the right one. Too many messages none 4 me. #notafootballer”
By Sunday morning, she’d changed her Twitter bio to “NOTE! I am not the Auburn/Kansas City Chiefs footballer, who is @dee_ford_ I’m a boring surveyor from Kent.” By that afternoon, it had become a thing. People were liking it, retweeting it. Then it happened. Dee didn’t just stop fighting it — she started getting into it. Everyone started getting into it. She started asking football questions. People started answering. She started saying “War Eagle.” She granted an interview. She granted more interviews. She started talking recruiting. She crushed on Philip Lutzenkirchen and called him “cougar bait.” When she heard the horrible news a few months later, she took it hard.
Wearing orange and blue for @lutzenkirchen #aubrit saying farewell. #RIP43
It kept going, season after season… 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. On that first night, she had 20 Twitter followers. She’s now pushing 4,000, almost all of them Auburn fans. Her Twitter bio has a new line: “NOTE! I am not the Auburn/Kansas City Chiefs footballer, who is @dee_ford_ I’m a boring surveyor from Kent but now also a firm member of the #AUfamily #WarEagle”
In June, she met Jay Jacobs for drinks at a London pub. It was great. She wore the Auburn shirt he’d sent her four years earlier as a lighthearted apology for ruining her Saturday night and changing her life forever.
The idea finally started taking shape in late September. There’d been talk for years. She’s lost count of how many members of her adoring public have offered to spearhead a GoFund me campaign to get her to the Iron Bowl or something. She’s even had a few people offer to bankroll the whole the thing themselves.
“Yeah,” she says in her proper Medway accent, “there’s been a few of those, actually.”
She’d say thank you, and politely decline. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go. She did. The attention isn’t just something she has fun with online. It’s not just something to make her Facebook friends laugh. It’s real. Dee Ford is an Auburn fan—football, basketball, baseball… the works. She just can’t help herself.
“I can see how passionate people are about Auburn,” she says. “They are utterly crazy about all of the sports. It’s just not like that here. We really don’t respect football (i.e. soccer) players in any way. Nobody really looks at (athletes) the way people do in America.”
And at the college level!
Dee graduated from the University of Greenwich, home of the fighting who knows…
If they had a sports team while she was there, she didn’t know about it.
“If they did, they weren’t publicized,” she says. “We go to uni to learn and drink. We don’t really do sport. There’s no such thing as scholarships for uni and definitely not for sport.”
Scholarships. Autographs. Fan days. Statues. That’s the stuff that’s convinved her to give the states another try—or at least one state, one town.
“Everybody at Auburn cares about the players. We don’t have that here. It’s completely different. It’s nice to see people really genuinely happy for another person’s good fortune. I like the way people talk about other people in Auburn and how they’re quite happy to talk to me. Even though I don’t know a thing about it, they’re happy to share. You just don’t see that over here.”
Dee has genuinely wanted to see it—to see it in person—for nearly five years now, but season after season, it never worked out.
Too uncomfortable accepting that kind of charity from folks for, essentially, a vacation. Too expensive to do on her own. Too busy.
But in late September, things changed. She got the itch. And it looked like she might actually have a chance to scratch it. Her last vacation was in 2008. For someone who loves to travel, that hasn’t sat well. Her last trip? Trekking through Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Before that, India. Oh, and she’s canoed the Amazon. It was time to treat herself again. Time to see the world again. Time to live again.
War Damn Eagle.
She checked her calendar. Could it work? Was there a game the weekend of Nov. 17? Yes, a team called Liberty—how fitting! Was Jimmi available to housesit? Yes. Could she actually take the time off work? Yes—finally.
The only thing left was to see if Jen could meet her in Atlanta.
“She was easy to spot,” says Jen Roemershauser of the first time she met Dee for Chinese food at the Heathrow Hilton back in 2014. “She was wearing her Auburn shirt.”
Jen got her master’s in public administration from Auburn in 1992. She works for an oil and gas company. She travels to the UK a lot on business. She currently lives near Houston. She likes Houston. It’s nice, a lot nicer than it was during—gag—Manziel Mania.
In 2013, when Auburn traveled to Kyle Field to avenge 2012’s nightmare loss to Texas A&M, Jen had to be there. What she saw in the final 17 seconds still makes her giddy.
“We were 20 rows up from the field and Dee Ford ate Johnny Football right there in front of me,” Jen says. “That solidified my deep and abiding love for Dee Ford…”
… and it led to her deep and abiding love for Dee Ford.
It was only natural. It was late at night. Jen’s a night owl. She’d watched the Senior Bowl earlier that evening. Then she started tweeting congrats and stuff at Dee Ford. Everybody was. And even when everyone realized what had happened, she kept at it.
“Jen was one of the few people to answer questions I was asking and she would give me the answers in quite a nice way,” Dee says. “We were just chatting a bit on Twitter and then it turned out she was coming to England. We’ve met up twice since. We talk all the time on Twitter, we email. She’s become a good friend.”
The feeling is mutual.
“She’s just a charming, normal person, and she’s just embraced all of this,” Jen says. “She’s quirky, because you have to be a little nuts to embrace a bunch of lunatics on Twitter that you have no freaking clue about. But the thing is, the person we picked to harass that day turned out to be a great human being. It may have been totally by accident, but it just goes to show you that the Auburn Family is a real thing. We have embraced this person as an honorary member—heck, a real member—of our family even though I think maybe only me and one other (Auburn fan) have met her in the flesh.”
(That other War Eagle moment came at the 2015 Kansas City-Detroit game at Wembley Stadium, where she also hung out with a certain Chief’s family and even managed to grab a few minutes with him on the phone.)
“She loves Auburn as much as we do,” Jen says. “It’s her first vacation in 10 years. She’s in a part of the world where she could easily go anywhere, and she chooses to go to Auburn, Alabama for a college football game.”
Dee started talking about it on Twitter a few weeks back. As word spread, Jen quickly became her de facto social secretary. Jen has been busy. The itinerary is packed.
She’s flying into Atlanta today herself, meeting Dee. They’ll rent a car, drive to Montgomery, have dinner with Jen’s parents, get a hotel. Then it’s off to God’s country at the crack of dawn Friday. There’s a radio interview (on a show I happen to co-host). WSFA is supposed to be coming down. After all that, there’s a meet ‘n’ sip at Toomer’s Drugs with some of Dee’s Twitter devotees. Then the fun begins.
At some point, the folks at SEC Nation caught wind of things. They reached out to Dee. She referred them to Jen. A few texts later, Dee was booked for a Friday afternoon sit-down at the Auburn Athletics Complex with an ESPN camera crew flying into Auburn from Charlotte. They’re going to follow her around as she tours the town. There’s even talk of a live interview with the SEC Nation crew after the taped segment airs Saturday.
“I said ‘fine,'” Jen says, “‘but no Finebaum or Greg McElroy.'” She was joking. Kind of.
For a little while, Saturday actually seemed like it might be kind of calm. Tailgate with the Mobile Auburn Club. Hang out. Tiger Walk. See the eagle fly. And of course—God willing—the finale.
(“Auburn better win,” Dee says, “because I’ll be absolutely gutted if I don’t get to roll Toomer’s.”)
But yesterday, Jen got another text. It was Auburn—the university. They’ll have a sideline pass for her.
“This is INSANE,” Dee tweeted. “I’m a boring surveyor from Kent!”
The whole story is insane, yes. It’s wild. But at the same time, it’s so very Denise.
“Well, Denise has just got such a crazy sense of humor,” says Jill Ford, Dee’s mom. “That’s where it started off from.”
The Fords get updates every now and then, they click on the new links.
(Kansas City media finally got in on the action a couple of months back after another round of mistaken identity.)
“She’s lovely, she’s lovely,” dad Tony says. “She works hard and she deserves everything that comes to her.”
They still couldn’t believe it when she saw them Monday night at their home in Strood. America? Land of the free, home of country music?
Of course, the Fords loved America. Tony wound up taking that job in 1990. It was in Kansas. They spent a decade there.
“I wish we could have stayed in America,” Tony says. “Fabulous country.”
“Yes, we were there 10 years and she didn’t come to see us once,” Jill says. “Consider yourselves honored.”