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Yes, he eventually sent his two boys, Mike and Rick, to do or die for Auburn. But in the late 50s, Phil Neel was just a guy trying to make it, a guy trying to get as much mileage out of his tiger tracings for the Birmingham Post-Herald as he could get. If that meant money from Auburn, fantastic. If it meant money from some other team, be it high school or college or whatever, fantastic. When it comes to appreciating the true origins of Aubie, that’s just something you have to accept.
Behold the side hustle…
Yes, though you may have heard that the tiger character eventually dubbed Aubie (after a decade!) first saw the light of Saturday on the cover of the program for the 1959 Auburn – Hardin-Simmons game, Neel had actually shopped him around to Tigers teams for months.
“Here are sketches for football program covers I’m preparing for TIGER schools next fall,” Neel told Auburn sports publicity director Bill Beckwith in a letter (written on Post-Herald stationary!) that January. “Also a rough estimate of the cost. I’d like to have your reaction as soon as possible.”
Beckwith’s reaction was positive; writing “Auburn” and the name of each 1959 home game opponent on the generic program designs featured on his awesome promotional poster probably helped. Auburn signed up.
… and you’ll never guess who followed suit a year later.
Yep, Cousin Clem. (Because Clem.)
But don’t worry, here’s something else you can accept. Thanks to Neel’s already established working relationship with Beckwith, Auburn can still stake a claim as the incubator of his tiger prototype… because, technically, the same character had actually already been appearing on the cover of Auburn’s media guide since 1957.