Will Schnede lives in the big city now, New York, doing investor relations stuff for a big bank. He’s been up there for nearly four years. He made it home for Thanksgiving, though. That was nice. But it’s never enough for mom. She’s a mom. That’s just how it is.
It’s easier come fall, though. At least on Saturdays. She’ll be sitting on the couch watching GameDay and her boy will pop up on the screen, adorable as ever, and she’ll pick up the phone and text him. Not to check in — to troll him.
“To this day, she loves seeing it,” Will Schnede says. “She’s definitely a hardcore Auburn fan.”
And she and his dad raised him accordingly. Decked him out in Auburn gear. Taught him the cheers. Taught him which teams to hate. Told him he’d no doubt go to Auburn when it was time for college, just like they had, just like his grandparents had.
Will grew up all over, but went to high school in Tennessee. Everything seemed on track. He made it down for a game or two his senior year and got to see Cam play in person. He watched the 2010 Alabama game on TV and went absolutely nuts. And then Auburn wins it all. He remembers it like it was yesterday.
And three years later, there he was in Jordan-Hare for his first Iron Bowl.
He was so pumped. Life was good. He was a junior in college majoring in accounting and he’s at the biggest rivalry in football. If his team wins, they probably win the SEC and play for the national championship again. And he was on the front row. He’d never sat on the front row. It was awesome. And he was in the end zone — that end zone, where it ended… where it started.
Judging by what he saw on the replay of Sports Center when he finally got back to Tuscaloosa around midnight, his mouth must have been open for close to a minute. Understandably.
“From where we were, the kick looked straight, it looked deep enough, but then I just saw the players start to run and people started going nuts, and then all of a sudden, three Auburn players get to the end zone and everyone is freaking out,” Will says. “I was like, ‘I cannot believe this just happened, this is insane.’ I was like, is that even possible? I had no clue. I’d never seen that before and I’d been a football fan for 20 years.”
… but only 18 as an Auburn fan.
Yes, sometimes, when it comes time to apply and enroll, it happens. The spring of Will’s senior year of high school was one of those times.
“I grew up really disliking Alabama,” he says. “My mom always called it the tacky school on the other side of the state.”
But in some weird twist of fate, in 2011, the tacky school seemed like the best school for what Will Schende, the aspiring accountant, was looking for in a college; full-ride scholarships will do that. So, wrong as it would have seemed six months earlier, he turned.
It didn’t take long.
“I still liked Auburn, but I grew to love Alabama pretty quickly,” Will says. “The culture, the professors.”
And the friends. That’s probably what did it the most.
“It was definitely a weird change, but my best friends were die-hard Alabama fans, through and through. My friend David had a streak of attending 90 Alabama games in a row, so in 2013 he was like, ‘I can’t miss the Iron Bowl, why don’t you come with me.'”
They were juniors, finally eligible for student tickets to away games, along with more than 100 other freezing kids camped out in front of Coleman Coliseum that November, hoping to snag seats in the lower-bowl student section for the biggest Iron Bowl in a generation. They got them. It only took 12 hours.
“It was worth it,” Will says. “We just knew it was going to be a great game.”
For Will, walking into Jordan-Hare for the first time with a different color blood in his veins was kind of surreal. But not as surreal as watching the grass disappear.
“We probably stood there for 20 minutes just watching people rush the field,” he says. “It was a pretty incredible experience, even just being there before the game. I obviously wish it would have ended differently, but it felt so historic that it really didn’t matter.”
At that point, David Hose, Mr. 90 in a Row, felt something close to the same. He was on Will’s left and just remembers laughing.
“It was just such a ridiculous play,” he says.”After what had happened with Auburn and Georgia, I was just like ‘of course this would happen.'”
Will decided to drive home. David was staying in Auburn. He walked two miles back to his car and made it to where he was crashing. He finally got a cell signal. He checked Twitter.
2013 was the year the universal, unconscious body language of sports fan defeat became a meme: the Surrender Cobra–hands behind your head in surrender, elbows flared up like the hood of a cobra. And there was Will, in photos and videos tweeted from more accounts than David could count, mouth agape, executing a Perfect 10.
Chris Davis was the hero. Rod Bramblett was the voice. Will Schnede was the face.
David started texting. He kept texting. No response.
“My phone had died,” Will says. “I had no idea I was all over television until I got back to Tuscaloosa. I started charging it and all these texts started showing up. There was one from my mom that said ‘Will, you better turn on ESPN right now.'”
He did. And there he was, after every clip of the winning touchdown in what people were already calling the most epic finish in sports history. And there he remains come fall, when it’s time for a montage to hype another season of the grand drama that is college football: Will Schnede in picture-perfect shock.
“Six years later,” he says, “and it’s still showing up on ESPN.”
David and Will are still friends. They’re roommates, actually. David’s in banking, too. They have Apple TV. It’s always fun when the YouTube app is up.
“There’s a video on there that’s something about the worst defeats in Alabama history,” David says. “Will’s face is the thumbnail.”
The video has nearly two million views in two years.
“So we’ll be there and Will will pop up on the TV,” David says. “And then if you search for GIFs on an iPhone, he’s a GIF for ‘shocked face.’ Our friends will send that to him all the time, even for stuff unrelated to football.”
In the early days, there were also the signs. Shocked Face Schnede started showing up at basketball games, then the next season at football games.
“He still gets recognized,” David says. “Not so much in New York, but when he goes back South.”
Will can’t escape it. At least he hasn’t yet. But he handled being Google’s “Shocked Bama Fan” image result champ well even from the start.
In July 2014, he and David went to an autograph session starring Mr. Kick Six at the Outlet Shops of Grand River in Leeds.
“We actually met Chris Davis,” David says. “We were getting a football signed for a friend of ours who’s a big Auburn fan, but Auburn fans started recognizing Will. He was more popular than Chris Davis. They were coming up and making him do the pose.”
David and Will brought something else, too–a printout, a screengrab of the face. Davis smiled and signed it. Will’s parents still have it framed, along with a photo of four-year-old Will in his Auburn sweater.
It’s been six years. Twitter won’t let him forget it. ESPN won’t let him forget it. Neither will mom.
“To this day, she’ll text me about it,” Will says. “She’ll say’; I just saw your face on TV. War Eagle.’”