In the wake of the recent attack on the monumental oaks that have stood for more than 100 years as a metaphor for everything that is amazing about Auburn University and it's undying spirit, I remembered something that I think, in certain ways, I had forgotten about my alma mater.
Auburn is different.
Auburn is different than so many other institutions of higher learning in more ways than anyone could begin to count or adequately describe. However, truly remembering a couple of the most important ways, and reconnecting ourselves as Auburn men and women could, I believe, go a long way in deescalating the vile, hateful and even deadly nature that the Auburn-Alabama rivalry has taken in recent years.
I still remember the first time I walked up the ramp into Jordan-Hare Stadium as a mop-topped six-year-old. It was the biggest, loudest and most exciting moment I had ever witnessed in my life. Yet, it wasn't the colors, the band, Aubie, the sea of shakers or even the enormous players that really stuck with me from that experience. It was simply how nice everyone was that my grandfather and I encountered throughout the entire day.
From the people selling programs on the street on the way to the game, to the total strangers who shared food with us and let us throw the football with them in the old Air Force ROTC hanger parking lot that morning before the game to everyone else that we came in contact with that entire day. They were all nice, caring, friendly, and, most of all, loved Auburn very, very much.
The funny thing was, as I got older, I started to see those things more and more often. I started noticing that 70-year-old men were excited to stop and talk with a completely unknown ten, eleven, twelve year old boy who loved Auburn football more than anything in the world. I noticed that every tailgate you passed would have a "War Eagle" for you, and usually a kind word as well.
The eagle mascot is a symbol of the Auburn spirit.
I saw that those same tailgates always had those same kind words for the people that were in different colors than we were, no matter how important the game was slated to be. I witnessed all of those same people walking out of games together discussing, with total strangers, both the victories and defeats with class and pride.
I heard, and many times joined in, Auburn men and women chanting, "It's Great To Be An Auburn Tiger!," even after our team had suffered a heart-wrenching loss. I also watched as a sea of extended family raced to those beautiful oak trees on that quiet, unassuming corner and laughed, cheered, high-fived and hugged each other following each triumphant win.
Toomers Corner has been a rallying point at Auburn for many years.
Witnessing those events, as I grew from a young child into a young man, were what cemented my belief in and my love for Auburn. Those events, although they were based around Auburn football, spoke much more deeply to the real life virtues of love, caring, honesty, friendliness, decency and sportsmanship that Auburn men and women possessed, and those are the traits that made me want to be an Auburn man one day as well.
One more thing I always felt was so different about my alma mater was the fact that Auburn people were almost always focused on their love for Auburn. Rarely were we mad, sad, upset, angry or even jealous when another team was triumphant. I always witnessed people congratulating our opponents on a great game and a great win then getting back to the business of chatting with Auburn people about what we could do to get a little better for next week.
Also, on the rare occasion that I saw an Auburn fan being rude or disrespectful to an opposing fan I would quickly see someone else scold them and remind them that Auburn men and women don't act that way.
Those deeply rooted virtues that Auburn men and women held so strongly always gave me great pride that I had undoubtedly made the correct choice for my educational pursuits as well as my lifelong extended family.
However, recently, there seems to be a different air around not only the Auburn Family, but also college football in general. The pressure to win has become immense. The interaction between the fans has at times become more rude, vile and hateful.
For some the fear of losing seems to have eclipsed the joy of winning--by a large margin. The discussion of the game has become much more rooted in discussions of scandals and the vile actions of fans than defensive line play, third down percentages, team chemistry and coaching maneuvers.
Aubie is joined by Auburn fans at Toomer's Corner to celebrate a national championship for the Auburn swimming and diving team.
It is as if every fan base is so terrified of losing and deeply jealous and suspicious of any team that is winning that the joy is being sucked out of the game. These attitudes, which are espoused on radio shows, in local diners and on message boards across the country, are leading crazed fans to say and do insane things in any effort to harm any program that rivals theirs and especially any program that may be enjoying some success.
Sadly, it also appears that certain Alabama and Auburn fans are at the forefront of that group, and despite the despicable levels that certain fans have already stooped to I believe it could easily get worse if something is not done.
This is why I find myself recalling the deep, strong and powerful virtues that cemented my belief in Auburn at a time like this.
I think that if we as Auburn people can truly refocus on what made us all love and believe in Auburn then we can turn the "tide" of this rivalry so to speak. We need to put all of our focus on Auburn being great. We need to stop feeding into the current attitude of fear and jealousy that is surrounding college football. We need to realize that a few weeks removed from a national championship victory and with three undefeated seasons in the last 18 years we do not need to worry about any other team, for any reason.
We need to treat our rivals with the utmost respect, even in the face of cross words or vicious attacks because those are the things that Auburn men and women have done for decades, and those are the things that have made Auburn so special. It has to start somewhere, and I truly believe that the Auburn Spirit is strong enough to take something that has become ugly and make it fun again.
Everyone doesn't understand it, and, frankly, I don't think they need to. However, we all know it. Auburn is different, and we as Auburn men and women must fight, now more than ever, to keep it that way.