Neel Gone, But Never Forgotten

Aubie creator Phil Neel passed away at age 84 on Wednesday, but his work will live on forever in the hearts and minds of Auburn fans.

Growing up in the State of Alabama, you are ingrained at an early age about the Auburn-Alabama rivalry and picking a school to root for the rest of your life. For just about every Auburn fan I know much of that revolved around the love of Aubie as a child. Created by artist Phil Neel in 1957 and making his first appearance on a game program in 1959, Aubie became the symbol of not only Auburn football, but of the university as a whole.

On Wednesday, Neel passed away in Birmingham at the age of 84, but his memory will forever live on through his creation that eventually came to life in 1979 when Aubie began to roam the sidelines at sporting events and attend university-related functions.

First Aubie used on the cover of the 1957 media guide

I still have fond memories of looking at old Auburn football programs when I was younger that were family keepsakes and being mesmerized by the lifelike drawings on the front cover that made Aubie more than a cartoon character. While the players, stats and photos were always fun to look at, I still kept coming back to the covers because they made me smile.

I have no doubts those memories will continue to live on as Auburn fans will always have a soft spot in their hearts for Aubie and Neel's vision of what the Tigers should be all about.

Comments from Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs:

"Phil Neel was a great Auburn man who gave us a wonderful gift when he created Aubie more than 50 years ago. Thanks to Phil's creative genius, Aubie became the most recognizable and beloved mascot in college sports.

"In addition to giving us Aubie, Phil's many drawings that graced the cover of Auburn football game programs and that were on the front of football tickets down through the years have become cherished collectors' items. While everyone who knew and loved Phil will miss him, his spirit and his love of Auburn will forever live on through Aubie the Tiger as well as his many drawings.

"Even though we all love and appreciate Aubie, Phil was most proud of his sons, Mike and Rick, who both played football at Auburn, each of hem winning the prestigious Cliff Hare Award. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Auburn Family are with the Neel family during this difficult time."

David Housel, who worked with Neel for many years as editor of Auburn's gameday program as well as sport information director before becoming athletic director, said the Auburn Family lost a special member.

"Phil Neel was an Auburn man, a great Auburn man and the truest and finest sense of the word," Housel said. "Phil was proof that you didn't have to go to Auburn to be an outstanding Auburn man. He will probably always best be known for his creation of Aubie, first on the football program covers back in the 1950s.

"He will be remembered for the creation of Aubie, but his contributions to Auburn were even greater than that. He sent his children to Auburn. Children are the best thing you ever have, the most important thing to you, and he sent his children to Auburn.

"Two of them, Mike and Rick, were on the football team. Mike was the captain of The Amazins in 1972. Phil Neel will always be remembered as a great Auburn man and rightly so, he is proof that you don't have to go to Auburn to have an Auburn attitude and Auburn values. As important as Aubie is, sending his children to Auburn is an even greater compliment to Auburn and his belief in Auburn."

Editor's Note: Neel's funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday at the Deerfoot Baptist Church in Trussville, Ala. Visitation is from 10 to 11 a.m. Neel, a resident of Pinson, was a member of the church since 1981 Premium Subscription Signup

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