Rabid doesn't begin to describe Auburn fans

AUBURN – A fair warning to Washington State fans who may think the Cougars' upcoming visit to Auburn will be similar to treks over the years to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Tennessee. While certainly humid hotbeds of football-crazed fans, a strong case can be made that the spectacles in those venues are distant runners-up to what goes on in east-central Alabama.

As a columnist for the newspaper in Syracuse observed after watching his Orangemen square off against the Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2002, "the environment was equal parts Woodstock, Mardi Gras, New Year's Eve and Madonna's last wedding." For a football fan, he mused, attending a game at Auburn must be akin to a Catholic going to Mass at the Vatican.

Tailgating starts a good 24 hours before kickoff. For really big games, the RVs start showing up on Wednesday and eventually string together for miles.

The fans here are so caught up with football that the word "hello" is rarely uttered on game day. Instead, you get a lot of, "War Eagle, hey."

War Eagle?

AUBURN FAST FACTS
Charmin tossing and much more
WIPING UP A WIN:
After a victory, fans gather at Toomer's Corner – the intersection of College Street and Magnolia Avenue across from Toomer's Drugstore -- and throw rolls of toilet paper on everything in sight. In a matter of minutes, the area is blanketed. Silly, yes, but it is great fun to take part in and quite a sight when fans have finished the decorating. Toomer's, by the way, is home to the best lemonade this side of the Rockies.

BIGGEST COMPLAINT:
The worst part about game day is the parking. Even without a sporting event, parking spaces are at a premium. Arrive early, park where you can, wear comfortable shoes and expect to walk and walk and walk.

ENROLLMENT:
23,000

FAMOUS GRADS:
Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, Rowdy Gaines, Frank Thomas, Pat Sullivan (1971 Heisman winner), Vince Dooley (legendary Georgia coach).

GETTING THERE:
The city of Auburn is located in east-central Alabama on the edge of the Central time zone. For those flying in, Interstate 85 is a straight, 100-mile shot from Atlanta and for those touching down in Birmingham, U.S. 280 is the best route to the plains.

OF NOTE:
This 150-year-old Land Grant School (named East Alabama College until 1960) is consistently rated by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation's top 50 public universities.

THE SERIES:
This will be the first-ever meeting between the Cougars and Tigers. And it will be just the second time WSU has faced any school from Alabama -- the Crimson Tide skunked the Cougs 24-0 in the 1931 Rose Bowl.

THE LINE:
Oddsmakers have installed the Tigers as 15 1/2 point favorites.

The team is called the Tigers. But "War Eagle" is the name of the official battle cry.

Yes, Auburn has an official battle cry.

If you're heading down for the game on Sept. 2, "War Eagle, hey," probably will be ringing in your ears for a long while. The most thunderous iterations occur during kickoffs.

The origins vary as to how Auburn came to embrace this vocal show of loyalty. The version most fans recite is that a Civil War veteran, who had found an eagle after a battle and kept it as a pet, brought it to Auburn's first-ever football game. The slogan developed from there.

Blending the War Eagle and Tiger themes somehow works. Auburn has a costumed tiger mascot named Aubie and a live mascot -- a golden eagle –- who is, appropriately, named Tiger.

THE FRIDAY BEFORE A home game offers a glimpse of the high-energy that will envelope Saturday. A veritable tidal wave of bodies cascade over the city, creating the ultimate traffic nightmare for a small community – population 50,000 – whose stadium holds 87,451.

Jordan (JUHR din)- Hare Stadium is near the center of campus and easy to spot as its immense size makes it the dominant structure of the area. In fact, it is the eighth-largest on-campus stadium in America. The noise, though, is why it is one of the most challenging places to play in the Southeast Conference.

To say Jordan-Hare is loud on game day is like saying Mount Rainier is kinda tall. When the opposing team is faced with a third down in a close game, the noise is downright deafening.

The build up to this type of frenzy is methodical. First there's the tailgating. Then there's the "Tiger Walk" in which thousands of fans line Donahue Drive as the team makes its way from the athletic dorm to the south entrance of the stadium. When the band enters the stadium a standing ovation ensues. And then, in a relatively new tradition, Tiger the golden eagle is released from the upper deck just prior to kickoff and circles the stadium before swooping down and attacking her bait at mid-field. This never fails to bring the crowd to a fever pitch.

There will be an added treat on Sept. 2. Since 1999, when Tommy Tuberville became head coach, one contest per season is designated the "All Auburn All Orange" game. That means everybody in the place wears orange. This season, the Washington State game is the one.

And while on the topic of colors, crimson isn't a popular hue in these parts. So if you wear it, make sure it's clearly marked with the words "Washington State," because every self-presecting Tiger fans will tell you there's nothing uglier than being mistaken for an Alabama fan in Auburn country.

Win, lose or draw, game day at Auburn is definitely a memorable journey.

NOTABLE TIGER NOTE:

For all the factors that make Auburn such a uniquely rabid football school, there are similarities between Tiger fans and Cougar fans. Namely, Auburn partisans always hope for the best and expect the worst. And this season, while excited about a preseason Top 10 ranking, Tiger faithful are a little nervous since Auburn has a reputation for overachieving when doubted and underachieving when praised.

To that end, the parallels to this season and the 2003 campaign are not lost on anyone here. In 2003, like this season, the Tigers were in the preseason top 10 and opened at home against an underdog Pac-10 team. New starters Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush embarrassed the Tigers 23-0 that day and the team struggled the rest of the way.

ALSO COMING THIS WEEK:
* Previewing Auburn: Big offense, questions on defense
* CF.C analyst Matt Moore's inaugural column of the season -- Auburn 101 -- sizing up the Cougs vs. Tigers.

1985 HEISMAN WINNER BO JACKSON

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