That may seem trivial to readers in Oregon or elsewhere, but in Alabama it is a distinction carrying as much or more weight than where you go to church, where you live, where you work and who your Mama and Daddy are.
In Alabama, you must pick a side even if you are a newcomer. Even if you don’t really care. Even if you are setting up a Swiss consulate in Birmingham. The question: Is it Alabama? Or is it Auburn?
My family learned this lesson when we moved to my native Alabama in 2004. As the movers were unloading our stuff, a coalition of grade-school aged girls chatted up my wife, a Texas native unfamiliar with deep Alabama culture.
“Well, who do y’all go for?” one of the welcoming party asked.
When given clarification that the girls were seeking college football allegiances, my wife considered responding that she was a Texas Christian University grad. If she had, the gang probably would have thrown up their hands and exclaimed, “TCU? Are you kidding us, lady?”
Finally, one of the girls got straight to the point. “You know, who do y’all go for? Alabama? Auburn? Who do y’all go for?”
Satisfied by my wife’s answer that her husband was a University of Alabama grad, the girls went merrily on their way having successfully discerned the new neighbors’ affiliation.
Such is the devotion inspired by Alabama’s two major college football programs. Here in the Heart of Dixie, December’s focus has been centered almost exclusively on Auburn, Oregon’s opponent in the Jan. 10 BCS title game. Alabama’s New Year’s Day Capital One Bowl contest against Michigan State has been barely on the radar. In Alabama, either your team is winning big or you are dreaming how it will win big next year.
For the benefit of the curious in Oregon, we offer a cultural primer on the Loveliest Village on the Plain, as Auburn — the city that hosts the school — is known.
-- Auburn University has a fabulous engineering school. It has produced six NASA astronauts. Its architecture school is world famous. Yet, critics dismiss it as a “cow college” because of the school’s top-notch agricultural and veterinary medicine programs.
-- Heading into the BCS title game, fans of rival Alabama are in two major camps: 1. The sunny-siders who say that if their team can’t win it all, it might as well be their neighbors from the other side of the state. 2. The bitter-clingers who have suddenly decided to start rooting for the Ducks from the Pacific Northwest.
-- Auburn has its own creed, a work penned by professor/administrator George Petrie in the 1940s. The conclusion to this ode to clean-living, reverent faith and the quest for knowledge is, “And because Auburn men and women believe in these things, I believe in Auburn and love it.”
-- An unproven though intriguing claim is that Alabama merchandise, particularly books, sells better than Auburn merchandise. Don’t tell that to the folks at the Auburn store called Tiger Rags, where a sink complete with a school logo goes for just under $300.
-- The idealized “Auburn man” is said to possess self-sacrifice, humility and grace. The current season’s model is Kodi Burns, a one-time starting quarterback who accepted a lesser role in order to make room for star QB Cam Newton. Auburn fans say Burns’ selfless sacrifice makes him a model “Auburn man.”
-- No Auburn football victory is complete without the tossing of copious rolls of toilet paper on the oak trees adorning a campus spot known as Toomer’s Corner. The tradition dates back at least 60 years. Several webcams allow the faithful to virtually revel in “rolling the corner.”
-- Auburn’s mascot is a Tiger. “War Eagle” is what the school calls its battle cry; it is always hollered before kickoffs. Before home games, a golden eagle called “War Eagle VII” takes wing, circles the stadium before flying into the hand of its trainer at midfield. The first line of Auburn’s fight song is, “War Eagle, fly down the field.”
-- One of Auburn’s brightest thinkers is Wayne Flynt, a professor emeritus and author of several historical works. He has described football’s impact on Alabama by writing, “As a fiercely proud people who perpetually found themselves at or near the bottom of many quality-of-life lists, Alabamians found one measure where they often ranked at or near the top: the college poll. …
“If the Bible is correct when it states where a person’s treasure is there his heart will be also, then the state’s true affection could be found at” the massive stadiums where Alabama and Auburn play home games.
-- For its investment in football, the state has been handsomely rewarded in winning seasons. The Alabama mindset is that this state OWNS college football. Should Auburn beat Oregon, it would mean the state can claim two straight titles and two straight Heisman Trophy winners. All accomplished while playing in the nation’s toughest conference. Beat that, if you can.
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at (256) 235-3540 or email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.