Friday, January 9, 2015

Auburn Football From an Outsider

View of the field from my seat.
Now that the college football season is coming to a close with the final championship ahead, I felt it was a good time to share my experience of attending an Auburn University football game. Even if you have no interest in football, you have probably heard of the Auburn tigers, and I was no exception. I, however, am one who has very little interest in football, college or otherwise, but I was interested in experiencing the pomp involved at a school with so much football clout.

A couple friends were in town, so it was the perfect weekend to throw ourselves into the local culture of waking up early after a late return home the previous night, watching people park their cars creatively around town, and even drink an early afternoon margarita while walking downtown. Auburn fans did not disappoint on this weekend despite playing a no name team from a state that I no longer remember. They went all out with their orange and blue adorned vehicles driving circles around the blocks blaring marching band music screaming "WAR EAGLE!" at every turn.

Tailgating is an event at Auburn. It is here where the men dress in navy blue suits and bright orange ties and the women sport elaborate dresses of the same colors one trying to out-do the next. No ladies and gentlemen, this is not just any old sporting event, it is a place to find your mate, and it's serious business. You must have the right outfit, be invited into the right tailgating tents with no less than three large screen televisions and a catered spread that would feed the hungry people of a small nation, and you must live and breathe Auburn football. Anything less is blasphemy, and I was teetering on the edge in my not quite orange striped tank, black jersey skirt, and flip flops wandering around slack-jawed wondering how much money was involved in one brief afternoon.

Taken just after the eagle flew past
The 90,000 seat stadium was a sea of orange and blue, full to the brim on this cloudy day in October. We slowly trudged up the ramp in spirals to get to the top to our seats. Just when I was beginning to think that I would be in heaven before I got to the top, I looked to my left as an enormous eagle (the famous war eagle) was leaping from the concrete edge in front of me. All football aside, it was amazing to see this giant bird fly around, mind focused, despite the deafening cheers of tens of thousands of people as he launched himself toward the rubber prey in the middle of the field.

We squeezed past fans to our small space on a metal bench at one of the highest points in the stadium. As I settled in for a long afternoon of clanking helmets and a whole lot of stop and start that made little sense to me, I was immediately distracted by the fans. These southerners breathed new life into the meaning of fanatic. As I mentioned earlier, this game was an easy win for the tigers, but that didn't stop the fans from treating it like a championship playoff. The other team managed to get a touchdown. I thought, wow, good for them as angry men on all sides clad in tiger stripes spewed expletives as they upbraided the young men on the field who were doing the best they could to run and catch and tackle for our enjoyment.

They are still boys after all.

And just when I thought my new friends and I were having a private conversation on what on earth the Iron Bowl was (just like any of the other bowl games right?), a middle aged lady sitting in front of us turned around and in perfect southern drawl said the following:

Lady: "You do know what the Civil War is right?"

Us: "Umm yes."

Lady: "The Iron Bowl is just like that."

A controversial tradition
And the conversation went on in that fashion comparing the football rivalry with the University of Alabama to an actual war where people died. Respect was lost on my end, and I continued to take in my surroundings as an anthropologist instead of a fan. It was much more interesting that way.

The game was easily won, and the Auburn gods were satisfied. People poured from the stadium to all of the local watering holes and proceeded to toilet paper the trees in front of the university. It's tradition they say, but I could never quite figure out how defacing their own campus and causing a lot of extra work for university staff on Sunday equated to celebration. I guess that's why I'll always be an outsider.