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Confessions of an Auburn Fan or It's Not Easy Being Orange (and Blue)

                  by Penne Jones Laubenthal

The state of Alabama is a red state. It has been slowly turning red politically since 1960. In the past twenty-seven years, Alabama voters have increasingly voted for Republican candidates at the federal level, especially in Presidential elections. The current governor of Alabama is a Republican.

However, when Alabamians see red, the majority of them think not of the Republican Party but of the Crimson Tide. When most Alabamians see an elephant, they do not think of the symbol of the national Republican Party but of the mascot for the University of Alabama. When Alabamians see orange, they think of Halloween or Thanksgiving, not of the Auburn Tigers. It’s not easy being orange.

To be an Alabama fan, one must simply declare oneself to be a supporter of the Crimson Tide. That is the sole requirement. It is a very egalitarian kind of club. On the other hand, to be an Auburn fan one practically has to be a legacy. No one in his or her right mind would willingly choose Auburn over THE University with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.

In Alabama being a Tide fan is not only expected, it is de rigueur. Alabama is the name of the state. Alabama is the name of the university. There you have it. Could one have a clearer mandate? If one is an Alabamian, one cheers for the University of Alabama—period. The University of Alabama is located in T Town. Everyone knows where Tuscaloosa is. On the other hand, where is Auburn?

My daddy was graduated from Auburn University in 1938 with a degree in Veterinary Medicine. He was orange and blue through and through. As soon as my sister and I were old enough to sit in the stands for the requisite two and a half hours, we made the pilgrimage to Mecca for all the home games and to Birmingham for the Iron Bowl. After 1959, we grew accustomed to losing to Alabama, but we never wavered in our loyalty. One had to be brave, or at least foolhardy, to pull for Auburn when the Bear ruled.

To belong to the Auburn fan club you must have drunk deeply of defeat, again and again, and still be able to yell War Eagle with unwavering enthusiasm. Auburn fans know orange and blue is not an attractive color combination, but we wear it without complaint. We Auburn fans like to believe that we have developed true character, character born out of decades of humiliating defeat (not to mention wearing those godawful colors.)

Auburn fans sneer at victory. Well, we don’t exactly sneer at it, but we know that winning isn’t everything. Boy, do we know it. Winning is sweet indeed but it is especially sweet after the bitter draught of defeat. Why do Auburn fans go around muttering 17-16 after thirty-five years? An Auburn Tiger can have a memory like an elephant.

The day was December 2, 1972. Alabama was ranked second in the nation and entered the Iron Bowl with an spotless 10-0 record.  Auburn fans braced themselves for a thorough drubbing.

I was in the stadium at Legion Field that Saturday in December, and I can still close my eyes and see the last ten minutes of that game as if it were yesterday. When Auburn blocked a punt and scored with only minutes to go, the fans went wild. Then with just over a minute left in the game, Auburn stopped Alabama at its own 43, forcing another punt. Once again, Bill Newton blocked the punt and once again David Langner ran it in for the touchdown, this time from 20 yards away. Gardner Jett then kicked the extra point. Auburn won 17-16. We were not so much in ecstasy as in shock.

My sister and her husband were seated in the student section, and my sister recalls that all the students just sat there in the bleachers after the game, partly as if stunned and partly as if by not leaving Legion Field, they could freeze frame that moment of triumph.

As Robert Frost wrote in his poem by the same name, “nothing gold can stay.” In 1985, Alabama delivered the unkindest cut of all—a brilliantly executed 52 yard field goal by Van Tiffin (father of the current Alabama field goal kicker, Leigh Tiffin) in the final seconds of the Iron Bowl that gave the Tide a 25-23 victory over the Auburn Tigers. Not even Bo Jackson’s winning of the Heisman Trophy and four consecutive wins over Alabama (1986-1989) could salve that painful wound.

After 1988, the Iron Bowl per se was no more. In 1989 (once again the second of December), Alabama and Auburn met in Jordan-Hare for the first time. Once again Alabama entered the field with a perfect 10-0 record, but left with a 30-20 defeat. My daughter Leigh Carl, who had watched the heartbreaking 1985 defeat, was a Chemical Engineering major at Auburn yelling War Eagle from the bleachers just as her grandfather, Carl H. Jones, had done over fifty years before.

I learned at the feet of Gamaliel never to bet on Auburn. Like the man in the parable who, after being told by his friends following any event that it was either a very good thing or a very bad thing, would only say “perhaps,” Auburn fans have learned to say “perhaps.” Perhaps that was a good play, perhaps Auburn will beat Alabama, perhaps Auburn will have a winning season. Perhaps.

My grandmother used to say that she was a Methodist born and a Methodist bred and when she died she would be a Methodist dead. That is the way most of us feel about being an Auburn fan. As for me, I am an Auburn fan born and an Auburn fan bred and when I die, I’ll be an Auburn fan dead.

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