Well, it happened. After fifty years of living on the front lines of the Auburn/Alabama rivalry, I saw something today that surprised even me. There she was. Miss America wannabe, our beautiful Miss Alabama, previewing an official ensemble of Roll Tide meets Hancock Fabrics with a dramatic flair of Scarlett O’Hara thrown in. First I was speechless; then my thoughts soon turned to the unsuspecting people who have decided to move to our state, unprepared for the extreme phenomenon that is Alabama and Auburn. If this is all new to you, bless your heart, I’m gonna try to help you out here.
Decades before ESPN made a revealing documentary about the Auburn/Alabama rivalry, Roll Tide War Eagle, residents of the state were immersed in a great cultural divide of orange and blue versus crimson and white, going all the way back to 1893. Even before I learned to ride a bike, I could tell you that Alabama ran the Wishbone offense formation and Auburn ran the Veer. The names Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan were spoken with hushed tones, and my first encounter with product placement occurred during their weekly TV shows. Golden Flake and Coke, there they were; the Bear himself taking a big ole swig of Co’Cola, kicking off his awe-inspiring monologue occasionally punctuated with a sudden exclamation of “Bingo”! That meant the right man had made his tackle stick.
Without a lifetime of developing coping mechanisms for surviving football season in Alabama, how does one make it? Well, it is pretty obvious that the least effective strategy for living in the world of Alabama/Auburn is to ignore it. Mainly because it’s impossible. There is houndstooth everywhere, at all times; it’s the state pattern. Some days there is toilet paper thrown across big things: everything from trees to army tanks. Not only is there a wealth of logo’ed merchandise, but there is also an entire industry of stuff stamped with the compromising, all telling “House Divided”. And then there was that house that was actually divided. Peace.
First, I recommend picking a side. If you are living in the state of Alabama, it’s almost imperative to go for one or the other; flip a coin if you must. It’s just easier to answer the inevitable question you will get in the check-out line at Walmart: Auburn or Alabama? I contend that it’s way too time consuming to explain that no, you really don’t live for college football, or no, you really don’t see the difference, or no, you feel silly chanting, “Bodda Getta Bodda Getta Bodda Getta Bah” or “Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer“. The lowest hanging fruit here is to just pick a side and hang on for dear life. Note: if you are already a rabid college football fan of another school, you get a shrug. If it’s an SEC school, you get a pass. The only mistrusted decision is No thanks, none of the above.
Second, it might be a good idea to conjure up an excuse to have at-the-ready if you don’t really want to hear every detail of the 1972 Punt Bama Punt game, or how Alabama has won a gazillion national championships. “Oh, my! I’m due at the chiropractor, RIGHT NOW” might work. Better yet might be, “Oh, my! I am due to pick up the babyback ribs I ordered for our tailgating!” In that case, you might be met with a “Run, Forrest! RUN!” response.
Third, I offer this really important advice: don’t assume that you know which side one’s bread is buttered on, football wise. We, the residents of Alabama, are all mixed up; and there are divided families everywhere. Just because Dad is wearing an elephant head doesn’t mean Mom isn’t an Aubie groupie, and vice versa. I am the product of a mixed marriage; and I am in a mixed marriage. (A carefully placed Reverse Rammer Jammer might reveal which team I, the author of this Arcara Residential blog, pull for; but it might not be a good idea since the owner of the actual Arcara Residential company yells for the other. Oops.)
Fourth is a piece of helpful information. There is a great sucking sound on Saturday afternoons in the Fall as people migrate to the two college towns of Tuscaloosa and Auburn, to Jordan Hare and Bryant Denny stadiums, and to theater-sized televisions all over the state to watch the big smashmouthed events. The vacuum that is created leaves prime spots open in the best restaurants, shows, movies, and shopping areas, especially when both teams are playing. Especially during the Iron Bowl. You might even get right in at Hot & Hot Fish Club, or maybe navigate nicely with little traffic up Highway 280, or park right outside the door at… well, anywhere not showing the game. But don’t plan something meaningful like a wedding during the game; you might be stunned when even Grandma fakes an illness to see the Big Game.
Fifth, and most important: don’t sweat it. Don’t take it too seriously. Do Auburn and Alabama fans hate each other? Paul Finebaum says yes from his vantage point, and many people agree; no doubt the rivalry is out of hand, with horror stories of disrespectful and downright despicable acts being committed in the names of both teams.
But here’s what is often missed, and often forgotten: when the chips are really down, the good people of the state of Alabama set aside rivalries and come together. When the 2011 tornadoes devastated Tuscaloosa in the worst tragedy our state has suffered in years, the first and biggest relief organization that was formed and ran to the front lines was a grass roots group formed in the heart of Auburn, called Toomers for Tuscaloosa. Had the tables been turned, the good people of Alabama would have done the same for Auburn folks.
There was a time I would have recommended running for the hills, taking up tennis, and avoiding the football madness like the plague. No more; something strange happened along the way, and the jokes and ribbing became funny again. Auburn kinda likes being a Cow College, and Alabama fans don’t all have “summer” teeth (some are missing, some are not). The enthusiasm is contagious; it’s not just anywhere that can pack in 80-90,000 people to watch a practice game in the spring. Something fun is going on here; might as well cash in on the joy.
If all this is too much for your kids to take in, never fear. Among the stacks and stacks of books about Auburn and Alabama football and the surrounding culture, a few books have emerged aimed at helping the kids while they are young. In particular, I have on my reading list When Mommy loves Bama and Daddy Loves Auburn. Whoever wrote that psychological handbook is a genius.
January 6, 2014 marks the end of the 2013 college football season. Between now and then you have plenty of time to perfect your chosen battle cry; a cry that is also a greeting, a celebration, a mark of comradery. Put your hands up, air in the lungs, and haul off with a steady yell…War Eagle! Roll Tide!
You might even find yourself meaning it.