When you move to Alabama, there’s a question you’re asked before anyone even asks your name: “Auburn or Alabama?”
When I moved here in eighth grade, I had no idea how to answer that question. I didn’t even know what football really was, much less how much of a cult following college football had in the state of Alabama. I answered “Alabama?,” which got me nods from some and looks of disgust from others. I didn’t understand. Now I do.
If you were to take a look at me, I’m your stereotypical nerd girl. I wear glasses and nerdy t-shirts. I don’t look like your typical sports fan. However, my little sister happens to go to Auburn University, which has one of the biggest college football followings in the United States. (Trust me: you think your state’s team is something, but I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Auburn and Alabama are the biggest rivals, ever.) So, thanks to her, I’ve become a football fan.
I mean, I was kind of a football fan before, but I had no idea what “football fan” actually meant before attending a college football game. The tailgaters. The alcohol. The girls in awkwardly-high heels. The frat pledges who have to collect all the cups left behind in the stadium after the game. It’s an absolutely overwhelming experience. I just have no words to describe it.
I’m going to a college that doesn’t have a football team. We’ve got all the other sports – soccer, lacrosse, basketball, baseball, etc. – but not football. After witnessing my second college football game, and my first SEC game, I’m glad I went to a small, non-sports-oriented school.
Everything revolves around football. And I do mean everything. You have thousands of people pouring onto your campus every Saturday during football season, preventing you from doing anything other than attending the parties, for the most part.
For every person in the stadium, there’s another person outside enjoying a tailgate. They bring food, TVs, chairs, RVs, portable satellite dishes, and more, and set up right in the parking lot of the stadium (or in fields around the stadium, etc.) The majority of these people don’t even go into the stadium. They sit outside watching the game on their 60-inch TVs in front of their pickup trucks! People bring inflatables (you can see one I saw deflated to the right) and have photo booths. It’s like a giant fair, minus the rides. Kids are dressed to the nines in team gear, and everyone from the very young to the very old are carrying pom-poms and screaming the team chants. It’s a mind-blowing experience.
Saturday, September 30, 2017 was Auburn vs. Mississippi State at Auburn University. My dad is a Mississippi State fan, and he graduated from the college. So Dad was looking forward to this game because he hadn’t been to a State football game since 1989. Unfortunately for him, State was playing Auburn.
I was most surprised that people were friendly to him. There was no name-calling as he strode down the streets of Auburn in his maroon and white shirt. He would tell people welcoming him to Auburn, “I’ve been here before – my daughter’s in the Auburn band. My heart’s at Miss State, my wallet is here.” There was a lot of friendly banter, and I think Dad enjoyed it. He knew, though, that State didn’t have much of a prayer against Auburn.
And they didn’t. They seemed to have the momentum in the beginning, but after a touchdown was overturned, they lost it. Then they lost another touchdown, had numerous false starts, and pretty much just shot themselves in the foot for the rest of the night. We left six minutes before the end of the game, when the score was 42-10, with Auburn so far in the lead State didn’t have a prayer. Dad was upset the whole game, but he knew going in that State probably wasn’t going to win.
But Auburn has a bigger tradition: the rolling of the Toomer’s Corners oak trees. In 2010, a disgruntled Alabama fan named Harvey Updyke poisoned the original Toomer’s Oaks. The most amazing thing is, if he hadn’t called into a radio station and said he’d poisoned the trees, he would’ve gotten away with it. Yes, you read that correctly: Auburn couldn’t figure out what was going on with the trees, and then Updyke called into the Paul Finebaum show and admitted, on air, that he’d poisoned the trees.
Auburn mourned their trees, prosecuted Updyke to the fullest extent of the law, and then went on the hunt for new oak trees so the Toomer’s Corner tradition of rolling the trees could continue. They managed to find some good ones, and transported them all the way from central Florida. (That’s the newest oaks, actually: the original set of oaks they used as replacements died. Whoops.)
Someone actually set the trees on fire during the 2016 football season, and my sister was at Toomer’s Corner when it happened. They caught the guy and he had to pay damages, too. (I mean, if you set a bunch of toilet paper on fire, it’s going to go up pretty much instantly.) The girl who caught the guy lost her sunglasses when she chased him down and tackled him, and the students treated her like a hero and tracked her sunglasses down. I think that’s pretty amazing.
College football games are entertaining, and I enjoyed my experience on campus, but I would never want to live there. Sarah lives and breathes Auburn Band now, and I’m so proud of what she’s done. I’m happy just puttering along doing mostly nothing on my campus, and she’s become one of its biggest stars. Maybe she’s not as famous as the football players, or as sparkly as the dance team, but she’s absolutely crucial to the spirit of the game. She’s got two more years at Auburn, and I’m going to attend at least two more Auburn football games while she’s there.
Do any of you have experience at college football games? Does my description excite or scare you? Are you planning on going to a sports-oriented school? Let me know in the comments!
And as always, keep reading.