It was during the BCS National Championship game between Auburn and the Oregon Ducks. Lawton, an Anniston resident, said that for one quarter he tried to root for his team’s biggest rival to win the national title game, but the feeling didn’t last long.
“I was thinking, ‘OK, Auburn, let’s do this, keep it in the SEC,’” said Lawton, referring to the Southeastern Conference’s run of seven straight national champions in college football. “But then they kept showing the fans, and shots of the campus, and I thought, ‘What am I doing? I can’t root for Auburn. I hope Oregon destroys them.’”
It’s not just Lawton who has confused feelings. As Auburn gets set to take on the Florida State Seminoles Monday night to try for the Tigers’ second national title in four years – and the fifth straight for the two powerhouse college football programs in Alabama – Crimson Tide fans are torn between rooting against their hated rival or cheering for the crystal ball, as the Coaches’ Trophy is known, to remain in the state.
“It’d be cool for the national title to be in Alabama five straight years, blah, blah, blah, but it’s Auburn!” Lawton said. “You don’t root for Auburn.”
Bethany Surrett, an Oxford native who now lives in Gulfport, Miss., said that in 2011, she also cheered for the Oregon Ducks to beat Auburn in the National Championship game, but this year she said she’ll begrudgingly root for the Tigers. In a way, she said, it’ll help ease the pain of Alabama’s Iron Bowl loss this season.
“If they win the national championship, the only game we lost this year was to the national champions,” said Surrett, who admitted the Crimson Tide’s loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday somewhat ruined her argument. “It makes us relevant again.”
Surrett also admitted that Auburn’s recent success has made the annual rivalry game between the two teams one of the most exciting matches of the season.
“The Iron Bowl is the national championship game,” Surrett said. “The SEC isn’t dominant. Alabama and Auburn are dominant.”
Five straight championships for the state would be a remarkable feat even for some who don’t call Alabama home. Chris Otts, a Louisiana native who graduated from Alabama in 2006 and now lives in Kentucky, said he has a special connection with his alma mater and the state at large. That’s why Monday night he’ll ignore the arguments of his alumni friends and cheering for Auburn.
“They think it’s complete nonsense and I can see both sides” said Otts, who noted he struggled with deciding to root for the Tigers. “But there’s a lot on the line, with those streaks for the SEC and the state. I think it would be pretty special."
For some Tide fans, rooting for Auburn isn't about picking the enemy. Saks resident Michelle Bayerle said she became a huge Alabama fan when she attended the university in the 1990s, but growing up in Pennsylvania, she didn't really care about the rivalry with Auburn.
"We grew up hating Penn State," Bayerle said. "I'm an Alabama fan, but I'll root for Auburn when we're not playing them."
But other Tide fans don’t have any hang-ups about their allegiance to Alabama. Alexandria resident Taylor Warren said the only way she’d pull for Auburn Monday night is if it meant preventing harm to her family. And even then, maybe not.
“Heck no,” said Warren when asked if she might say ‘War Eagle’ during the game. “You root for Alabama, and whoever is playing Auburn.”
But she will be watching the game, she said, and added, “Go Noles!”
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.