You can tell right off where our loyalty lies because we call it the Auburn-Alabama game and not the Alabama-Auburn game. Word placement is no incidental thing out there in fandom.
Although I am not among the “Barners” and “Bamas” who swap insults in the commentary section of the big-city newspapers, I take this game seriously.
My son (and my money) go to Auburn.
My father graduated from Auburn.
However, my loyalty is a bit more complicated. Though Daddy raised me an Auburn fan, when it came time to go to graduate school, I chose Tuscaloosa. I often joke that I rushed through the program in record time because I wanted to get out so my daddy would talk with me again. Looking back, I am not sure that I was joking.
So here I am, an AU fan with a UA degree, out of place in a state full of UA fans who have never set foot in a Capstone classroom. (I have set foot in an Auburn classroom, but as a guest lecturer, not a student.)
And here I am, getting ready for Saturday’s contest.
Over the years, I have watched, listened to or attended just about every Auburn-Alabama encounter, so it is hardly surprising that memory tends to blur them and details become indistinct and (in some cases) insignificant.
Except one. To this day, one game stands out above all the others — and not for who won, but for where it was played.
Dec. 2, 1989 — Alabama went to Auburn.
It has been told time and again how AU faithful did not consider Legion Field in Birmingham a neutral site for the Iron Bowl, how AU wanted to play every other game in Auburn, how the Alabama faithful swore their team would never lower itself to play in an Auburn pasture, and how the deal was finally struck that moved the odd-year games to Jordan-Hare Stadium.
After years of watching his beloved Tigers get beat on the gridiron, my daddy took great satisfaction in this off-the-field victory.
So he upped his Auburn Alumni Association dues, got on the ticket list and purchased a pair so we could go.
I was living near Atlanta at the time. Though my wife was a Georgia girl, in the short time we had been married she had come to realize the significance of the game. She bought me a bright orange sweater to wear for the occasion.
I got up early to drive down. So did what looked like every Auburn fan in Georgia — I did not know at the time that Atlanta is home to one of the largest collections of Auburn alumni outside Alabama.
Orange-and-blue flags flying.
Not a crimson-and-white banner to be seen.
Were Bama fans boycotting the game? There had been a rumor to that effect.
Or did they get lost? So few Bama fans had ever been to Auburn that someone published directions to help them find their way (“turn left at the third chicken house, watch for cows crossing the road”).
Truth was that Alabama fans had bought up their allotted tickets. They just weren’t allotted many. (Auburn fans may not have considered Legion Field a neutral site, but the ticket allotment was split 50-50.)
Daddy drove up from Grove Hill. We met. And settled in to tailgate — really tailgate, for Daddy arrived in his pick-up. He had taken back roads he used to travel between his family home in Slapout, west of Wetumpka, and Auburn. To his delight, he found that churches along the way still sold carryout lunches to fans making the trip — another thing you miss when you take the interstate.
We ate and then went into Jordan-Hare and found our seats on about the 5-yard line — Daddy did not contribute enough to get on the A-List, but we were in the stadium. We sat down, then stood up for the kick-off, and did not sit down again until halftime. We were back on our feet at the beginning of the third quarter and on our feet we remained until it was over.
I cannot remember much about the game other than it was exciting and Auburn won. However, I do recall that as we left the stadium, Daddy said, to no one in particular, “this was all I needed. I don’t care if I never see another.”
He meant in person, of course.
The next year we began the ritual of watching the game together, on TV.
Now I am going back. Alabama is heavily favored, but no matter the outcome, this has been a magical season down on The Plains.
So let me simply say Happy Thanksgiving and WDE.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is professor emeritus of history at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.