(UPDATE TO POST: Tiger, or “War Eagle XI” as she is known, is retiring this Saturday. Tiger has represented AU for 20 years, even flying during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in 2002. When I was student she was housed at a aviary right next to the stadium and I would often eat lunch or hang out under her watchful gaze. This is an American sports tradition that is uniquely Auburn. For more info on AU’s Southeast Raptor Center, go here.)
Now I’m no historian of Auburn football and I don’t have the patience to recount every significant game in this storied rivalry, but for those of you who would like a better understanding of why this game means so much, I can recommend a decent article written by Phillip Marshall of the Huntsville Times. I don’t have family links to the state of Georgia but I believe this is a good analogy of the rivalry. We don’t hate Georgia. We just want to beat them like we would a sibling. It’s the bammers we truly hate. (Note: You can get more stats on the rivalry including this year’s game preview here.)
A couple of Georgia memories from my time at Auburn include a near riot, a trouncing in Athens, and my first big game as an Alum:
In 1992 Georgia came to the Plains and beat the Tigers 10-14 but it all came down to the last play of the game. As Georgia kicked us deep with only a few minutes left, we had to drive 80-90 yards to score a touchdown to win the game. We did drive the ball all the way to the one yard line with only seconds to spare and the crowd of 85,000+ was worked into a frenzy expecting the TD to win the game so the party could begin.
Instead of the TD, the QB/RB exchange on third down wasn’t as smooth as it should have been and the ball was fumbled into a heap of Auburn and Georgia players stacked 20 kids high. The seconds were ticking off the clock yet the referees failed to stop the clock to determine possession as the rules indicate. Instead it was mass confusion as the AU players and coaches were screaming at the refs to stop the clock and determine possession and the Georgia players and coaches were screaming that possession was theirs and thus the game should be over.
Sitting in the student section and right at the goal line I distinctly remember seeing the referee’s confused facial expressions as they huddled in the end zone to decide what to do. Those last 15 or so seconds seemed like an eternity. When the clock hit zero, the lead ref apparently had had enough and just called it a game and immediately sprinted off the field. Pandemonium ensued. Police in riot gear lined the student section to keep fans off the field. All kinds of trash was being hurled upon the field at refs who were too slow to exit and at Georgia players and coaches.
At that time in Jordan-Hare the opposing team would enter and exit the field through a tunnel in the student section. As one Georgia coach was running towards the tunnel, a whiskey flask caught him right in the temple and laid him out cold in the end zone. Several other Georgia coaches managed to snap him out of it and get him off the field before others could be hurt.
In 1993 I traveled to Athens for the game. (Side note: Athens is what everyone says it is and if you have a chance to go through that town for football, a concert, or just some brews you should do so). Auburn won this one in convincing fashion 42-28 to improve to 10-0 on the season in route to a perfect record.
My vivid memory of that game is of our two running backs, James Bostic and Stephen Davis, slashing the Georgia defense. Bostic had over a hundred yards rushing on the day but it was Stephen Davis who provided the best highlight for me. At some point late in the game Davis broke through the defense for a long run towards the end zone. As he got to about the 15 yard line he mowed over a few defenders who did everything they could do to bring him down including intentionally grabbing the face mask. As the yellow hankies flew, Davis literally carried one wounded Dawg hanging from his face mask the last ten yards of his run into the end zone. Touchdown Auburn!
In 2000 I took Tracey to her first Auburn game in Auburn. We had a nice room at a bed and breakfast near downtown and within walking distance of everything. It was a typical late November evening in Auburn; clear skies, bright stars, and cool, clean, crisp air. Even though I had been out of school for almost six years I didn’t quite feel like I was an alum until that evening. That night I was able to carry a flask of George Dickel in my coat pocket and successfully make it to my seat without getting searched. Of course I was on the home side of the stadium and I remember thinking as I walked through with the bourbon, “I’m really alumni now!”
Another memorable moment in this game came in the second half. Our tickets weren’t the best. I recall we were in the third row from the field at about the 40 yard line. You had to look through the Auburn bench in search of the play. Some Georgia students had the misfortune of sitting right in front of us but they were having the time of their lives.
Somewhere late in the game an Auburn player was hurt, the crowd silenced, both teams taking knees on the field out of respect for the injury. As the player was being attended to those Dawgs seated in front of us had glasses raised and were making toasts to the injured player who they had hoped was seriously injured. “Shut the f@#$ up,” I said. “There’s an injury on the field.” There had to be four of these kids who turned right around ready to pounce on me but hesitated before sitting down silenced. I realized afterwards as they turned around I had about 80,000 of my best friends in orange and blue behind me and I don’t think those Dawgs would have made it out unscathed. Of course we won that game on the field too.
There’s tons of memories from these games that I carry forward. I believe it’s those things that make Auburn football and this rivalry so special to me. The winning is gravy but it’s the memories that count. As any Auburn fan will tell you we have tons of great moments if we ever could string together many in a row we could win a national title or two. Oh we’ve been close in recent times but we sure could use the help of a top 10 media market now and again.
Our traditions for Saturday will be restored. I have an 11 lb picnic in the fridge downstairs that I plan to rub tonight and smoke overnight on Friday/Saturday morning. I picked some hefty sweet potatoes and will make mashed sweet potatoes. I want Tracey to make her collard greens but she may have to work in the morning leaving me to that duty as well. Of course we’ll do some cornbread and I still need to hit the bakery for some sweets.
War Eagle everyone! Beat Georgia!