We begin this week with a slight detour into uncomfortable territory:
Sidewalk alumni. That’s the easy joke, right?
I spent most of my life expecting to attend Auburn University. My parents went to Auburn. I grew up in Auburn and later Opelika. Auburn—the school, the team, the town—is a huge part of who I am. Auburn was my first love, and once something like that is on your heart, you’re never the same. So I just assumed I’d go to Auburn, marry a nice Auburn boy, have adorable Auburn babies, and live happily ever after.
But life doesn’t always work out the way you expect for it to. I got interested in journalism. I visited Alabama’s College of Communication during high school. They offered me scholarship money. I started dating an Alabama boy, not an Auburn boy. I gave Tuscaloosa a chance. I got a degree. And then I went home. And then I came back. So here I am, working on a second degree at the Capstone.
I always recoil slightly when I hear the sidewalk alumni joke for a couple of reasons. First, selfishly, because as far as Auburn goes, I’m a sidewalk alumna. But more than that, it’s kind of a crappy thing to say. I made the joke growing up because it was an easy way to lash out at Bama fans that made fun of Auburn for being a cow college*. Now it just seems like low-hanging fruit.
One of the most hurtful things said to me recently was right before the Georgia game: "Why do you get so starry-eyed about Auburn when you don’t even have a degree from there?" I was at a loss for words. After some reflection, I found them: Some people choose to attend other colleges. Some people choose not to attend college. But that doesn’t mean they need a piece of paper from a school to tell them that it’s OK to love it.
I’m not telling you not to make the sidewalk alumni joke. It's a good joke. I’m just telling you why I don’t laugh at it. It’s not you, it’s me.
You can bet I’m lamenting having already used the throwaway Segway/Segue joke this season, because now that that's off my chest, we’ve got some serious Iron Bowling to talk about.
To be honest, I don’t even know where to start. This game is being billed ad nauseam as the "Mother of All Iron Bowls." I feel like such a momentous occasion deserves a logical, well-thought out piece that is both rational and passionate, and I’m not sure I’m in any shape to give you that.
I’ve been talking and thinking myself in circles about this game for a week and a half now. Before the Georgia game, I wouldn’t allow myself to consider an Iron Bowl for all the marbles. Now I can’t get it off my mind, which is incredibly inconvenient as finals are staring me directly in the face.
But here’s a rough idea of where my mind has been for the last week and a half:
The ??? stages of Iron Bowl Confidence:
Stage 1: "Barn so hard" (First felt after the first half of the Georgia game)
Stage 2: "Cautious optimism" or "We still probably have a legitimate shot" (First felt at the beginning of the fourth quarter of the Georgia game)
Stage 3: "Nope." (First felt when Ricardo Louis ran three yards from where Nick Marshall threw the ball into triple coverage on 4th-and-18 after giving up a 20 point lead at home at the end of the Georgia game)
Stage 4: "We will beat them with sorcery!" (First felt when Auburn broke physics at the end of the Georgia game)
Stage 5-???: "Pessimistic Optimism" or "Hell, I don’t know" (First felt when the adrenaline and euphoria of the Immaculate Deflection wore off and we actually took a look at our strengths/weaknesses compared to theirs, continuing to present)
Bleacher Report contributor Marc Torrence asked me a couple of questions last week for his piece on Auburn students attending Alabama. He followed a fellow Barner around UA’s campus for a day and then let me run my mouth at the end. It’s a great read and you should check it out, after you finish Undercover Barner of course. But one of the things he didn’t include was my response to his question about how I thought Saturday’s Iron Bowl would go. I gave a convoluted answer—there’s a reason he didn’t include it—that ended with me basically saying that I want to believe. Because I do. I want to believe that these kids who gave up on themselves last season can take down Goliath.
But I think I’m afraid to. It’s a self defense mechanism, a self preservation thing. Alabama is, for lack of a better word, good. The Crimson Tide are just really good. If it were literally any other team, I’d really enjoy watching them play. You know how I feel about a power running game and a shut-down defense. My favorite player on the field at any given time is the middle linebacker and CJ Mosely** is just terrifying. What really just sucks about Alabama being good is that Alabama fans spent the last 20 years since the last time Alabama was good talking about how good Alabama was, even when it wasn’t. Now that Alabama is actually good again, some people mistake our annoyance for disagreement. No one thinks Alabama isn’t good. We’re not asking you to be sorry for it. We’re just sick of hearing about it. But I digress. For all of Auburn’s exciting games this year, Alabama has had as many (if not more) boring ones. Because, say it with me, they’re good. Objectively, Alabama is a better all-around football team than Auburn.
In 2009, Alabama was objectively better than Auburn, and yet I let myself believe. I began believing while standing in the student section, right after Auburn recovered the onside kick. That game was pure Gus, wide open and gutsy. And at the end of the day, I don’t regret letting myself believe, not really. "The Drive" still physically hurts my heart***, but better days lay ahead of those Tigers. And worse. It’s going to take a long, long time to ease the pain of 2012. But this season has been quite a drug.
Damn it, I believe in these Auburn Tigers. I believe in them because they believe in themselves. I believe that if they execute their game plan and are still hanging around in the fourth quarter, they can win this game. Not only do I believe Auburn can win this game, I think the Tigers will. Smart money says they don't, but to answer your question from Friday, Marc, I believe Auburn will beat Alabama on Saturday.
There are several great things about being a fan. The one most relevant to this paragraph is that nothing we say really matters. Nothing you, I, nor Paul Finebaum says is going to affect how Auburn and Alabama play each other on Saturday. I am fully aware that Alabama is fully capable of beating Auburn. I know that Auburn will have to play its best game****, in all facets, as well as capitalize on Alabama's mistakes, to come away with the win. But knowing those things doesn't make a bit of difference. Auburn is currently paying a coaching staff millions of dollars to worry about those things. If I’m wrong, big deal. I genuinely thought Auburn would lose to Texas A&M. Worked out great. I am choosing to believe in Auburn because that’s what you do when you love something. And I’ll never be sorry for it.
If you’re heading to the Plains on Saturday, wear your finest navy. I don’t know if they’re calling this one "True Blue" or not, but seeing the stadium cloaked in navy harkens back to the Pay Dye years, and I’ll take any excuse to talk about 1989. Enjoy your Thanksgiving, Tiger fans. I’ll see you bright and early for College GameDay, because not even finals can keep me from my Tigers this week.
Until next time,
To hell with Alabama and to hell with all the rest /
*This footnote comes to you in two parts:
1. You know my feelings about Auburn being a cow college. I'm the daughter of an Auburn Vet. Hell yes, Auburn is a cow college. Enjoy your disease-free steak.
2. I almost never cast the first stone in football fights, yet I always end up in them. It's been my experience (and yours, too, I have no doubt), that as obsessed with Alabama as Bama fans claim we are, they sure do want to talk about us to us an awful lot.
**CJ Mosely for Heisman. AJ isn't even the best player on his team.
***That is not an exaggeration. I can't talk about it or read about it. I didn't really even notice until I listened to theCollege and Mag Show this week and heard Aubielicious and Chris discussing the pain of that game. Just checked again. Yep, still hurts.
****More than anything, I want Dee Ford and Nosa to just tear it up. Our elder statesmen deserve to leave their last game in Jordan-Hare as SEC West Champions. Onward and upward, Tigers.