Fan Day is a bit of a misnomer. Fans watch the games; some go to the games. Fans have a few shirts and hats.
The people who even want to attend Fan Day—let alone bother to show up and stand in line to get in—are a special group within the fan base. They both want—and give—something more.
You don't even have to care about Auburn Football to enjoy a game because there's so much going on around the game. There's something called, well—fanfare.
But at Fan Day there is no eagle flight; no band; no world's largest college football video board. There's only chairs, tables and sharpies. Again, the faithful who show up have a desire and commitment that's deeper.
I talked with some of these Auburn folks at the indoor practice facility Sunday. I wanted to learn something about why Fan Day is part of how they express their love for the Auburn Spirit. Here's what they told me.
First in Line
If we wanted to find a word to distinguish fan day attendees from fans, Jay Jacobs might suggest loyalist.
First in line every year since 2012. So thankful for loyal Auburn Family. pic.twitter.com/9wrsN1mSql— Jay Jacobs (@jayjacobsauad) August 14, 2016
Front and center (wearing orange) in Jacobs' photo is Brett Costell. I happened to get in one of the autograph lines right behind her. Most fan day folks just get autographs on a poster, or maybe a football or mini-helmet. Brett had something else.
Fan Day started at 3:30. Brett was there at 8:00 AM. I asked her why, and she told me about her love for the team—no matter what. Brett mentioned that she's seen a lot of absolutist fans since 2010, who want to fire the coach after any season that doesn't produce a national championship. But Brett is loyal. It's the kind of loyalty that gets you a VIP photo op with the head coach.
Team Players, Meet Team Fans
You may have already seen Sam Kinsey. If you were there you couldn't have missed his overalls, the only Fan Day attire more extravagant than my brother's pants. Equally extravagant was Sam's helmet, hand-crafted by his father, John.
You've seen alternate-helmet mock ups on the internet, but John brings his ideas to life. He finds helmets for sale on Craiglist, then sands them down and turns old equipment into something new; something unique. He occasionally sells these creations to pay for his hobby.
So, whose autograph did Sam want on this one-of-a-kind item? "All the players." That's the kind of loyal he is—loyal to the team, not to bright lights or flashy stats. He's a fan of the whole team, as evidenced by the custom helmet he took to the autograph session after A-Day.
I saw another unusual item that could be used for headgear, but it's not recommended.
This is Mary and Joe's bucket, no. 4.
See, four years ago they were looking for a good autograph item. Most of the things they found were too dark, but they saw a white bucket—the perfect background for autographs. There were four at the store; so that's how many they bought. This year's bucket finished their inventory, and they'll have to find more—or something else for next year.
Last year Mary and Joe stood in the longest line, for Gus Malzahn's autograph. Every year they get the seniors. You can't carry around loyalty in a bucket. Well—maybe you can in the right bucket; if it's Mary and Joe's, who've been Auburn fans "forever."
The Next Generation
Finally, we come to Austin Knight. I envy Austin, because he's got that perspective you can only have when you're younger than the players. Plus, he's been to every Fan Day the past six years, and he got all these great autographs.
Auburn is all Austin has known, but that's not true of his Dad. He actually grew up an Alabama fan, but he got frustrated with the kind of narrow vision described by Brett. That is, he got sick of them firing all the coaches after Bryant. So he made the move to orange and blue. And because he saw the light, the Auburn Family got Austin!
Here's another unique part of Austin's Auburn identity. Guess who his favorite player is. Sean White? Nope. Maybe Kerryon Johnson or Carl Lawson? No. Try Kevin Philips. Yes—most fans Austin's age don't know the punter's name. Well, Austin actually wants to be a punter. Boom It Austin, Boom It!
It's About the Connection
What did we learn about the people who turn out for Fan Day? We learned that Jay Jacobs is right. They're loyalists.
That doesn't mean you're not a loyal fan if you never go to Fan Day. It just means that for these fans, this event is how they want to express their loyalty. They've always got the players' backs, and they want to make a connection face to face.
And this connection allows the players to see the fans as something other than 84,000 bricks in four walls of noise. It lets the fans see the players as something besides chess pieces, or players in a video game.
Fan Day makes a connection that isn't under the lights and isn't on ESPN. It makes it real. It makes it Family.
Josh Dowdy is a College & Mag contributor, and also the editor for Heart of Auburn.