When I was in third grade, Pam Morris, music teacher at West Forest Elementary School in Opelika, Alabama, taught our class a song called Alabamy Bound (If you’ve never heard it before, give the link a click. Ray’s version isn’t the original, but it’s one of my favorites). It was part of a unit about Alabama-related music meant to teach us about our history that also included our state song but also several songs by the band Alabama. Pam knew her audience. Fast forward 10 years and I found myself in Bryant-Denny Stadium trying to be a good girlfriend but resisting having a good time at an Alabama Football game. I heard the Million Dollar Band* strike up a familiar tune that no one seemed to know the words to until they were supposed to spell Alabama at the end. I recognized it immediately as Alabamy Bound, and while the MDB may claim the song as their own, I’ll aways associate it with growing up in Lee County and belting songs off-key with a cool music teacher.
So now, 80 days after Auburn kicked off the 2017 Football season against Georgia Southern, Auburn is Alabamy Bound. I mean technically, Alabamy is Auburn Bound, but that’s not a song.
I'm Alabamy bound
They'll be no heebie-jeebies hanging around
Just gave the meanest ticket man on earth
All I'm worth to put my tootsies in an upper berth
Just hear the choo-choo sound
I know that soon we're going to cover ground
And then I'll holler so the world will know
Here I go, I'm Alabamy bound
I'm just a lucky lucky hound
To have someone to put my arms around!
That's why I'm shoutin' for the world to know
Here I go! I'm Alabaaaaaaamy bound!
In all seriousness, this week, Iron Bowl week, #BamaHateWeek, Don't Log Into Facebook Week, whatever you want to call it, is one of the best and worst weeks in all of college football--maybe in all of sports. The passion with which each side hates the other never ceases to amaze outsiders and insiders alike. The rivalry spawns arguments, feuds, and even crimes. If you think Auburn's rivalry with Georgia has gotten nasty, just venture into the comment section of an AL dot com college football story or the twitter mentions of an Alabama or Auburn beat writer. I guess the difference between the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry and the Iron Bowl is that this family feud has been going on for nearly a century and seems to have less to do with actual ire and a lot more to do with thinking you're better than the other side for whatever reason. Alabama fans consider Auburn to be a little brother, a second class team with second class fans who besmirch the good name of tradition by even daring to dream of victory over the Tide. Auburn fans consider Alabama to be a soulless machine, an evil empire with redneck fans too spoiled by success to see the childishness of their own behavior. Reality is probably somewhere in the middle, with both sides having their fair share of villains and victims. I mean, like the Auburn side of the middle, but the middle nonetheless.
For better or worse, Auburn and Alabama fans share this state for the other 364 days of the year. We live, work, eat, and worship together, irrespective of the schools we attend, if we attend at all**. To their credit, the vast majority of my non-internet interactions with Alabama fans mostly involve goodnatured ribbing and a lot of eye-rolling. I don't encounter a lot of those guys from the Georgia game outside of a football stadium, for the most part. Except for the Alabama fans who feel the need to “Roll Tide” me for daring to have on an Auburn shirt or an Auburn sticker on my car. But after 30 years in this state, I'm used to that noise.
So that brings us to this week. I'm sure I'll be an absolute wreck by Saturday at 2:30 p.m. but the truth is, for now at least, I am at peace with this Iron Bowl. In a turn of events negative no one expected after the second half of the Clemson game, let alone the second half of the LSU game, two-loss Auburn finds itself on the periphery of the championship hunt. It took 78 meetings for Auburn and Alabama to face off for the Western Division championship in 2013 and only four more years for them to do it again in 2017. I cannot describe how big this game is for Gus Malzahn and his team, but for us, it's just about as low-stakes as it gets. If Auburn beats Alabama on Saturday, it will not pass Go nor collect $200, it will go directly to Mercedes Benz Stadium to play an angry Georgia Bulldog team for the SEC Championship. If Auburn takes the Dawgs back to obedience school, there's a good chance it'll make the College Football playoff, where there's a chance it could end up playing Clemson and Alabama...again. No big deal. But winning those games ends with an ugly but important trophy.
If Auburn does not beat Alabama on Saturday, it will finish the season with nine wins, will go to a pleasant, low-stakes bowl, and the Walmart next to my house won’t run out of boxed wine and Tums.
Please don't misunderstand me, though: I want Auburn to beat Alabama on Saturday more than just about anything. I want Rod*** to be able to say, "And that's how the West was won," or something else equally as adorable. I want to roll the trees and finally clap back with all those arrogant tweet screenshots I've been saving****. I want the nightmare doomsday triple rematch of the galaxy scenario to play out in all its terror and glory. I want to live on antacids for weeks at a time. I want every bit of happiness for this team that they can achieve. They deserve to reach the summit, because they've carried us (and their coaches) on their backs all season. Especially the Defense. I'm just saying that if it's not in the cards for us this year, there are worse fates for the fans than the Orange Bowl or whatever.
If you're heading to the Plains to see the 82nd iteration of sports' greatest rivalry live and in person, make your presence known. Jordan-Hare was electric two weeks ago, and I have no doubt the atmosphere this weekend can be even better. Lose your voice. Stand until your feet ache. Give your team everything you've got. Auburn will have to get the lucky bounces and avoid careless mental errors***** to come away with a win, but we've all seen that they're capable of it. When I think about Saturday, I see Jeff Holland and of Kerryon and I think about how badly they want to be on the field in high pressure situations when it matters most. Most teams who say they want Bama are lying, but on Saturday, Auburn wants Bama and Auburn gets Bama. And Auburn is going to win. Ever to conquer, never to yield.
Until next time--War Eagle. Beat Bama.
*As much as I love and respect my friends who marched with the MDB, for straight lines and high steps, give me the AUMB. On to vict’ry, strike up the band!
**I know I'm repeating myself, but I don't think this can be said often enough: You don't need a degree from a University to love its football team. If you believe in the human touch because it cultivates sympathy with your fellow men and women and mutual helpfulness and brings happiness for all, then you don't hold that classist and arrogant point of view. If someone loves Auburn, he or she is welcome here. Period.
***Not Chip Lindsey.
****My memory is long, and my phone memory is large.
*****Special teams is a legit liability, and I believe too deeply in karma not to be petrified of the prospect of Auburn losing to Alabama on a special teams blunder. So when I said I was at peace with this game, I lied. Special Teams is what keeps me up at night.