Late last night we got word of the worst kind. The voice of Auburn athletics, Rod Bramblett, and his wife Paula were killed in a car accident in Auburn. It’s a gut punch not only to those of us who knew him personally, but to the entire Auburn Family. With a position like Rod had, everyone felt as if they knew him. You lived and died with him on Saturdays. Together, he led us in reveling in the successes and clasping hands in the defeats. Like a preacher he led his congregation with flourish, able to rouse a crowd just as ably as any classic Southern minister.
Death is an infuriating thing. It’s going to happen to everyone, but it’s merciless. It doesn’t always come when you’re ready. It won’t wait until everyone’s gotten to sit down and prepare for it. It also doesn’t always come quickly or slowly. We talk about the hate between our school and our rivals, but there was no hesitation last night to hear the kind words and encouragement from supporters of other institutions. The love of life transcended bloodlines and allegiances as we waited to hear the final word. When we did, we all grieved together.
We’re going to miss Rod dearly. We’re going to miss what he brought to the Auburn experience, and it’s going to take a special talent to replace his large part of what made Auburn unique. The thing about being in the position that Rod was in is that he’s never going to be truly gone. He’ll always be with us. While he didn’t get to enjoy the length of time that many of us get, he made the most of it. His voice will literally live on in eternity. It’s an honor that most don’t have bestowed upon them. Rod defeated death with his vigor and fervor in life, and in his affection for Auburn.
Back in 2003, when he took over the lead broadcaster job, he was doing it under similar circumstances to what his replacement will have to navigate. Jim Fyffe had died rather suddenly in May, and Rod was the logical choice to step in. I’m sure many of you remember the ill-fated “Touchdown Auburn” jinx that was put in for the USC game, where “when Auburn scores its first touchdown of the game” (a foregone conclusion, for sure), “one side of the stadium yells ‘TOUCHDOWN’, and the other will yell ‘AUBURN’” to honor Jim Fyffe.”
Instead, there were no touchdowns that day. Or the next week. It took nine quarters for Rod to finally describe a touchdown. Little did we know that nine games later, Rod would establish his first brush with immortality.
I was 14 when that happened. It didn’t take long to memorize his call, copy the cadence, and recite it randomly around the house. You’ve heard it hundreds of times, at nearly every Auburn game since. It’s a huge part of what made me want to get into the sports broadcasting business, and so I tried my best when I got to Auburn in the fall of 2007.
I first met Rod in 2008. Having worked with WEGL, one of my friends mentioned that the Auburn Network needed students to help with some of their operations on gamedays. I went to talk to David Shumate (now the voice of the Duke Blue Devils), who ran the ops at the Auburn Network building on University. He was showing me around the building, and we were standing in the tech center. I hadn’t seen anything like it before, sure that I was in over my head, when Rod walked in.
“Hi, I’m Rod Bramblett. Nice to meet you, hope you can help us out around here.”
We shook hands. For a young aspiring broadcaster, it was akin to God reaching out and saying hello. Starstruck, I somehow mumbled a response and forced myself not to say that I had imitated his calls while doing laundry.
I didn’t really have much to do with Rod until I started doing play-by-play for softball games on the radio in the spring of 2009. I walked into the Auburn Network building one time after a road series at Tennessee, and David told me “Rod listened to the game yesterday, he has some critique for you.” I honestly don’t remember what he told me, but he was so willing to reach out to give guidance to a young kid trying his best. I started setting up the equipment for the Tiger Tailgate Show the next fall, and Rod’s energy in his true element — during a football broadcast — was absolutely electric. The ease with which he described his absolute favorite thing in the world, and the classy, genial manner in which he interacted with everyone he came across was inspiring. I’m sure he was a little humbled, because more than a few people asked for autographs and pictures during commercial breaks, and there’s no way that he was truly comfortable with being that kind of a public figure just yet.
Maybe he hadn’t quite filled Jim Fyffe’s role just yet in his first seven seasons, but 2010 certainly helped sway any old-guard Auburn fans that hadn’t been convinced yet. If Cadillac Williams handed Rod the key to icon status, Cam Newton opened the door.
Every single week in 2010 was chock full of Rod classics, but I had no idea that it would ever get better than that. Three years later, I was in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, working for IMG College, and I was given the assignment of studio producer for the Auburn football broadcasts. Every Saturday I made sure that the feed got to the affiliates, and got to listen to every single word that Rod uttered in describing what may be the most magical season in Auburn history.
How he stayed so on top of this without stumbling will always be incredible. It was the greatest thing I’d ever heard until two weeks later.
Cadillac gave him the key, Cam opened the door, but Rod himself took the opportunity and walked through it on the way to immortality.
We’re going to hear those calls forever. The way you hear Gary Sanders “IT IS BLOCKED! IT IS BLOCKED! IT’S CAUGHT ON THE RUN! IT’S CAUGHT ON THE RUN HE’S GONNA SCORE!” and numerous calls from Rod’s predecessor Jim Fyffe every single Saturday in the fall, Rod’s handiwork is now etched in the bedrock of the Auburn experience.
August 31st will be bittersweet. On one hand, the ecstasy of Auburn football returns for another season, but our scribe and historian won’t be along for the ride on this mortal plane. Our main cheerleader will have gone on to the next step. We know for sure that he’ll be watching, hand in hand with his Paula, fighting for the mic upstairs with Jim.
Just don’t be too critical on your replacement, Rod. He’s going to have some huge shoes to fill. We’ll all be thinking about you then just as much as we are now. War Eagle forever.