"Auburn is a humane place. It’s flesh and blood, not bricks and mortar. Rod gave us the best of the human experience...We’re all the sum total of our experiences. Rod was a defining part of the Auburn experience." - David Housel on the passing of Rod Bramblett
I am an absolutely abysmal basketball player. Standing at 6'6" with a considerable wingspan, you'd be forgiven for thinking I had the ability to at least dunk a basketball. Sadly, as a former high school offensive lineman who spent the better part of my developmental years north of 300 lbs. before I got my life in some sort of order and slimmed down, I'm incredibly uncoordinated. My ability in the sporting world was limited to hitting the guy 6 inches in front of me and trying to drive him back. Today, that ability is limited to doing nothing more than attempting to pick up something heavy in a gym for no other purpose than placing it back down. Again, you'd be forgiven if you were to think I had any athletic gifting. Rod Bramblett certainly was forgiven for making this mistake.
I, like so many far more gifted writers have said earlier this week, didn't know Rod on some personal level. Sure I had several interactions with him to where I at least thought he may've recognized my face when he saw me, but if I'm being honest, that probably had less to do with me, and more to do with Rod just being the nicest person in whatever space we both occupied. He had a gift of making you feel special because he always was happy to see you, and always had a smile on his face.
Rod Bramblett graduated from Auburn in 1988, meaning he got to experience some of the highest of highs as an Auburn student. He got to see the Auburn football program have the greatest decade in the history of Auburn football. He was able to be at our university in the time of Bo, Barkley, and the Big Hurt. He was able to be on the fan's side of Auburn's first, and up until this past season, only SEC Tournament championship in Auburn basketball history. We should all be so fortunate. Most importantly, he was able to enjoy his time at Auburn with his future bride, Paula. As someone that navigated the perils of college without my life partner, I recognize what a blessing this must have been. And how sweet of a time in a relationship that had to be.
Outside of a short time away from the Plains in the early 90's, Rod's life was Auburn. Working with the Auburn Network, Rod was able to see perilous times up close and personal. The devastation of Coach Dye's time ending before it should have, Coach Smith leaving for VCU in a manner that still hurts Sonny to talk about, the ups and downs of the Terry Bowden era, Coach Baird's run to the College World Series, and the rebuilding of the Auburn football program under Tommy Tuberville. The main consistency through a decade of far more upheaval than what Rod experienced as a student was one of his idols in the broadcasting business, Jim Fyffe.
You cannot fully appreciate the work of Rod Bramblett, and the impact he had on Auburn Athletics, and Auburn University as a whole, without recognizing his predecessor, the legendary Jim Fyffe. My first exposure to Auburn football was through two old VHS tapes of "The First Time Ever" and "Auburn: The Decade of the 80's." Prior to my first Auburn experience I can remember in 1992, those VHS tapes were burned through our family's VCR, listening to Fyffe make a career of calls in a 9-season span from 1981-1989. Fyffe was to Auburn what Munson was to Georgia. The biggest difference was that Fyffe had an ace up his sleeve that infuriated the other half of the state of Alabama (which he was more than proud to let us all know), "Touchdown Auburn!"
Jim Fyffe was the singular voice of Auburn football and basketball, while Rod was regulated to his passion, Auburn baseball. I truly believe that if Rod could've had it his way, he would've been perfectly content sticking with baseball for the rest of his career while Jim enjoyed a long career that extended to this very day. Sadly, on May 15, 2003, the Auburn family was devastated with tragedy when Fyffe suddenly passed away from a brain aneurism at the age of 57. Auburn had lost its voice. Or so we thought.
After a few weeks Rod was selected to replace Fyffe, a move that no one, including Rod himself, could be completely happy about because Rod, simply put, wasn't Fyffe. Even if Rod were to continue saying "Touchdown Auburn!" it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't have the same enthusiasm. It wouldn't drive the other side of the state crazy. It wasn't personal against Rod. It was just that we weren't ready to accept another voice for our program.
Media wasn't just in an age of change at that time, but was shifting into something none of us could have ever anticipated. Even in the early days of the internet, blogs, and an ever connected world, no one could have foreseen the shifts in how we send and receive information. Amidst that change, the job of the Auburn radio play-by-play man evolved considerably. While Jim Fyffe was a radio host in Montgomery, Rod was in Auburn, and even prior to Jim's untimely passing, it was Rod that was readily available for hosting call-in shows for coaches. After Rod took over for Fyffe, the job of calling plays morphed into that of an anchor to every major Auburn athletic function and media presentation for the athletic department.
Think about that for a moment. Every Signing Day, Rod was there. Every new coaching hire video interview, Rod was there. The Auburn Athletics Youtube channel is full of Rod Bramblett at every turn. Jim Fyffe, iconic as he was, never hosted the Auburn Football Review. Rod did. And instead of doing it the following day in a studio, he did it right after every victory and heartbreaking defeat. All of this in addition to being one of the most versatile radio broadcasters in the business, effectively calling the three major men's sports at Auburn, football, basketball and baseball.
How many times have you ever listened in entirety to Tiger Talk? I rarely listen to any of it, mainly because someone is out there live-tweeting the exchange or writing a recap for it. It can't be an easy program to manage. You've got a coach there who would much rather be doing literally any part of what defines his job instead of giving broad based non-answers. And that's not a knock on the coaches. It's a tough thing to do during a hectic week of preparing for Alabama, amidst a player getting into trouble literally minutes before going on air, or during a lost season where hope is almost completely lost. It's a part of the job, but it must be a nuisance at the very least. Rod was always tasked with being positive and keeping people engaged all while dealing with sweet old ladies and young children asking the coach questions like "How do you prepare for Alabama?" or "What's your favorite movie to watch the night before a game?" all while hoping to win a gameday program. He did an excellent job of managing what has to be an impossibly challenging setup.
How many Auburn athletic functions have you attended? I'm talking Greater insert city here Auburn Club-type affairs. Or maybe it's a fundraiser for FCA. Maybe it's Tigers Unlimited related. I've been to a few in my time. Typically there are a lot of people there. Sometimes there are even folks there who give a lot of money to Auburn. But there are always fans there. Being a fan is such a wonderful thing, but if you're like me, the thought of having a bunch of people come up to you to tell you something about you that they love, or offer suggestions on your work, or to tell you where they were when you said something feels so burdensome. I'm sure it's flattering, but it has to be exhausting at a point, right? If Rod Bramblett ever felt that way he sure never showed it, and he was at most of these events. Oftentimes serving as an emcee of sorts. And always engaging with the fans. Not only did he never show a sign of fatigue, he seemed to thrive in it.
That's the first thing I think about when I think about Rod. How much he felt like he was the luckiest guy on earth for having -- and living -- his dream job. There was not a moment of being the voice of the Auburn Tigers than Rod Bramblett didn't appreciate. He never cared about the spotlight, instead often shying away from it in these settings, but just being there, in the thick of something he loved so dearly, was what made the smile on his face seem so genuine. He thrived in being part of the Auburn experience.
The second thing I think about when I think about Rod was how long that rain delay against Southern Miss must've felt to him this past fall. Or how mind-numbingly frustrating the view in the new press box must've been. And how awful it must've been to try and generate any momentum in the booth of Bryant-Denny in 2008. Or how he survived the Tony Barbee era. We talk a lot about his most memorable calls, but think about how many bad sporting events the guy had to sit through. And he LOVED IT. How many of us could've held it together through the absolute worst of blowouts where we had no chance? You think calling a Final Four or national championship loss is hard? Try calling Texas A&M 63 Auburn 21, Georgia 38 Auburn 0, and Alabama 49 Auburn 0 all in the same month. Rod did it, and always pushed us to stay engaged and hang in there, hoping brighter days were ahead.
So with the benefit of hindsight, truly there was no one better to take over the mic for a legend, and introduce us to the very best Auburn had to offer. Rod took over a seemingly impossible job, made harder by a mismanaged offense in 2003 that couldn't muster a touchdown until the 3rd week of the season, where he finally was able to deliver the his tribute to Jim Fyffe. He was able to deliver the first of many memorable calls to end the season, as Carnell Williams took a draw 80 yards to the house on the first play from scrimmage against Alabama.
Rod was able to have a definitive, memorable season under his belt the following year in 2004, which felt like a rite of passage for an Auburn announcer, much like Fyffe's incredible season of 1993. Then, in 2010, he was able to call the season he as a fan and alumnus, like all of us, had waited for. Thinking back to his call of Phillip Lutzenkirchen's catch against Alabama, now knowing both are gone from this earth too soon, is so hard right now, but also something worth being cherished. And with all due respect to Gary Sanders' call of "Punt Bama Punt" and all of Fyffe's collection of memorable calls, Rod was the voice of the two greatest calls in Auburn sports history, the latter being the greatest in the history of college football. His love for Auburn in that moment was a reflection of how we all felt. I like to think after the season prior, when he had to serve as a voice of hope for all of us, that in the moment he screams "THERE GOES DAVIS!", his hope was well founded, and the inflection in his voice was confirmation of just that.
Rod will always be remembered for the Kick 6, and justifiably so. But personally I'll cherish turning the lights out in Athens, Georgia, number 1 falling for the second time in 3 weeks, and the countless "NIGHT NIGHT!" moments of the basketball team's run to the Final Four just as much as that iconic call that so many are remembering him by today. I'll cherish them because Rod Bramblett's excitement over each of them was representative of something we have in common, a lifetime of loving this place through every circumstance. And that's what I'll miss most about his radio calls. He took a Jim Fyffe thing in "Touchdown Auburn!" and made it an AUBURN thing.
Rod Bramblett was a link to Auburn's past that we all heard with every broadcast. He was a good man, who by all accounts given since his passing, loved his God, his wife, and his children with all of his heart. Rod loved Auburn. Not just the place, but the people, and did so actively with a smile on his face in every room he was in. He was the best of us, an ambassador for something that isn't just fandom, but a part of our identity. I'm so proud to share Auburn with him.
I last saw Rod at the Final Four in the hotel lobby of the team hotel as he waited patiently to load the bus to carry he and the team to the stadium. I didn't speak because I thought I'd have a chance to at a less busy time. All I could think about was how if that were me I would be so impatient dealing with literally hundreds of people lining that sidewalk in orange and blue, making it harder for me to go do my job. He was beaming from ear to ear talking with Sonny Smith. He could not have been happier. I should've stopped and spoken.
I'm not a basketball player. I can't shoot to save my life. But there's a DVD hidden in a drawer in my house of a scrimmage between a bunch of old men who give a lot of money to Auburn Athletics and the son of one of those men, where that son didn't score a point, but proudly had 3 fouls in a span of 6 minutes at Bruce Pearl's Fantasy Basketball Camp. As Bruce so eloquently put it, it wasn't his personal fantasy, and rightfully so. But Rod Bramblett was there. Rod called that game. He did so with the kind of tongue-in-cheek fun with Bruce Pearl as his color commentator that I get to cherish as the only time Rod Bramblett got to call something where I'm in it. Rod was there, because of course he was. I think I'm ready to watch it and relive that game, because Rod Bramblett got to call my pitiful performance against men twice my age. I'm forever honored.
I grieve for the Bramblett children, and I grieve for the person in that other car. As much as all of what Rod did for Auburn matters to each of us, there are two children without parents today and another life that is forever altered. I pray no one reading this can fathom what that is like. No amount of money can get them back, but it can assist in what is going to be an incredibly difficult road ahead. No matter how much money has been raised, I can promise you there is still a need. If you feel compelled, please consider being part of honoring Rod and Paula Bramblett's memory by contributing to their Memorial Fund.