Father’s Day is winding to a close, but the relationship between a father and a child is deeply intertwined in the foundations of the Auburn family year round.
For many of us, the spirit is a legacy. It’s a family tradition. Something handed down from generation to generation and fostered the same way a young child learns to read and write and pray. In my own life, I don’t think I have a memory in which being a member of the Auburn family was a quality absent in my life. My parents, but mainly my dad, are the reason that I’ll never be able to remember a time when I didn’t know the tune of the fight song or subconsciously chose orange and blue over red of any shade.
My dad started me young. When I was little, he nurtured my interest in college football by giving me a comprehensive preseason schedule of every game for every team. I pored through the little book, memorizing team names, mascots, coaches, conferences... anything that I could quantify as something relevant and meaningful to the game of football. He would win money off of his friends when they were unable to name a school whose mascot I couldn’t rattle off. He even entered me in his friends’ weekly pick ‘em group, and as a child I got my fair share of correctly picked games (after I stopped choosing winners based on which mascot would win).
When it became apparent that I was extremely interested in college football, and more importantly, Auburn football history, he found a website with the score of every game in school history and printed it out. Keep in mind, this was in the early 90s, and he had to print page upon page on that old printer paper with the holes on each side, so I had a mighty scroll of Auburn history to tote around. I devoured the AttitUde! The Story of the 1993 Auburn Tigers VHS on a regular basis, and learned to understand live games once I was just old enough to know what was going on. I got a signed Terry Bowden football and an Auburn uniform for Christmas in 1995, and after Penn State blew us out on New Year’s Day 1996, he told me that we don’t cry over football games (this after finding me on the front steps clutching my new football and sobbing).
He was the kind of guy to try anything, and for a kid, that’s a scary proposition. During the summer of 1996, we drove from Montgomery to Auburn just because, and walked around on campus. Upon seeing the looming stadium, he told me we were going to go inside, to which I balked. We’re not allowed! Instead, I got to run on the greenest grass I’d ever seen and when some security guy came and found us, nobody got into any trouble, we just calmly left. Act like you belong. It was a good lesson. We walked over to the athletic complex and went inside calm as you please, and when we found Lionel James sitting in his office on the phone, my dad told me to stand in the door and wave. Little Train told whoever he was talking to “an important visitor just stepped into my office” and hung up, then spent the next twenty minutes talking to us and showing us around the building. I sat in Terry Bowden’s desk chair, and Little Train took us to see Bo’s Heisman Trophy and told stories about playing alongside the greatest athlete of all time.
My dad was my best Auburn family member, and we watched nearly every game together until I left for the Plains. My senior year he finally got to see something that had only happened when he was a small boy himself, and we won a national championship. He died in 2016, but the last few years of Auburn football for him were pretty special. I don’t know if we had a phone call over the last few years of his life where we didn’t mention the Kick Six in some form or fashion, and I’m exceptionally glad and proud that he got to see something to iconic.
I miss talking to him every day, but the void of losing my biggest Auburn ally is the toughest part. Father’s Day reminds me of all those great times in the Loveliest Village, or watching the Tigers from afar, either exalting a win or suffering a defeat, but most importantly, doing it as family.
I hope you called your Pops today, and let him know you love him. It doesn’t get any more important than Family. War Eagle.