By Hardy Jackson
The Auburn-Alabama game was, is and will continue to be. This week, we are heading down to Grove Hill to eat more than we should of Mama’s classic cooking and watch the Auburn-Alabama game with Daddy.
(You can tell which team a person pulls for by the team listed first. Though I never went to Auburn, my father taught me to be an Auburn fan and an Auburn fan I am. So it is, and always will be, the Auburn-Alabama game.)
I wish I could say that watching the Auburn-Alabama game together was a tradition for Daddy and me, but it isn’t. Thanksgiving and New Years are our big football-watching-together-times and since the Auburn-Alabama game has seldom fallen on one and never on the other, we have watched it at our respective homes and when it was over called to whoop and holler or commiserate.
(Back during the Bear Bryant era we didn’t even do that. During those years Daddy would listen to the game in splendid solitude at our farm out from town. Mama would listen to it at home. I would listen to it wherever I was at the time. If Auburn won, which was seldom, Mama would fix Daddy a nice supper and await his return. If Auburn lost, which usually happened, Mama would tidy up the kitchen, make sure there was stuff for sandwiches if he came home hungry, and go to bed. Defeat was not something my family liked to share.)
Over the years, I can recall watching only a handful of Auburn-Alabama games with Daddy. Two of these stand out.
The first was Thanksgiving weekend, 1988. With my bride of only a few months we made the trek from the suburbs of Atlanta to the wilds of South Alabama for what was, for her, the first total emersion into that cultural milieu. To my relief and joy, she loved it.
My buddy Jim, an Alabama fan, had invited all manner of folks up to his house to watch the game. So I took wife, brother, and Daddy in tow and off we went. (Mama didn’t go. Wasn’t her kinda party. But she sent a pot of squirrel dumplings as her contribution.)
I knew it was going to be a good day when I saw the keg on the front porch. I was right. Two TVs were set up to allow fans to watch with their own, but by halftime everyone was crowded into one room to cuss and cheer as the situation demanded. Auburn won.
The squirrel dumplings were great. That next year, it was announced that finally the University of Alabama would lower itself to visit Auburn and play the annual game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Daddy vowed that he would have to see it to believe it, so he upped his contribution to the Auburn Alumni Association, rose on the ticket list, and got us a couple for the big day.
I met him at the “loveliest village.” It was great. Auburn won. Daddy was so excited that rather than spend the night out at my buddy Jerry’s restored sharecroppers shack/hunting “lodge” north of town (complete with outhouse), he drove back home to Mama.
But I do not harbor similar expectations for this week’s game. Let me explain.
Auburn fans are natural pessimists. We come by it honestly. We have won only one national championship (as Alabama fans love to point out) and no sooner was it awarded than we were put on probation. (The day after that was done, I am told, a banner was hung across the street at Toomer’s Corner announcing “Auburn gives the world 15 minutes to get out of town.”)
Then, there was the 1993 undefeated season, where we did not have to wait for probation to take the bloom off the rose – we were on it already. And the 2004 undefeated season where some mystic BCS tribal calculus kept us out of a championship game that we “probably” would have won – maybe. So what are we to expect this year? Not much.
Alabama fans want to win to prove to themselves that all that money spent to hire a coach who could beat Auburn was not wasted.
Auburn wants to win to prove it was.
And if Auburn loses, Daddy and I will remind ourselves that it has been a good run, but it had to end sometime. And if Auburn wins, we will smile and then remind ourselves that it has been a good run but it will end sooner or later.
Because that is what real Auburn fans do. Pessimists. Remember?
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson teaches history at Jacksonville State University and is an op-ed and editorial writer for The Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.