By Sean Dietrich

Pensacola—A sports bar. The Auburn Tigers were playing the Virginia Cavaliers, and I was the only person in the place not wearing orange and blue.
I am not an Auburn man. I root for the Crimson Tide. My mother roots for the Tide. You cannot change horses this late in life.
Even so, when the Tigers made Final Four basketball history, my Auburn friends lost their minds and nearly set fire to their own hair.
Because that’s how Auburn Tigers are.
One of my Auburn friends called me to say: “I don’t care who your team is, if you don’t come watch the Tigers with me you are a heartless sinner who drinks sugarless iced tea and doesn’t love the Lord.”
Message received. So there we were.
The television above the bar played the game. I sat beside two older women from Mobile. Both had white hair. Both sipped from wine glasses and wore Auburn colors.
“We’ve been friends since high school,” Carol said. “We even finish each other’s sentences.”
“I was gonna say the same thing,” Marie said.
They cackled. They toasted their glasses.
Marie is an Auburn graduate, and she warned me that if I divulged their ages, I would be singing soprano for the rest of my life.
They have a lot in common. Carol lost her husband some years ago from prostate cancer. Marie lost her husband nine months later from pancreatic cancer.
“I never cared for sports,” Marie said. “It was always my husband who liked them.”
“Same here,” Carol added.
But that changed when their husbands died. Both admit that after the shock wore off, it felt like a vital routine was missing in life. The world was different without their husbands’ tailgating trips to Jordan-Hare stadium, or games blaring on TV.
“Yeah,” Marie said. “I just missed John so bad, I had to do something to keep him alive.”
She decided to carry the torch he left behind.
“I remember when Carol and I went to our first game by ourselves. It was weird, we were pretty confused. I mean, I knew how football was scored, kinda, but I didn’t know much.”
They paid a pretty penny for tickets, they road-tripped together. They tailgated with friends from Opelika. They fought massive crowds. They got a little rowdy.
Because that’s how Auburn Tigers are.
“It was emotional,” Marie said. “I was wearing John’s Auburn T-shirt, it still smelled like him. I mean, how can I get excited when he’s not here? It was hard.”
“Yeah,” Carol said.
They became silent. They turned their attention toward the TV.
Carol went on to say that they eventually got swept away by the enthusiasm in the stadium. Soon they were cheering with thousands. They laughed. They screamed. They forgot all about their wounds.
“It was great,” Carol said. “I’ll never forget when we won, Marie and I just hugged each other and jumped up and down.”
“Yeah,” Marie said. “Carol’s head bumped me and I thought I broke my jaw. It took months to heal.”
And amidst that college arena of orange and blue, they cried. Hard.
“I still haven’t washed that shirt,” Marie saod. “But the smell is fading, I can’t stand it, I’m not ready.”
“Yeah,” Carol said.
We were interrupted. Auburn scored. Virginia scored. The bar went crazy.
“War Eagle!” Carol shouted.
Auburn scored again. The Tigers were fighting tooth and nail, and I’ll be dogged if I wasn’t cheering for them.
Marie laughed. “We might make a War-Eagle man outta you yet.”
Let’s not get carried away.
Soon, the women were out of control. They were high-fiving, applauding, chest-bumping, and shouting. But the elation was short. Auburn lost. The wind was taken out of the sails. Virginia was victorious and nobody was happy. Not even me.
I might not be an Auburn fan, but the Auburn boys made me proud that night.
The bar started to empty. The mood of the patrons had dimmed. Even the bartender was distraught.
“Oh well,” Carol said. “There’s always next year, right?”
“Right,” Marie said. “I’m not disappointed, because like my husband used to say, ‘Auburn’s so good, we only need one second to win.’”
They gathered their things, they slung purses over shoulders. We shook hands. And two white-haired women walked out the door.
They are friends. They are fans. They’ve walked through hell, and they’ve done it together. They miss the men they loved. They miss the lives they built.
But they are not sad people. Not in the least. They are strong. They are cheerful. They are proud. And even though last night wasn’t their night, they left with smiles intact and heads held high.
That’s how Auburn Tigers are.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, the Tallahassee Democrat, Southern Magazine, Yellowhammer News, the Bitter Southerner, the Mobile Press Register and he has authored seven books.


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