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,” said Carol. “We even finish each other’s sentences.”
“I was gonna say the same thing,” said Marie.
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,” said Marie. “It was always my husband who liked them.”
“Same here,” added Carol.
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,” said Marie. “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,” said Marie. “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,” said Carol.
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,” said Carol. “I’ll never forget when we won, Marie and I just hugged each other and jumped up and down.”
“Yeah,” said Marie. “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,” said Marie. “But the smell is fading, I can’t stand it, I’m not ready.”
“Yeah,” said Carol.
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,” said Carol. “There’s always next year, right?”
“Right,” said Marie. “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.
Susan Hammett Poole - April 8, 2019 6:37 am
WAR DAMN EAGLE!!!
Sam W. Keenon - April 13, 2019 1:10 am
The world knows who the best team in the tournament was and it wasn’t Virginia
Denise - April 8, 2019 8:14 am
Touching story Sean. Thank you and War Eagle!
George - April 8, 2019 9:17 am
War Eagle, Sean! It was a heartbreaker but we made it to the Final Four and were robbed by a non-call. Thanks for writing something nice about my Alma Mater.
Debbie Phillips Hughett - April 8, 2019 9:32 am
❤ this from a Bama fan.
Sandi in FL. - April 8, 2019 9:50 am
I had a brother-in-law who graduated from Auburn University, and he made a loyal Auburn fan out of my sister, as you can read from the very first comment on this specific post!
GaryD - April 8, 2019 10:14 am
Yes, we know how Auburn Tigers are…..Roll Tide!?
Cathi - April 8, 2019 10:38 am
Exactly! And this won’t be our last trip to the Final Four. War Damn Eagle! (and go Red Raiders tonight!)
Camille - April 8, 2019 10:59 am
W A R D A M N E A G L E~ FOREVER!
Carolyn Allen - April 8, 2019 11:12 am
Sean, thanks for letting yourself get “caught up” in the great Auburn spirit if only for a few minutes.
We had a dream of a season for sure. The great
Bruce Pearl and this great team did something no other Auburn team has ever done…made it to the final 4…WOW, what about that! Can’t wait till next year. WAR EAGLE‼️
Karen - April 8, 2019 11:12 am
The Crimson Tide is my team, but I was cheering for Auburn that night. It really did feel like that outcome was unfair, and I felt that loss was brutal for them. My son-in-law flew to Minnesota for that game, by himself. He normally would have gone with his father, but we lost him just after Thanksgiving. Because you are right – that’s how Auburn fans are. Thank you, Sean.
Elaine B. Davis - April 8, 2019 11:18 am
Thank you, Sean, for telling it like you see it. War Eagle!
Amy - April 8, 2019 11:53 am
I’m so happy you’re not “a heartless sinner who drinks sugarless iced tea and doesn’t love the Lord.” 😉
~Amy, ’94, ’96
Cleo Goddard - April 9, 2019 8:11 pm
Great article, Sean of the South! We love you! War Eagle, too!
Bill - April 8, 2019 11:55 am
This is one of your best, Sean! War Eagle forever! The great Lewis Grizzard, who was a huge GA Dawgs fan, wrote a very touching tribute to Auburn. Read it if you haven’t. You will like it. I think you two are soul brothers.
Phillip Saunders. - April 8, 2019 12:09 pm
Thanks, Sean. Believe me, I know it must have been difficult to write good things about one’s bitterest rival, but you did it with your usual style and grace. Yep, us tiger fans are agonizing over that game, but guess what! Yep, it’s just a game, and life goes on. I met two lady Florida fans a few years back at an Auburn football game who were like Marie and Carol. They said they travel together by themselves to all the Gator games. Their car and themselves were all decked out in that faded blue and orange and the cartoon lizard picture, but they were having a blast.
Like the Virginia folks said after last year’s loss, “We’ll get ’em next year!” Now, look where the Cavaliers are.
Phil, AU class of ’68
June - April 8, 2019 1:01 pm
Although they lost – WAR EAGLE!!!
Jan - April 8, 2019 1:05 pm
Thank you, Sean! Funny how this AU team and their run through this season has brought AU people and so many of their Bama friends & family together to pull in the same direction. I bleed orange and blue as do my three sons (who all graduated from AU) and most of my family. We have a few Bama folks who married into the family and we try hard to be nice to each other when it comes to our favorite teams. They were all pulling for Auburn and I do appreciate that!
War Eagle Forever!!!
Toni M Martin - April 8, 2019 1:23 pm
What a perfect picture of friendship! Thank you for sharing, I am positive the Auburn Nation is proud!
Keloth Anne - April 8, 2019 1:28 pm
It was wonderful ??
So proud of them??
Thank you for another great post!!
War Eagle ??
Dianne - April 8, 2019 1:46 pm
War Eagle!!!!! Yes, our family was so disappointed that Auburn lost, but this team accomplished something no other Auburn basketball team has done….EVER!!! We are so proud of them, proud of Coach Pearl, and proud of the Auburn spirit that is always present!! Auburn will be back again!! Of that I am sure!!
Jeff Corkran - April 8, 2019 1:49 pm
I know what you mean. As a Bama grad, I naturally root for the Tide, as well. But when Bama is out of the running, and it is Auburn’s first trip to the Final Four, I feel an obligation to support the Tigers. Having attended Bama in the Bear years, I think I was a junior before I realized Bama even had a basketball team — everything was football at the time. My brother is an Auburn fan, a condition that must be a genetic defect. In any case, the Tigers put up a helluva fight!
Marcie - April 8, 2019 2:04 pm
Sean, I’m in the process of reading all your books on my Kindle, thanks to your generous “free download” offer ?. Love them – thank you. As far as I’m concerned, you have a standing invitation to be Auburn’s official UA tiger. War Eagle ?
Edna B. - April 8, 2019 2:53 pm
I’m not a football fan, but my children are so I sort of get carried away with their enthusiasm when there’s a game on the TV. I enjoyed today’s story. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Charaleen Wright - April 8, 2019 3:30 pm
Shelton A. - April 8, 2019 3:52 pm
I pulled for UVA…and I’m a die-hard Tar Heel fan. But I was proud how Virginia held the ACC flag and will pull for them against Texas Tech. It feels weird but and okay weird, I know Auburn and Tide fans…I’m very proud of you for pulling for the Tigers.
HJ Patterson - April 8, 2019 4:09 pm
The foul was legit and so was the double dribble but what’s most important is the way Coach Pearl and the players handled their post game comments. That’s what Auburn is all about Charlie Brown.
Mary DeBell - April 8, 2019 4:54 pm
Amen! War Eagle!
Ala Red Clay Girl - April 8, 2019 5:06 pm
Yeah, it was a disappointment, but I’m still proud of what Auburn accomplished this season. Obviously as an AU grad, I pull for the Tigers first, but I root for Bama (when they’re not playing Auburn), and any SEC team that is in a championship game situation. Thanks for this post. WAR EAGLE!
Julia Rogers - April 8, 2019 6:15 pm
So proud of our Auburn basketball boys and Coach Pearl and other coaches. They played a wonderful game plays weren’t called but we hold our head high and as a fan the Auburn Family KNOWS who won that game. Wonderful season still praying for SHUMA OKEKE.
Martha - April 8, 2019 6:37 pm
Love your story of the AU ladies! I’m not an Auburn fan either, RTR fan, but reading your story, I could be a fan of theirs for that night too! Hope they have many more years together as AU fans!
Barbara Mc - April 8, 2019 7:42 pm
This is why I love to read articles from this die hard Bama fan. Thanks! So proud of our team!!
War Eagle!! Auburn ’74
Lucy Lewis - April 8, 2019 8:17 pm
War Eagle! Love you, Sean. Because that’s how Auburn Tigers are.
Kay Keel - April 8, 2019 10:55 pm
I’m a Bama fan, but since Auburn made it to Sweet 16, I’ve been pulling for them hard. Sure wish they’d brought that Championship trophy to our great state! Ware Eagle anyway!
Jack Darnell - April 9, 2019 4:33 am
Okay, that is one reason there are sports fans. I assume there are others.. I reckon it i had not been a drop out and had found a college interesting I would be the school’s team fan, but so far that ain’t happened. Most likely I would have picked a school whose team sucked. BUT, and that is a big BUT, these girls have my respect. I love ’em. Now go to bed!
From NC, Sherry and jack……thanks.
Sharon Hand - April 9, 2019 6:26 pm
Nope. Not going to say it. My late sister was a huge fan of the Crimson Tide(she was a graduate). ROLL TIDE!!!
Susan - April 10, 2019 4:23 am
That’s right! We are!!! I love Auburn and have for over 50 years! Hard to believe. I attended college there and loved the campus, the professors, my friends and also met my future husband there! Good memories!!!
Mary Lee - April 10, 2019 11:25 pm
I wish Auburn had gone all the way but they did get beat by the best of the best! Doesn’t get much better!
Debbie - May 9, 2019 10:16 am
War Eagle! No other feeling like that Eagle swooping down on the field. Of course it was basketball and the Eagle wasn’t present, but proud of my Tigers. I’m a graduate of the UA. Loved that team when I was young. Then 2 of my children graduated from AU and I had an opportunity to visit the AU campus. Fell in love with the large university with a small town feel. Nothing like AU fans. You can’t explain it to other universities. I’ve been in Hawaii and Central Park and my husband’s AU cap illicits War Eagle ? every where we go. Thankful I was first generation to graduate from college. My grandma couldn’t read or write. But thankful the love I have for sports is with the AU Tigers! Nothing like it.