Auburn’s Man

“I’m Auburn’s BIGGEST FAN!” he says.

In honor of college football season, I want to tell you about the biggest SEC football fan I know. He lives in Monroeville, Alabama, which is your quintessential all-American town. Walk the square and take a trip backward on the timeline. Drive around town. You’ll see barbecue joints, a Piggly Wiggly, a Sonic, a world-famous courthouse.

And you might see Kenny.

Kenny is late-forties. He lives in the upstairs bedroom of his parents’ house. A little about him: Kenny likes dogs, people, food, singing, sports, and hugging anyone within a six-foot radius.

Kenny has Down syndrome. There is a touch of gray on his temples. His face has smile-lines. And, if Kenny were to ever donate blood, doctors would discover he bleeds orange and blue.

He is an Auburn University fanatic.

“I’m Auburn’s BIGGEST FAN!” he says.

There’s no doubt. He gives me the dime tour of his bedroom—a shrine to the Tigers.

There are seventeen thousand orange ballcaps adorning his walls. Bo Jackson autographs, Gus Malzahn posters, stuffed tigers, eagle figurines, and Shug Jordan coffee mugs.

During the tour, Kenny breaks into spontaneous song:

“WAR EAGLE! Fearless and true,
“Fight on, you orange and blue…”

He finishes his performance by hugging me. Kenny gives good hugs.

In the corner is an Auburn Christmas tree, weighted with orange ornaments—he keeps it up year round. Auburn bedspreads, throw rugs, drapes, pillows, light-switch covers.

“When we first had Kenny,” says his father. “Doctors told us our baby had issues. Told us we’d better let him go and institutionalize him.”

Kenny’s father informed the doctor they would do no such thing. Instead, the family built their world around the new baby. They loved him.

“Raising him was the big blessing of our life,” says Kenny’s father. “We were never alone, that’s part of life in a small town. You’re never alone. This community raised Kenny with us.”

Kenny spent twenty years finishing school. His teachers supported him. His peers adored him. Ask around, everybody and their mother’s cousin’s aunt loves Kenny.

After Kenny finished high school, he took a job at McDonald’s. He worked as a custodian and greeter for twenty-three years. This is where he became famous. There aren’t many people in town who don’t know him. That’s twenty-three years of grins, Auburn chants, broom-pushing, laughing, and spontaneous hugs.

He retired a few years ago.

“Yeah, I know Kenny,” says one local man. “Who doesn’t? He’s a fixture in our town. Used’a walk into McDonald’s and he’d greet you and give you a big ‘War eagle!’ Sometimes he’d be the only hug I got all day.”

Before my tour ends, Kenny digs through a shoebox. The box is filled with Auburn pins and buttons. He gives me a parting gift—a tiger-shaped lapel pin.

We hug again. And again. And one last time for good measure.

Then, I remove my hat. I ask if Kenny will sign the bill of my ballcap, which bears the autographs of a few baseball greats, and some others I’ve met.

Kenny’s happy to oblige. He grabs a pen. In over-sized letters he writes: K-E-N-N-Y over the name of a well-known short stop.

“My autograph’s worth a LOT of money than his,” Kenny remarks. “I guarantee you.”

He admires his handiwork and grins. Then, he sings in a quiet voice:

“War Eagle, fearless and true,”
“Fight on, you orange and blue,
“Go! Go! Go!
“On to vict’ry, strike up the band.
“Give ’em hell, give ’em hell…”

Then, we hug. This time it’s a long hug.

Kenny whispers into my ear. “We’re friends now. You can write about me in your book or whatever.”

We shake on it.

“Don’t forget,” he says. “War eagle. Everyday.”

I won’t forget, Kenny.

28 comments

  1. Sonny Greene - September 2, 2019 4:26 am

    Kenny sounds like a great Auburn Man! Thanks for sharing his story with us Sean. I’ll bet he enjoyed the opening game against Oregon as much as I did.

    War Eagle Kenny!

    Sonny Greene

    Reply
  2. Phil Blackwell - September 2, 2019 4:38 am

    Thank you so much for reprinting the story of AU’s biggest fan! Not trying to start anything but if Kenny watched the first half of Saturday’s game and was not rooting for Gus Malzahn’s termination during halftime, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!

    God Bless you, Kenny, and thanks for coaching our boys up in the second half!

    Reply
  3. Cathi Russell - September 2, 2019 4:43 am

    Kenny, you’re my kinda man! War Eagle! And thanks for sharing your new friend with us, Sean!

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  4. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - September 2, 2019 4:59 am

    This is such a good story. My little town of Weaver had a man named Tim Lee who was Down Syndome too and he was a big Bama fan. He passed away this year and we renamed Main Street for him. He was a blessing to our little town.

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  5. Steve - September 2, 2019 6:01 am

    In my life experience, 50 plus years now, I have never met anyone with Down’s who wasn’t the sweetest, kindest, happiest most joyful person you’ll find. And yes, they love to hug because they love everybody. Doctors need to find that DNA strand that’s responsible for all that love and give it to everybody. There would be World Peace.

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  6. Elizabeth - September 2, 2019 11:31 am

    Nice to meet you Kenny!

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  7. Ann - September 2, 2019 11:41 am

    Beautiful!❤️

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  8. Mary J Rouse - September 2, 2019 12:40 pm

    Great story about Kenny. I have worked with folks like him for many years. They are some of God’s best handiwork.

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  9. Dianne - September 2, 2019 1:18 pm

    Kenny and Sean………thank you for sharing this wonderful and heartwarming story about Auburn’s biggest fan. I’m sure there are a lot of people who have been hugged by Kenny that didn’t get a hug at all that day. Everyone needs a hug!!! WARRRRRR EAGLE, Kenny and Sean!!

    Reply
  10. Keloth Anne - September 2, 2019 1:19 pm

    Thank you for introducing us to Kenny 🧡🦅💙
    War Eagle!!!

    Reply
  11. Mignon Croft Watson - September 2, 2019 1:23 pm

    Kenny is my nephew. He is adored by and loved deeply all our family and all who know him. God was so gracious to give us Kenny Croft.

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  12. Marilyn - September 2, 2019 1:23 pm

    Love the story!

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  13. June - September 2, 2019 2:35 pm

    Great job Kenny! War Eagle!!!

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  14. Edna B. - September 2, 2019 2:58 pm

    This is a wonderful story. It makes the heart smile You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

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  15. Sarah Dyess - September 2, 2019 3:10 pm

    Kenny was all smiles at Monroeville First United Methodist Church yesterday ~ greeting us as we came through the door, with high fives & War Eagles! He might not have been as happy if the game had a different ending, but he would have still been pulling for his team ~ ready for a win next week! Along with many of us, the Croft family are Sean Dietrich fans, too! I believe that Kenny has an AU straw hat presented to him by Sean during a Monroeville visit . . . Yes, Auburn & Alabama fans can get along!

    Reply
  16. Pat - September 2, 2019 3:19 pm

    Beautiful story! Down’s children and adults are typically very sweet and caring people. This story reminds me of friends who had a son with Down’s syndrome and a BIG Auburn fan! And as in Monroeville, everyone loved and knew him!

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  17. Linda Moon - September 2, 2019 3:45 pm

    “In small town life and in rural life you know your neighbors.” Harper Lee said this about Monroeville, Alabama. Truman Capote was her neighbor, and as most readers know, they became childhood friends. Kenny is a grand part of that town’s story, along with Scout and Jem! We have a “Kenny” is our family, and everybody loves him. I’m glad Kenny gave you permission to write about him, because now I love him, too. And you have my permission to tell him that!!

    Reply
  18. Alan Ward - September 2, 2019 4:17 pm

    I’ve known Kenny all my life. We attended the same church and even Monroe County HS at the same time. I returned to Monroeville after living in Atlanta for 20 years and when I ran in the local McDonald’s for some fries, there was Kenny. He remembered me and of course offered me a “Welcome back” hug. I was honored. Sweet Kenny!!!

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  19. Sarah Heaton - September 2, 2019 4:22 pm

    I was privileged to be the school secretary during Kenny’s attendance. I had not seen much since my retirement until recently. I was in a Dr office in Mobile and as I began to sit down I see a young man coming to me and I said “WAR EAGLE”. I got a high-five and the hug of a lifetime!!! Love you, Kenny.

    Reply
  20. Shelton A. - September 2, 2019 7:29 pm

    Really a good one…thanks!

    Reply
  21. Tim House - September 2, 2019 7:41 pm

    I remember reading about Kenny, and seeing him on the news when he retired. Good story!

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  22. Chasity Davis Ritter - September 2, 2019 8:50 pm

    God Bless Kenny and his parents and you too Sean.

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  23. Denise - September 2, 2019 10:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing this story Sean , and War Eagle Kenny!

    Reply
  24. Cathy Moss - September 2, 2019 10:50 pm

    This my be my favorite out of all the many that I have loved and passed on to others. I am blessed with eight wonderful grandchildren. My youngest son and his wonderful wife have three children and their youngest has Downs. He had a rough start but after a total of 12 weeks in the hospital and more prayers than I could begin to count, we brought him home. I never dreamed that one little baby could bring so much love and joy to a family. We are better people because of him. No doubt about it. God bless Kenny, his family and all the sweet people in Monroeville who have loved him. Let me also say that I bet Kenny is not the kind of fan who wanted another coach in the first half of the game Sat. Nite. He hangs with them through thick and thin. We need more Kenny’s in the Auburn family. Thanks for a wonderful message. Happy Labor Day, Sean. ❤️🙏🏻🦇

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  25. Sharon Foster - September 3, 2019 1:30 am

    Dear Sean, I’ve only recently become one of your fans and hate that I’m late to the game. Somehow found and read “Stars of Alabama” which I loved. I love your daily posts but this one really hit home because I’m a War Eagle as well as a Harper Lee fanatic. Have yet to visit Monroeville but on my bucket list. I live in central FL but have a home in east TN close to family as well.

    Reply
  26. Sallie Alston - September 3, 2019 1:40 am

    Sean, it is good to read heart-warming, small town, Auburn loving, people stories rather than all the bad things we hear on the news….Yes, we need to hear from more Kenny’s and Sean’s. WARRRRR Eagle.

    Reply
  27. Cathy Weaver - September 3, 2019 6:02 am

    Kenny is the epitome of the Auburn Creed.
    War Eagle, forever!

    Reply
  28. Mary Ellen Hall - September 10, 2019 12:35 pm

    K-E-N-N-Y!!!💙💙💙AN ABSOLUTE BLESSING!!!💚

    Reply

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