The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Kelly Kazek

November 26, 2011

Can Auburn-Alabama fans play nice?

— Last week when I was walking my beagle Lucy around our neighborhood, I noticed a home for sale. As I passed, I saw a fading decal on the mailbox, an elephant head and an iconic “A” for the University of Alabama. I had the thought: “That realtor really should remove that sticker or she might as well eliminate half the buying public.”

I shook my head at my own thought. Is the Alabama-Auburn rivalry really so bad that an Auburn fan wouldn’t buy a house because Alabama fans once lived in it?

The answer, for rational people, is no. But for that handful of haters, it could make a difference. I’ve heard the same about businesses named ’Bama-this or ’Bama-that.

Some Auburn fans won’t patronize them.

A few months ago, the national clothing chain Old Navy began airing a commercial that, as soon as I saw it, made me go: “Uh-oh.” Somebody obviously hadn’t done his marketing research on football in the South.

The commercial shows a group of Alabama fans having a game-day party and singing about how people can buy their college fanwear at Old Navy. Then a fan wearing an Auburn shirt arrives on a motorcycle, looking ridiculous in a Tiger costume. A kid in an Alabama shirt sings that the fan’s OK because he brought pizza.

My feeling of foreboding was correct. Soon, a Facebook page had been started called “Auburn Fans Boycott Old Navy Stores.” While it only garnered 561 fans, it illustrates the heart of a rivalry that, earlier this year, led to the felonious act of poisoning the iconic oak trees at Toomer’s Corner, which Auburn fans have a tradition of rolling with toilet paper after a win.

On the Boycott page, one fan wrote: “I think the commercial is a bit unrealistic … the Alabama fans all seem to have most if not ALL their teeth.”

Many people outside our beautiful state — and some inside it — would think that Alabamians take loyalty to a football team too far.

On Saturday morning, I watched a rerun of the ESPN movie “Roll Tide/War Eagle” about what has been called college football’s most intense rivalry. I’ve heard people say the film makes the entire state look bad, like a bunch of rednecks with nothing better to do than drink beer, watch football and curse the other team.

While I agree that it doesn’t make Alabamians look particularly intelligent, I do think the film gave a fair portrayal of the rivalry.

It makes people do crazy things.

I agree with the filmmakers that children here are “raised Auburn” or “raised Alabama.” Most babies born in the state have worn an Alabama or Auburn onesie before they ever leave the hospital. Some new parents carry it to extremes, naming their children or pets Bear, Aubie, Crimson, or Bama.

I have always pitied people with mixed marriages. The questions are endless: Do we exchange vows in the church of Auburn football or Alabama? Do we raise the children Roll Tide or War Eagle? Do we have separate Thanksgivings so we can do our pre-Iron Bowl trash-talk?

An old friend of mine from Auburn is in a mixed marriage. She was not a huge football fan and hadn’t been back to campus since 1989, so she let her husband take the reins in which “religion” to raise the children, a son and daughter. I told her, only half jokingly, “Look, the boy is a done-deal but you still have time to save the little one from the Dark Side.”

My friend and I returned to Auburn early in this football season and visited the dorms and apartments where she’d lived, took in a game and reveled in the traditions. A few weeks later, she took her entire family to a game so they could witness the traditions that make her love Auburn.

This, for me, is what college football is all about: the swell of pride you feel at the first strains of the fight song, the goosebumps raised when the Jumbotron flashes, “Protect this house!” and the welling of tears at the sight of a soaring eagle spiraling to the 50-yard-line.

I truly love my alma mater, and I am so proud my daughter now attends Auburn, but that love and pride are not based on football.

Win or lose, I am always an Auburn fan.

I think we Alabamians should think back to what we are taught as Southerners: “Be polite to your enemies.”

Will we talk behind their backs about how their dress was WA-A-AY to skanky for church? Of course.

We will enjoy it a little too much when their prized convertible gets scratched? Most definitely.

Will we give them a heads up that they have spinach stuck in their teeth at a public function? Not hardly.

But should we be the ones to scratch the car or take glee in their pain? Never. It just wouldn’t be Southern.

I’ve heard some people say after the poisoning of the Toomer’s oaks that the rivalry has gone too far and the Iron Bowl should be stopped.

That’s not going to happen, not only because of the huge losses of money it would mean for both colleges but because the majority of Alabamians want the Iron Bowl to continue.

But perhaps we learned a few things this year when Alabama fans raised money to help save the Toomer’s oaks and when Auburn fans went to Tuscaloosa in the aftermath of the deadly tornado that killed as many as 50 people there and devastated the college town.

People should come first; football second.

Take a hint from our Southern mothers: Be polite to your enemies.

Trash-talk them, sure, just not to their faces.

Wear your team shirt with pride, but don’t spit on theirs.

When it’s over, and you’ve won, be sure to say of the enemy, “Bless their little hearts.”

Everyone knows you don’t mean it in a good way, but at least you tried. At least you were civilized and, in this rivalry, that’s the best we can hope for.

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