Sweet Home Auburn-Bama
A man walks into an Irish Pub in New York City.
Joey Taylor is an Auburn University Alumni, following in the footsteps of his parents, his grandfather, and his great grandfather. After spending most of his life living in the south and spending five years at Auburn, Taylor moved up to the big city to work on his Master’s of Music Performance at Juilliard.
“So being in New York, and being kind of all alone up here, I didn’t have any friends coming up.” Taylor discovered shortly after that the city had an Auburn Club, consisting mainly of Alumni and general fans of the the team that met at an Irish Pub, St. Pat’s Bar & Grill.
Taylor tells the story of the bar. Started by a small group of Irish immigrants, the owners of “Pat’s” wanted to discuss and understand the long-standing tradition of American football. They were told, “Oh man, well if you’ve never been to an American football game, you got to you got to come to an Auburn football game.” Their first experience with Auburn football left them so enamored with the sport and the team that they completely decked out the second floor of the restaurant in orange and blue, banners on every wall and reserve the second floor for Auburn fans every Saturday.
“I went to watch the Texas A&M game at that bar two years ago… I didn’t know anybody there. I went by myself.” Even so, Taylor walked in and took a seat next to random strangers.
They mention to him that they had also gone to Auburn and suddenly, he was no longer a stranger in the city. “Immediately, I had a friend and now I know them and I hang out with them in the city. I see them every Auburn game up here when we watch on the TV.”
“Sometimes watching the game is about as close as I can get to getting home,”
says Reginald Swain, born and raised in Talladega, Ala., and now a husband and father in Rock Hill, S.C.
As a boy, Swain recalls his first introduction to the college football teams.
“To be honest, it was something that I kind of fell into. I just started to follow them because I can remember one year, when I was in the sixth grade. I had heard some of the kids talking about the ball game. Some of them were Alabama fans. Some of them were Auburn fans. This has happened to be the year, I think the ‘71 year where there was a game called the “Punt ‘Bama Punt” game where Alabama had a couple of punts blocked, Auburn scored touchdowns and Auburn wound up winning that ball game. Even though Auburn beat Alabama, I kind of found myself leaning more towards the Crimson Tide, I guess primarily because I remember the Bear Bryant show.”
Swain goes on to discuss the energy behind the late University of Alabama football coach and his impact on the sport and the school combined.
“Not just for his coaching style, but primarily because of how he helped desegregate the Alabama football team, and how he eventually was able to get black players onto the ballclub or to enter the school to play football, because at that time, there weren’t any blacks on the team… But I would guess perhaps my favorite era may have been during the Bear years there, when Bear Bryant was coach.”
He inches forward in his seat, laughing, the excitement rolling in his voice as he continues to recall his experience with old games. “You had commentators like Keith Jackson. And he would call some of the Bama games and he would say something like ‘a big game today’s game between the LSU Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide!’” Swain barrels out his best Jackson impression. “You knew he was calling the game and that was a pretty big game when he was calling.” He talks about Eli Gold, the play-by-play announcer on the Alabama radio network, “he does a lot of neat stuff too.” Swain leans in, smiling, almost as if speaking into the microphone himself as he mimics Gold’s announcing, “here comes the kick! Alabama’s gettin even here folks. There goes the kick! And Jackson’s got the ball! Takes it to the 30! Oh, the 40! Oh! Here’s a big run! No one’s gonna catch him!” he throws his arms up in the air, “Touch down Eddie Jackson! Touch down! TOUCH DOWN ALABAMA!”
Whether it’s over the radio or in the stadium, the state of Alabama roars loud over their college football.
“Okay, so cheering on a team,” says Taylor, who has gone to four Iron Bowl’s in person, “your team scores and everyone goes crazy. Doing that with 10 of your closest friends super special. Doing it with 80,000 people cheering alongside you is completely a completely indescribable experience.”
Across the past decade, Auburn’s stadium has been known as the most difficult place for visiting teams to play. “We have one of the most stacked homefield advantages of any team in sports and it’s largely because of the fans. The noise we create,” says Taylor. “Shit, you can pull up a dozen interviews of other coaches saying , ‘Oh, yeah, you know, it was really hard to play in their stadium this weekend because the fans were so loud it was making it difficult for us to communicate on the fields’ or you know, when you’re a player, and you can’t hear the snap count or anything because like everyone in the stadium is going so crazy… Being able to stand in the middle of all that?”
“You can feel the hair on your arms vibrating from all the sound”
Out of the stands, Taylor played for the Auburn Marching Band for three years.
“Anyone who goes to an Auburn game is a part of game day. But to be part of it in like a more formal sense? You have a role in the day- it was really, really special because the games are special to a lot of people. So to be part of the production of that is really cool.” He goes on to elaborate the art of a musician and the goal of fulfilling people. “It’s funny that, I mean, even playing in marching band, which like I think most musicians would agree is not the most musically fulfilling experience as a player, it’s still scratches that itch of using your music to enrich people.”
“You’re super visible on game days,” says Taylor. The precision and preparation that goes into performing for college football is one that requires close attention, rigorous training and high expectations. He describes the two weeks in the summer in which they train from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. “You know Alabama in August.” But it is worth it. The sweat, the pain, the rehearsal- all adds up to creating something special.
“We’re not doing it just to do it. We’re doing it because we represent something bigger than ourselves. We represent the Auburn band, which is bigger than itself, you know, we’re representing the school.”
“That’s why I think college football is so different than NFL, because you’re a fan of your college team because you went there, and that place is special to you. The memories you have there are special to you… So it’s like, when when you’re representing something like that, it’s kind of a sacred thing to a lot of people.”
Where professional football is almost celebrity-based, college football represents a proximity to the people who enjoy it.
“It’s not quite as stiff or stoic as some of the pros can be,” agrees Swain “In college football, where it’s a lot of the atmosphere, it’s kinda like going to some of the high school ball games, you know? They’re just really interesting and it has an atmosphere that pro football can’t even think of coming close to.” Swain is not only an Alabama fan but a long-time Cowboys fan. He notes, “if I had the option to go to either a Cowboys game or a Bama game, shoot, I’d take the Bama game. It’s just a different kind of game.”
For some, the game is just a game, for most the games are life. They are a representation of home, family and community that knows no bounds to show support for this ecosystem of inexplicable energy.
For Swain, it’s as simple as watching TV in the living room or calling his daughter and her boys. “Sometimes they’ll call me or I’ll call them,” he recalls waking up his grandson when he was little, “Wake up, coach. You can’t go to sleep tonight. We got to call the game!” He chuckles to himself and talks about the smile that grows on his face when he sees his daughters wear their Alabama gear, “I painted up sweat-hoods for us, you know, with the Bama A? I painted ’em up and gave it to them and they wear ’em and I just smile.”
For Taylor, it’s a promise. “So I told you, my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents all went to Auburn. It’s really special to all of us, both because of the place itself and because of the family legacy. And my granddad really, really loved it. Later in life, he couldn’t speak very well. He had a few strokes that left him unable to communicate, he couldn’t really speak in full sentences. But when I talked about Auburn football with him, that was when I could tell that he was really all there. He was able to say and more than ‘yes and no.’ He’d say, you know, ‘Damn, how about those Tigers’ and so, knowing how special it was to him, in 2019, my granddad had died the summer before. And I carried some of his like ashes in a bag in my pocket to that game. And when we won, we stormed the field. I went out and I put some of his ashes on the 50 yard line, because I know if there’s any place he want to be, you know, for all times symbolically, that it would be right there in the Auburn stadium.”
College football has a way of bringing people together in a way that no other sport, even professional football, can. There are roots, branches, even leaves that might fly far away but still hold pride to their original grounds. It is a culture that is alive and thriving and standing firm in spite of the constant change of the world around it. A person, who was just a person, is suddenly connected to you because of a familiar logo or colors on a jacket. A decal on a car is now a symbol of similarity to a stranger.
“Roll tide!” “War Damn Eagle!” Battle cries and fight songs. These are the words on the walls of countless households of people who see more than a game, they see home.