For those of you who are not college football fans, and for those who are but who were not cheering for Auburn University on Jan. 10, allow me a brief indulgence while I reflect upon my recent trip to the BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz.
If you don’t follow the game, it’s true: the university famously referred to by the late, great Paul “Bear” Bryant as “that cow college on the other side of the state” made it to the big show, and they won the grand prize. I’ll spare you the play-by-play and players’ statistics, as I’m sure anyone who cares enough knows the score by now.
Suffice it to say that a team that began the season ranked No. 22 in the nation finished at No. 1, with a Lombardi Award winner on defense and a Heisman Trophy winner on offense, bringing home a national championship for the first time since 1957.
But as I stood there in the cavernous University of Phoenix Stadium, watching the winning field goal sail through the uprights, it wasn’t so much football that was foremost of my mind. Surrounded by fellow Auburn fans that appeared to greatly outnumber those from the University of Oregon, I felt a swelling sense of pride for the school that enabled me to make something of my life, and for the town that has been home to me and my family for the past 30 years.
Perhaps it is true that too much emphasis is placed on college football today, sometimes to the detriment of a school’s academic reputation. But for many, including myself, football was the starting point, marking my first identification with the school.
If you’re from Alabama, then you know that from an early age, you must take sides — either you’re for Auburn University, or you’re for the University of Alabama. There’s no fence-sitting, you pick a side and you stay with it — War Eagle or Roll Tide. As a young boy, I sat glued to the radio on Saturday afternoons, memorizing the players’ names and re-enacting the great plays as I imagined they had occurred. Even though Auburn was just a short drive down the road from my hometown of Lanett, it seemed at the time to be a world away.
Eventually, I learned that true allegiance to a university doesn’t lie solely in a passion for its football team. It lies in the feeling that the university nurtured you and helped you to realize your goals and aspirations. Auburn University did that for me, a wide-eyed kid from a cotton mill town who was mostly lost and confused during his first few months on campus, but who came to feel safe and cared for within the confines of “the loveliest village.”
Auburn has always made me proud. Whenever I go to a field day or commodity conference and see that the presenter has credentials from Auburn, I feel as if that person is part of an extended family. And whenever I wear the school colors, whether I’m in New York City, Mexico, or a tiny farming town in south Alabama, someone invariably greets me with a familiar “War Eagle!”
When I arrived at Auburn in the fall of 1977, orientation consisted of all first-quarter freshmen gathering in the student union, and led by the legendary Dean of Students James E. Foy, learning the “War Eagle” cheer and the Auburn Creed. Whether or not you swear allegiance to Auburn University, I think you’ll agree these are words to live by:
The Auburn Creed
I believe that this is a practical world and that I can count only on what I earn. Therefore, I believe in work, hard work.
I believe in education, which gives me the knowledge to work wisely and trains my mind and my hands to work skillfully.
I believe in honesty and truthfulness, without which I cannot win the respect and confidence of my fellow men.
I believe in a sound mind, in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid, and in clean sports that develop these qualities.
I believe in obedience to law because it protects the rights of all.
I believe in the human touch, which cultivates sympathy with my fellow men and mutual helpfulness and brings happiness for all.
I believe in my Country, because it is a land of freedom and because it is my own home, and that I can best serve that country by “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God.”
And because Auburn men and women believe in these things, I believe in Auburn and love it.
-George Petrie (1945)