Earlier this week, our AU football reporter, Jordan Hill, wrote a story detailing the many players and coaches over the years who’ve worn both red & black and orange & blue at different points in their careers.
He included this quote from Vince Dooley, who played at Auburn and coached at Georgia, about the late Pat Dye, who played at Georgia and coached at Auburn: “Pat has done a lot of things for Auburn, and I feel like I’ve been committed myself to Georgia. Still, we have two loves.”
As we wrap up another chapter in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry this weekend, I can understand how somebody could shift between two schools or two teams or especially two states. Like a lot of people, I grew up near the border of Alabama and Georgia, and in my life I have lived on both sides and worked on both sides, sometimes living on one side while at the same time working on the other.
It’s pretty simple: You go to the side of the line where you feel at home, where you find work that is meaningful, and where you can be with the ones you love and who love you. Oh, and you root for the teams that inspire you and who make you feel irrationally good when they win.
My parents both grew up in Georgia and graduated from UGA, but they settled down in Alabama, in Chambers County, and worked with college students, most of them who attended Auburn.
I went to school in Lanett, an Alabama town with West Point Pepperell mills that operated on Georgia time. When I started junior high school, I realized I needed a college football team, because all the other kids in my class had one. Alabama was the defending national champion, but Georgia had a freshman running back named Herschel Walker. I jumped on the band wagon, and the Bulldogs won the national championship.
Two years later, a couple of 18-year-old cartoon superheroes arrived on the Auburn campus 30 minutes from my house. One was named Bo Jackson, the other Charles Barkley.
One cold winter night after basketball practice, a friend asked me if I wanted to go to the Auburn basketball game with him and his dad, and so I did. I’ll never forget it. There was this kid who looked like a nose guard bouncing around like he had a secret trampoline under the court and dunking on Bobby Lee Hurt.
That was it. I was hooked on Auburn basketball. Then it was football season. Herschel had left Athens a year early to sign a big contract with Donald Trump’s USFL team. Goodbye Georgia Bulldogs, hello Auburn Tigers.
The friend’s dad who first took me to see Charles Barkley was Bill Bowling, a pharmacist and owner of Collins Drug Store in LaFayette, where we lived. I would drop by the drug store to talk football with Mr. Bill, who became my source for college recruiting news before there were websites or composite ratings for eighth graders.
I also started watching Auburn baseball. I’d go with my friends to watch Bo hit towering homers. I was going to say I also watched him break bats over his head at Auburn but maybe that came later. Were college teams using aluminum bats back then? Maybe Bo broke aluminum bats over his head. He could have done it. He could do anything.
Heading into my senior year of high school, I only applied to one college: Auburn.
Then on a whim I applied for an Army ROTC scholarship and got it, and then on another whim I applied to Vanderbilt after they’d already accepted their freshman class and somehow got in and decided to go there. My freshman year, I spent most fall Saturdays in the student center watching Auburn games on the big screen with the other Vandy kids who grew up rooting for Auburn.
Then life, as they say, happened. I was commissioned as an Army officer and moved to Germany. I also got married to a Tennessee girl with a double major in European history and fine arts, and so in Germany I spent more time touring cathedrals and castles than I did watching football.
Eventually, we returned to the states to attend graduate school. The best fit for us was the University of Georgia, so we moved to Athens. We felt like because we were returning to America, we could choose to become citizens of any state and receive full rights therein.
UGA had other ideas, and made us pay out-of-state tuition for about a year before we were deemed Georgia citizens.
That was a long time ago. After grad school, we denounced our Georgia citizenship and moved to Alabama and then to Tennessee, and then in 2001, right after 9/11, I took a job at the newspaper in Columbus, Ga., and we raised a family there.
In my mind, we were citizens of both Alabama and Georgia, frequently crossing the river for sporting events and to visit family and friends. But when our kids started applying to colleges, UGA was my first choice for them because of the HOPE scholarship, which pays 90% tuition to graduates of Georgia high schools with a B average, or full tuition to the really good students. (Out of four children, we had one really good student.)
Our first child, the only daughter and our really good student, went to UGA to become a teacher.
Our second child and oldest son had proclaimed since elementary school that he was going to go to Georgia Tech and be an engineer. But when we visited Tech, nobody appeared to be doing anything besides studying furiously – oh, and the football team wasn’t very good. He was heading to UGA too.
I suggested we take a look at Auburn, which had a more established engineering program, so we visited the campus where a tour guide told us the highlight of his college experience was playing Madden on the giant screen at Jordan-Hare Stadium. While at Auburn, I also spent time in the admissions and financial aid offices lobbying for a waiver of out-of-state tuition.
This was my pitch. No. 1: We live a couple of miles from the Chattahoochee River, so we’re practically citizens of Alabama. No. 2: I grew up in Alabama and would have no problem living there again. No. 3: I actually saw Bo Jackson and Charles Barkley play in sporting events on campus.
This was the answer: If you really believed in Auburn and loved it, you’d willingly pay us out-of-state tuition.
Oh, and don’t you guys have the HOPE scholarship over there? What in the world are you doing here?
That’s when I felt like a citizen of a state again, and maybe I don’t like feeling like that. Why can’t I just switch back and forth between the state of Alabama and the state of Georgia, or between AU and UGA?
Why can’t I be like Pat Dye or Vince Dooley or Nick Marshall or Mike Bobo or Demetris Robertson?
They went where they were wanted and needed, and you’ve got it love it.
Dimon Kendrick-Holmes is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. Email him at email@example.com