Making Every Second Count

Last PageAn Auburn fan’s search for meaning.

By Bill Caton


After Auburn won the 2010 national championship, I stopped listening to sports talk radio.

It turned out to be a wonderful thing. I switched from sports to NP, where I heard a review of What Are Intellectuals Good For? by George Scialabba, read it, and then launched into the New York Intellectuals: Christopher Lasch, Philip Rieff, Richard Rorty, and others. I recently corresponded with Scialabba, and he sent me a daunting reading list.

So, my inability to listen as rednecks were baited into public humiliation led me on a search for something—anything—better. Perhaps I had to search for meaning after years of listening to those poor Alabama fans scream in horror at the suggestion of a blemish on their Crimson Tide, and the realization of the dark emptiness of their lives so tied to the vagaries of an athletic competition in which they are not involved.

I am hard-pressed to believe that even Lasch, Rieff, Rorty, or Scialabba, with their insightful ruminations on Freud, solidarity, plutocracy, consumerism, and the human condition as a whole, could readily explain the behavior that leads people to fight over fictional “national championships” and wear shirts extolling the virtue of a vandal who poisoned oak trees because Alabama’s football team lost to Auburn’s football team.

Just to be clear, I understand why a university, with its near insatiable desire for cash, would claim fictional national titles, but I do not understand why people so readily tie their self worth to such fiction.

Don’t think those national championships are only for marketing? In 1926, Alabama played Stanford to a tie in the Rose Bowl, but was named national champions by the Helms Athletic Foundation; in 1941, Alabama lost to Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, but the Houlgate Poll named them national champions (even though the AP had the team ranked 20th); in 1973, Alabama was named national champions before the Sugar Bowl, where they were beaten by Notre Dame. That led the Coaches Poll and the AP to stop handing out championships before bowl games.

Perhaps my revolt arises from a time when there was no Internet through which to spew vitriol, and there were no radio shows on which to scream insults—a time before ESPN and big money turned college football into a farm system for the NFL.

My journey with the Auburn-Alabama rivalry began long before my graduation from Auburn in 1980. My father and his cousin were the first in our family to graduate from college, explaining why a small group were the only non-Alabama fans in our clan.

I spent the first year of my life on the Plains before my father graduated in 1959. He would later tell the story, which mortified my mother, that I was first “thought of” after Auburn thrashed Alabama in the 1957 version of the Iron Bowl. I laughed it off until I did the math. Auburn and Alabama played on Nov. 30, 1957, and I was born at the end of August the following year.

The ensuing road, as Paul McCartney would say, has been long and winding. I remember the injustice of the uncalled holding as Kenny Stabler ran for a game-winning touchdown in the mud. My parents bought my brother and I jerseys, numbered 7 and 88, as Sullivan and Beasley electrified the faithful. And, of course, I remember “Punt, Bama, Punt.”

I remember the darkness of the nine in a row. And I remember Bo going “over the top.” I was in Jordan-Hare in 1989 when an undefeated Alabama team found out that home-and-home does not mean that all games are played at a “neutral site” with a statue of the opposing team’s legendary coach standing guard at the entrance. (By the way, Auburn leads the series since the game moved from Legion Field.)

But mostly I remember going to Auburn with my parents on beautiful fall Saturdays, spreading a blanket on the ground and eating sandwiches or cold fried chicken before attending the game. The games were played in the afternoon, and you either watched them live or listened on the radio. It was all in good fun, and it was about family, and competition, and a wonderful institution of higher learning.

I find life’s meaning in many places. And I know that Auburn fans write comments on the Internet and call radio stations. I know that Alabama fans really are good people. I believe that Rorty is correct when he says our greatest goal should be to eliminate cruelty.

So, with apologies to Rorty, here’s the deal: I went to school at Auburn, where I earned the journalism degree that allows me to have access to space like this. And I get to write: 34-28.

War Damn Eagle.

One Response to “Making Every Second Count”

  1. Todd Caton says:


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