Thursday, October 13, 2011
When Florida and Auburn take the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium at 7:00 PM EST
on Saturday, prepare for another drama-filled, barn-burner of a contest. Over the years, this rivalry has evolved into one of the most evenly-matched and hardest fought in the Southeastern Conference. As described by Gainesville Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley following the 2007 game, “Florida-Auburn delivered another game that made one side ecstatic and one side heartbroken. That’s what it does.”
Normally when these two teams meet, SEC title and BCS National Championship implications are on the line. While this year’s matchup may be lower-profile than usual with both teams in a transitional mode, don’t expect any drop-off in passion or intensity from either side. Both teams still have plenty to play for, with Florida still controlling their own destiny in the SEC East and Auburn fighting to remain bowl-eligible (SEC juggernauts LSU and Alabama remain on their schedule, as well as a tough November matchup at Georgia).
No matter what happens, the game is almost certain to be close. This rivalry has seen thirty-three of its games decided by seven points or less, and Auburn-Florida is the second-most evenly-matched SEC rivalry in the league with Auburn holding a 42-38-2 advantage.
All the action will go down at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn’s showcase football venue that seats 87,451 people. Two hours before the kickoff of each home football game, thousands of Auburn fans line Donahue Drive to cheer on the Tigers as they walk from the Auburn Athletic Complex to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Over the years the Tiger Walk has grown into a major part of game day at Auburn, so much that it is now listed on the players’ game weekend itinerary. As “Eye of the Tiger” is blasted over the PA system, the team is led by their coaches down the hill and into the stadium surrounded by thousands of fans who pat them on the back and shake their hands as they walk. To date, the largest Tiger Walk occurred on December 2, 1989, before the first-ever home football game against rival Alabama, when more than 20,000 fans lined the street. The Tiger Walk is now known as “the most copied tradition in all of college football.”
The Auburn University battle cry is “War Eagle.” It originated as an expression of support of Auburn’s athletic teams, but today is also commonly used as a greeting between members of the Auburn community. The cry is yelled in unison by thousands of spectators for kickoffs of football gamers and tip-offs of basketball games. The current and 7th War Eagle, nicknamed ‘Nova,” is featured before football games by a flight in which the eagle circles the stadium before landing at mid-field.
The most popular version of the “War Eagle” story dates back to 1892 when Auburn and Georgia met for the first time on the football field. The story tells of a Civil War veteran that attended the game with his pet eagle that he had found on a battlefield. During the game, the eagle soared into the sky over the field as the Auburn football team simultaneously charged the Georgia end zone, achieving their program’s first win over Georgia. After the Tigers’ victory, the eagle suddenly nose-dived, crashed into the field and died. The battle cry did not end there, however, and the “War Eagle” has lived on in the hearts and spirits of proud Auburn fans ever since.
Yet another longstanding Auburn tradition is that of Toomer’s Corner. Known as the heart of the city, it is named after Toomer’s Drugs, a small store on the corner that has been an Auburn landmark for over 100 years. Toomer’s Corner has long been the gathering place for Auburn athletic celebrations. Hanging over the corner are two massive old-growth oak trees, and whenever there is cause for celebration in the Auburn community, these trees are flooded with toilet paper. The tradition is said to have begun when Toomer’s Drugs Store had the only telegraph in the city. So during away football games the store employees would let the city know if Auburn won by rolling the oak trees with toilet paper to signal a win to the public. Celebrations at Toomer’s Corner after significant football victories usually go on for hours and leave the heart of town look ing like a blizzard passed through.
While both teams may be mired in uncertainty heading into this game, some things will remain undisputed- tensions will be running high and emotions will be running rampant. In a rivalry that has produced close thriller after closer thriller, there’s no reason to think this one will be any different.