Tiger pride, Tide spirit live in both young and old

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 17, 2005

Auburn University and the University of Alabama: two universities that happen to be in the same state, and yet so much more than that.

Between the two schools a football rivalry has arisen that just might be unparalleled in the nation.

Sure, there's Army and Navy, Georgia and Georgia Tech, Mississippi State and Old Miss.

But nothing, it's been said, can match the &#8220Gettysburg South” known as the Iron Bowl.

Each November, the faithful don their team sweatshirts, t-shirts and ties, fly their flags and stake their signs out front, all in support of the Tide or the Tigers.

Little girls in cheerleader outfits and little boys clad in miniature football jerseys are taught to say &#8220Roll Tide” and &#8220War Eagle” as the big game approaches…

&#8220Ever since 1979, the year I was born, I've had an understanding there was a greatness – and its name was Alabama Crimson Tide Football. I bleed crimson and white,” Leigh Ann Myrick of Greenville says. Her e-mail address, &#8220Bama princess,” reflects the feelings she says she has carried with her all her life.

Whether it's Alabama or Auburn fans you talk to, many say they have &#8220always” supported their team.

To fandom born

&#8220Bill Curry said our children are indoctrinated into it from the day they are born. They don't really choose – and that's right,” Sue Arnold of Greenville says with a smile.

Arnold, a 1981 graduate of U of A, is one of the locals who bleeds crimson and white. There's a &#8220Big Al” sign in front of her Stone Road Drive home. A Bama soft sculpture chair welcomes visitors to her front door. Inside, there are Alabama cheerleader dolls and red-and-white pom-poms on the dining room table, and the Crimson Tide fight song playing on the stereo.

&#8220Just hearing the first notes of that song…the hair begins to stand up on the back of your neck. You feel that chill down your spine. It's in your blood,” Arnold says.

Arnold's dad was a tremendous Alabama fan, and the idea of his little girl going to college anywhere else &#8220never even entered the picture.”

&#8220I grew up an Alabama fan. There was simply never any discussion otherwise. In fact, I didn't know much about Auburn until I went to away to school, and that is the truth.”

Fellow Greenvillian Susan Murphy is just as emphatic about the school she loves – Auburn.

Murphy proudly dons her orange and blue routinely. She says she once told her daughter she had three choices of universities to send her SAT scores to: &#8220Auburn, Auburn and Auburn.”

For Murphy, it's clearly a family tradition.

&#8220My father's family started Auburn. Samford Hall was actually named for one of his cousins. It's just always been a big part of my life,” she says.

She won't back down in her undying support for her team.

&#8220My husband used to tell me to be quiet and leave folks alone before game day, but I like to get my shots in before and after the game,” Murphy says with a wicked grin.

Murphy believes a lot of Alabama fans were drawn to root for the university due to the mystique revolving around their legendary coach, Paul &#8220Bear” Bryant.

&#8220When Bryant was there and they had all those championships, I think a lot of people who had no other connection to the school jumped on the bandwagon for Alabama,” Murphy says.

Arnold thinks that's only part of the picture that is Alabama football.

&#8220Sure, the Bear had a lot to do with it, but there were plenty of people who loved Alabama before he came on the scene in the late ‘50s,” she insists.

Arnold fondly recalls her own meeting with the Bear during her college days.

&#8220I was standing in line, waiting to get an autograph for my daddy. I'll always remember seeing the Bear sitting there with this big bottle of Mylanta sitting beside him. I guess he got nervous before games, too,” she says with a laugh.

Arnold has a copy of the coach's signature houndstooth hat, originally a gift to her late father.

&#8220The Bear always reminded me of my dad, the way he looked and sounded…those are some great memories,” she says wistfully.

Tickets and tailgatin'

In earlier days, before the arrival of seven-year-old Jennifer Grace, Arnold says she and husband Kyle &#8220always went to Alabama's home games.”

&#8220We enjoyed tailgating. Folks like Jason and Jana Ealum and Meredith and Morgan Mann still do and have a blast. That's just another part of the football tradition.”

Linda Horn of Greenville, a true-blue Auburn fan, also enjoys tailgating.

The family even has a tailgating tradition with another football rival, the University of Georgia.

&#8220A group of Auburn fans (including one Alabama senator who is a misfit Georgia fan) travel by van to Athens. We tailgate with these Georgia fans who entertain us in style before the game…after the game, we're on our own,” Horn laughs.

While the Arnolds aren't on the road every weekend these days, little Jennifer Grace does get help with scoring football tickets each year.

&#8220My sister gives her Alabama tickets for her birthday,” her mom says.

It's little surprise Jennifer Grace also learned to say &#8220Roll Tide” before she was one.

&#8220I really haven't given her any other choice, I guess. She has cheerleader outfits, hair ribbons, jewelry, toys, all sorts of Alabama things given to her by family members over the years. She's an Alabama girl,” Arnold says.

Braggin' rights like no others

Thanks to a cousin, Murphy has tickets for this year's Iron Bowl. She can't wait for the possible opportunity to win braggin' rights for the year to come. Even if she has to do it silently.

&#8220My husband once made me swear I wouldn't say a word at church the day after we had won the Iron Bowl. And I didn't say a word,” Murphy says.

&#8220However, I did wear a suit with a ‘War Eagle' sticker under the lapel. Every chance I got I would lift that lapel when I was talking to an Alabama fan. But I didn't SAY anything.”

Win or lose, Sue Arnold plans to stand by her beloved Crimson Tide.

&#8220It's just a way of life here, whether you are for Alabama or for Auburn.

It's a family tradition you are carrying on. And nobody does it like we do here in the south.”

She pauses, looking out her kitchen window to watch as Jennifer Grace, wearing her Crimson Tide cheerleader outfit, plays with her little buddy, John Millan Gaston, who's wearing a Tiger jersey.

&#8220It's in your blood. It's the same for Auburn people as it is for Alabama. A lot of places just play football – here in the state of Alabama, we live it,” Arnold laughs.