This weekend I was at a friend’s birthday celebration when, without fail, the question reared it’s ugly head like Chris Bosh exiting the tunnel from the locker room,
“What do you mean you went to both Alabama and Auburn? How could you?!”
As if I were Benedict Arnold handing over the keys to West Point, the young woman that hurled the question my way looked at me with a disgusted, appalled glare. Apparently the level of hatred I should feel for one of my almae matres over the other was insufficient for her liking. Given that she wasn’t from Alabama, it passed like water off of a duck’s back, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been asked the question before, at times with similar levels of disdain.
I get this question, and similar ones that sound much like “Et tu, Brute?” quite a bit, even though I’ve left Alabama and the South. I’m a 2010 graduate of The University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Business and a 2013 graduate of Auburn’s College of Agriculture — what I like to call my reverse Jimmy Wales. And it seems to perplex, even annoy, people who are familiar with the rivalry, even tangentially.
In answering this kind of inquest, I tend to take some sort of apologetic tone in my responses for diplomacy’s sake. Usually along the lines of:
“Oh, well I went to Auburn for graduate school so I didn’t pay much attention to football!” (True enough, but it didn’t hurt that Auburn football went 8-5 and 3-9 the two years I was there. Auburn fans, if you don’t wire me $100,000 by Friday I am moving back.)
“Well, it’s just that Alabama didn’t have the program I wanted.” (Also true, as my MS from Auburn is in Agricultural Economics, which Alabama has never offered.)
Sure, there’s a historic, nasty football rivalry that may be the most storied college football rivalry of all time. This rivalry has led to gunfights, poisoned trees and a career for Paul Finebaum. Two-thirds of AL.com’s traffic comes from flame wars between Bammers and Barners — the other third is from racists and DemoCraps, just a guess. There’s also a superb web series called the Iron Bowl Hour which is just about the rivalry, my favorite of which features a peace summit that make any kind of Israel-Palestine talks look like child’s play. The rivalry is part of our history, our culture, and it’s a lot of fun. When people don’t take it too seriously, that is.
But the truth of the matter is that I don’t owe either camp a damn apology for loving both Alabama and Auburn. Especially since I graduated from both.
Both towns provided me the opportunity to learn within and outside of the classroom, to contribute — or at least pretend to — contribute to society, and grow from a snotty, shrewd teenager to a slightly less snotty and shrewd young adult. In my just-under six years between the two cities I gained mentors of every color and creed and expanded my brain, or at least my professors deserve a lot of credit for trying, bless their hearts.
Quite honestly, just as with most of my internal conflicts, the only conflict I have regarding Tuscaloosa and Auburn involves food. Namely, I miss the smell of Egan’s on a Gameday just as much as I miss Gallette’s famous Yellowhammers. As for Auburn, I just wish I could have both The Hound’s veggie burger (it’s the best I have ever had anywhere, don’t knock it until you try it) and Zazu’s duck fat fries at the same time as I gawk at the bad dancers in SkyBar’s infamous Boom Boom Room. Just as Tuscaloosa births acts such as the Alabama Shakes, the Waverly Boogie gives East Alabama a taste of emerging artists better than any music venue I’ve had the pleasure of gracing. I have people I love so dearly in both places, many of whom I’ll be proud to know until the end of my days.
Alabama has been graced with two great institutions of higher learning, and the communities that surround them couldn’t be more perfect hosts. Rivalry be damned, I’m extremely proud to have had the chance to experience both sides of the Iron Bowl rivalry. Just like the State of Alabama should be, I’m proud of both of my almae matres, and what they contribute to the State, her people, and the world at large, both in excellent college football and beyond.
As it turned out, the girl asking me to betray one school for the other was a Yankee from Michigan. Guess we know who our real enemies are.