“Are you about TREE, or are you about FOOTBALL?”
by Michael Val Hietter, ’86&’88 on September 1, 2012
My wife Eileen and I were enjoying our first not-visiting-relatives vacation since…our honeymoon four years ago, staying at her mother’s vacation condo in Hilton Head (which is about the only way we could afford to “do” Hilton Head). After our beach-and-pool day, we decided to go to the iconic Salty Dog Café for dinner. Getting a table meant an hour-and-a-half wait, so we took a seat at one of the outdoor bars to eat.
Although she is a Montevallo graduate and a total non-sports fan (yes, I don’t know how we got together either), I finally got my wife to understand what it means to be a part of the Auburn family after taking her to the National Championship celebration and a Homecoming game. I think she got the picture after seeing 80,000 people all wearing the same shirt. In any case, Eileen and I were both wearing Auburn t-shirts and coordinating shorts, not quite matchy-matchy (although I really don’t mind going completely matchy-matchy, which is one of my endearing qualities according to her) but close enough.
A fellow sitting by himself on another side of the bar to our right was talking to everyone around and no one in particular, with a misplaced sense of bravado and self-assuredness that men sitting by themselves at a bar often have. He wore a cap with the legend “NO1 GR8TR” on the front and the Kentucky “K” on the side. It didn’t take him long to notice our Auburn attire. “Awww, you’re from Auburn,” he said, thereby becoming Mr. MOTO (Master Of The Obvious) in my mind. “That’s okay, I like Auburn, they’re SEC, that’s good,” he continued. “But look out for these folks,” he said, pointing to a couple on the other side of the bar from us, “They are Alabama!” Eileen and I exchanged a pleasant wave with the Bama contingent (who incidentally were not wearing colors, and didn’t even look like they were going to make a deal about AU, Bama, or anything else for that matter).
Someone asked him what the notation on his cap meant. “It means ‘No One Greater’—that sure describes me!” Mr. MOTO guffawed, and explained it also represented Kentucky’s recent NCAA Basketball Championship. I really couldn’t ignore this fellow, and the misplaced bravado and self-assuredness was starting to rub me the wrong way. I butted in, “If the ball isn’t pointy or has laces, I don’t really care about it,” which refers to my love of football, rugby, and baseball, and my total present indifference to basketball. “That’s what happens when you can’t win championships,” he rejoindered, thereby scoring a cheap and inelegant, yet nonetheless valid, zinger on me.
True to what I dubbed him in my mind, Mr. MOTO continued on: “Hey, you got those trees down there at, what-do-they-call-it?” thus engaging me in more conversation than I wanted. “Toomers Corner, right in front of the Auburn campus,” I filled in. “Yeah, they poisoned them trees, what’s going on with that?” he asked. The Bama people then jumped right on into the conversation, chirping brightly, “But the trees are alright now.” “No, they are not,” I replied back, “They are biologically alive, and may stay that way for a while, but our horticulture department at Auburn says they may be what they call ‘aesthetically dead’ soon.” Not wanting to be left out of the conversation that he started, Mr. MOTO interjected, pointing at me and saying “Hey listen—Are you about TREE, or are you about FOOTBALL?”
My heart skipped a beat for a second when I heard that, and I had to catch my breath. I’d like to think the whole outdoor bar went silent, like in an old western movie, waiting for my reply (of course, it didn’t).
“I’m about AUBURN,” I told this fellow, and the Bama folks, and anyone else who wanted to hear my voice at normal speaking level. “Those trees are a part of our campus, and that campus is a part of our tradition, and all those things, plus every Auburn man and woman who ever passed under those trees, make up Auburn. Auburn is more than trees, or football, or any other thing. I’m about AUBURN.”
Fortunately, our food finally came, and I was relieved to be free from the conversation into which I was reluctantly drawn. A woman came up to me and said, “I think it is just TERRIBLE what they did to those trees.” And it is terrible, but it is more terrible to think why someone would do that to our trees. Folks, the man who “allegedly” poisoned our trees did that not because he is a jerk, not because he hates trees, and not because he has “too much Bama” in him (a sentiment which was repudiated by the family of Tommy Lewis, the originator of the quote). That man “allegedly” did this because he wanted to hurt all of us that hold Auburn dear. As such, he “allegedly” did this because he stands, at heart, against all that Auburn really is. The thing is, he really isn’t smart enough to understand that about himself, but it is still true nonetheless.
So, folks, as we live our lives and scream “WAR EAGLE” and mourn our trees and enjoy our football, let’s remember one thing—at heart, we are all about AUBURN, and no less than all of AUBURN.
(who believes in Auburn…ALL of Auburn…and LOVES IT!)