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Tradition Like Auburn – Georgia is What Sets College Football Apart

1892_spring_first_Auburn_Tigers_football_team-II

                                                        The 1892 Auburn Football Team.
Families arrived by carriage while many others came on horseback as close to 3,000 people gathered on a chilly winter’s day in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park to witness a group of young men play a new game called football. It was February 20, 1892 and the young collegians came together on the field of competition to represent their two schools: Auburn University (then known as Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama) and the University of Georgia.

Both schools had a group of fans arrive by train cars which were decorated in school colors. The delegations held a combined pep rally with each side giving their own college cheers – afterwards parading together with the players to the park’s grand stand for the game.

Picture believed to be of the first football game played in  the South. Auburn vs. Georgia 1892.

Picture believed to be of the first football game played in the South. Auburn vs. Georgia 1892.

The Deep South’s Oldest Football Rivalry had begun as the Tigers from Auburn took the field against the Billy Goats (later known as the Bulldogs) from Athens.

At the end of the first half, the score was tied 0-0. The second half saw a heavy rain, making it difficult for either team to score. Then late in the game, an Auburn legend was born. All Auburn people are familiar with the story but I tell it here for those who are not part of the family.

There was a Civil War vet in attendance. The old solider had brought his pet to the game; one he had found as a baby eaglet after the Battle of the Wilderness. He doctored the bird’s wounds and took it back home to Alabama where he later became an Auburn student and eventual instructor.

War Eagle

War Eagle

As the two teams were slugging it out on the gridiron, the eagle broke away from the old soldier’s arms and circled high above the field. While the eagle sailed over the field, Auburn took the lead, and the students began chanting “War Eagle!” Auburn won the game 10-0 and legend has it that at the end of the game, the eagle fell to the ground and died. In giving his life, he gave birth to the “War Eagle” tradition.

While no one knows the validity of the story, the legend of Auburn’s War Eagle is synonymous with the Tigers’ first ever football game. It’s just one of dozens of things that make this historic rivalry so unique and worthy of protection.

The game has always been a war. With a 118 years of history, usually a fourth of Auburn’s roster made up of players from Georgia, and championship implications often on the line for one or both teams; the game has more often than not been a high-stakes event.

Even so, the rivalry is more than a game. The two school’s athletic and academic past are so intertwined as to make the loss of the contest almost unthinkable. It is one of only 11 series in the nation to have reached the century mark in games played and the only one in the deep south to achieve that distinction. It’s rich tradition symbolizes what has made the college game so special.

Through the years only World Wars have interrupted the series. Yet, just this week, the SEC had been considering going to a nine game schedule, which would threatened the continuation of the longest continuous football rivalry in the South. Thankfully the league’s presidents voted to keep the 6-1-1 schedule which will protect the game for now.

I say “for now” because it’s not the first time the rivalry has been threatened in recent years. When the SEC expanded to 14 teams in 2011, there was discussion of doing away with the rivalry. Auburn even volunteered to move to the Eastern Division to preserve the game, a move that was quickly blocked by Alabama and Tennessee. But just like this week, the league voted to go to an eight game schedule which averted the crisis and allowed the two schools to continue meeting every year.

It’s troubling though, to see the issue resurface for another vote this spring.

With more conferences going to a nine game schedule and possible new pressures being brought to bear as a result of the new National Championship playoff system … the rivalry may eventually become extinct. And if that happens, it will be a sad day. And not only for Auburn and Georgia but for college football in general. Because Tradition is what sets college football apart.

10 Comments

  1. wde1988 wde1988 says:

    Great write up! The deep South oldest rivalry is what built the SEC. I know of nothing that is more important to college football or at least to me as a fan.

    The interesting thing is that LSU and others thinks it will make them more competitive play a 9 game schedule. That’s laughable. Anyone looking at AU’s schedule will see LSU, USC, MSU, Texas A&M, UGA, Samford, and bama. How is that not competitive?

    One thing for certain is while Saban knows how to recruit… he also knows how to whine. Its amazing to see it play out on others.

    Did you see where Butch Davis said he thought the UA -UT rivalry was the best in the South? Pretty funny really.

    This is all about ego…

    WDE

  2. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    Would you happen to know what UA and UT’s reasoning was for blocking an Auburn move to the East Division?

    • wde1988 wde1988 says:

      If I had to guess it would be that bama doesn’t want us to run amuck in the East as the power team that way way they can keep an eye on us… and Tennessee doesn’t want us in the East because it would be another foe that they couldn’t beat (usually).

      They figure they can handle Mizzou I guess. And for UT’s part – it depends when their football team finally becomes competitive again.

      WDE

      • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

        That’s kind of what I thought too. Any other explanation from them would just be obvious misdirection. I’m curious as to how they blathered their way through it, and how the media spun it for them.

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      The way I understood it, Bama and Tennessee thought it might impact their rivalry because a school could only keep one permanent cross division game; and that Auburn and Bama would play each other, leaving Tennessee as the odd man out.

      • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

        Maybe that’s a little insight into who they consider their most important rival. I can’t wait until we get a one game lead in the series, then dump them. No repeat engagement.

  3. DothanTiger DothanTiger says:

    Love, Love this game and all the history and tradition associated with it but it looks like it’s only a matter of time before the game will be gone the way this keeps coming back up and I agree it will be a sad day when they take it away. But at least it was saved in these last talks – “for now.” Enjoyed the read.

  4. AUglenn says:

    Thanks for this article. I didn’t know the story about the War Eagle or about the particulars to Auburn’s first game. Cool pictures too!

  5. hello2196 says:

    Great article, Great to learn about the history and traditions of the Tigers!
    War Eagle!

  6. SEC_Eric says:

    Enjoyed the read. May the Auburn – Georgia rivalry never end. War Damn Eagle!