On Monday, I was contacted by a reader who frequents both Dawg Sports and "The Bunker," Rivals.com’s subscription-only message board for fans of the Auburn Tigers. (Yes, they call it "The Bunker." I hope for their sakes that they have a greater sense of irony than I suspect they possess, but, if "The Bunker" is intended sincerely, the Auburn faithful should not wonder why they are being lampooned in this manner.)
The reader alerted me to a poll posted at "The Bunker"---seriously, I can’t wrap my head around the lack of self-awareness it would take to give a Tiger message board a name that brings immediately to mind associations with Archie Bunker and Adolf Hitler---following my having raised the question whether, and when, fans of the Georgia Bulldogs should root for their SEC rivals. The poll asked whether Auburn fans would root for the Red and Black or for the Boise St. Broncos on Labor Day weekend. After 257 votes had been cast, Plainsmen partisans preferred BSU by a margin of 165-92.
By way of comparison, the first 123 voters in a Bunker poll asking whether Orange and Blue boosters would be rooting for the LSU Tigers or the Oregon Ducks that same weekend favored their SEC West rivals, 96-27. In other words, while nearly four-fifths of Auburn fans will root for Louisiana State in a non-conference game, nearly two-thirds of Orange and Blue aficionados will cheer against Georgia under the same circumstances.
I, of course, do not mind this in the slightest. A man may be measured as fairly by an assessment of those he chooses to call his enemies as by an evaluation of those he chooses to call his friends, and the Tigers are a good group to have dislike you. My feelings are approximately as wounded by the contempt of Auburn fans as Ronald Reagan’s were by the disdain of the state-controlled Soviet media.
Still, I was curious; I know why we don’t like them, but I was surprised when the person who brought this to my attention---who, despite being an Auburn fan, is a reasonable individual with whom my exchange was entirely cordial---reported that Tiger fans’ feelings toward Bulldog fans had soured after last year’s game. What, I wondered, had provoked the Plainsmen’s ire? Was it Nick Fairley’s repeated attempts to injure Aaron Murray, or the way two Auburn defenders got themselves ejected for engaging in fisticuffs? Was it perhaps the fact that the Tigers won for the first time in five years? What, precisely, would justify an Auburn fan being mad at Georgia fans after last year’s game?
I was told they were offended by how outspoken we were in our disdain. They viewed the physical nature of last year’s game as more of a back-and-forth affair than a one-sided display of cheap-shot artistry, but, more than that, they were annoyed by our conviction that Auburn was guilty of some wrongdoing in the recruitment of Cameron Newton.
The NCAA, I was informed, has found nothing. Eric Ramsey is the only player proven to have received illegal benefits since the 1950s. Terry Bowden retracted his statements, and, anyway, I haven’t heard the tapes. The four players from the HBO special have axes to grind. Cecil Newton’s request for $180,000 from the Mississippi St. Bulldogs burned any bridges that would’ve led him to Starkville, I was told, so he came to Auburn, where the coaching staff didn’t know what they were getting, and wouldn’t have risked their careers by doing something so dumb.
They’re mad at us because we don’t buy that.
They’re mad at us because we refuse to lend credence to their claims that Fairley was blocked into Murray’s knee or significance to the fact that our players crossed the sideline and stood there. They’re mad at us because we recall that it took the NCAA years to investigate the USC Trojans before eventually finding the evidence that proved the allegations about Reggie Bush. They’re mad at us because we wonder whether, amid all the regularly recurring (and rather consistent) smoke surrounding the Loveliest Village, there might be fire. They’re mad at us because we point out that Terry Bowden’s severance package contained a nondisparagement provision that gives him a strong incentive to deny saying on tape things that might have violated that provision and required him to forfeit some or all of his buyout money.
They’re mad at us for noting that Newton, far from being an unknown quantity, was sought by Urban Meyer, one of the most accomplished recruiters in the game, before guiding Blinn College to a junior college national championship and earning an All-American honorable mention in the process. He came out of the Brenham, Tex., institution as a five-star prospect, the country’s most heavily recruited juco quarterback, and Rivals.com’s No. 1-rated high school or juco quarterback in the land. They’re mad at us for pointing out that their claims that Newton was no one special at the time sound eerily similar to Pete Carroll’s claims that "Reggie Bush wasn’t Reggie Bush." They’re mad at us for asking whether believing Gene Chizik and Trooper Taylor would do something stupid is really that far-fetched.
They’re mad at us for our impertinence in asking whether it might be more than mere coincidence that a player we know was shopped around by a father seeking pay for play ended up at a program which has been the subject of repeated allegations, both historically and presently, of providing improper inducements, including cold hard cash, to student-athletes.
As bizarre and baffling as their acrimony seems to us in Bulldog Nation, there can be little doubt that the Auburn fan who brought this to my attention is right about the Tiger fans’ feelings. Our SB Nation colleagues at Track ‘Em Tigers have said so themselves, and repeated it recently, flailing wildly with broadsides about player misbehavior in apparent obliviousness to the fact that we haven’t had a player arrest since October 11, and, when our athletes do make the news, it’s for saving children from drowning.
I don’t hold it against them, of course. I hate Auburn---you heard it here first---so I can’t really blame them for hating us back. Notwithstanding all that "friendly rivalry" nonsense you sometimes hear, we both regard the other side as a bunch of sons of bitches. That is inherent in the nature of rivalry, and, if they don’t want to root for us, that’s fine; I plan on rooting against them at least twelve times next year, so I expect no less in return.
Getting mad at us after a game in which their players (not ours) were ejected, at a time when their program (not ours) was being investigated by the NCAA, though? That’s just ridiculous. Our guys crossed a sideline; their guys threw punches. Our guys piled on a late-hit artist; their guy deliberately tried to inflict career-ending injuries on our quarterback. Our star receiver sold a jersey; their star quarterback was put on the auction block by his father . . . and they’re mad at us? For crying out loud, this was the game that caused more than one of the Georgia fans who’ve asked me over the years why I hate Auburn to come to me and say, "Now I know." Auburn fans who are irate with Georgia fans after that game are practicing a level of cognitive dissonance that rises to the level of caricature.
Cam Newton is a minister’s son; I’ll bet he’s familiar with Matthew 7:3. It sounds like more than a few Auburn fans aren’t. Maybe they could use a Bible in the Bunker.