I'll go ahead and get this out of the way lest I be accused of sour grapes...I still haven't gotten over the Inaccurate Deflection and the terrible things it meant for college football, both for my team and on the whole. And, like this blog's founder, I hate Auburn. I certainly hate them a lot more these days than I used to.
That taken care of, I wanted to expound on a theory that my brother first came up with a few years ago and is particularly relevant now that Auburn is once again relevant themselves. Auburn might be a university, and it might have a football team, but first and foremost Auburn is a cult. Cults can be dangerous to their followers, so in an effort to save some folks who might not have completely drank the Auburn Kool-Aid just yet, here is a cautionary tale about their cultishness, and a few signs to prove to you that they are, indeed, a cult.
1. Cults tend to appeal to societal outcasts
Regarding Auburn, there are two main ways this occurs. First, for those possessing the mental acuity to attend college, Auburn is a traditional landing place for those who hope to attend a large, state school with respected academics, but can't quite make the cut. Instead, they take the next best thing and decide to attend Auburn. Once there, though, they disavow any notion that Auburn wasn't their first choice, as they fully embrace the cult they've decided to join. I'm sure all of us who graduated from high school in Georgia have numerous examples of this particular person.
The other main way is through the person for whom college was never a valid option. If you're born in Alabama and high school is your ceiling, let's face it; you're an outcast automatically if you don't join the Crimson Tide fanbase. See the last month or so of Clay Travis's material if you need convincing. Auburn sidewalk fans are just bizarre because there is virtually no reason to grow up a sidewalk fan of the little brother in your state save family ties to the cult at birth. Much as Methodists or Catholics looked at Branch Davidians with a puzzled daze, Alabama fans in Alabama look at Auburn fans.
2. Cults often become highly insular
Because cults are often easily dismissed and mocked by non-members, it is important that cults keep their members as free as possible from open association with critics. Auburn has perfected this art, which culminated in the Baghdad Bob-ish PR war during the 2010 season in which everyone who didn't reside on the Plains knew that Auburn paid for Cam whether the NCAA could prove it or not. Instead of quietly acknowledging this, Auburn people expressed shock and disgust that fans of other teams could buy into such a far-fetched propaganda campaign coming out of Tuscaloosa. Gene Chizik began using terms like "All In" and "Auburn Family" to reinforce the notion that, if you weren't with Auburn, you were against them. Everyone else was just a hater if they didn't buy the Auburn story lock, stock, and barrel. You'll note that this plays in a symphony with point one, as the outcasts are searching for such a "family" after being shunned elsewhere.
3. Cults respond to criticism by attacking their critics
After Auburn's win at Texas A&M, I took to facebook to call them out as being amoral, given that they were returning to relevance on the back of a guy who stole from his own teammates. Several Auburn acquaintances from high school (note #1) objected on the basis that Georgia also has players that get in trouble. That the particular player I was talking about was KICKED OUT OF GEORGIA FOR WHAT HE DID was completely lost on them. In their mind, because some Georgia players got scooter tickets and it made the news, there was absolutely nothing wrong with habitually going and getting JUCO quarterbacks who had been kicked out of their previous schools for stealing. To me, this practice is about as amoral as it gets, but far be it for an Auburn man to understand the difference between "amoral" and "immoral".
Once again, I call to your attention the 2010 season and the "haters" defense. Anyone who called out anything Auburn did or expressed displeasure with the way they were winning obviously had ulterior motives.
4. Cults cause their members to hold highly irrational views
5. Cults use unexplained events to validate their cult
See: the entire freaking 2013 season. Auburn, by all accounts, should have been an 8-4 team at their very best this year. They had a very young, inexperienced defense and were starting a converted defensive back at QB under a new head coach. There was zero reason to expect any better. They started out the season and managed to eke out two close wins against mediocre Washington State and Mississippi State squads, then when they finally played a good team in LSU they got thumped as expected. They got another close win against a mediocre Ole Miss squad, then won a shootout at Texas A&M in a "traditional" SEC battle of no defenses. They handled bad Arkansas and Tennessee squads, then they played way over their head and got some miracles along the way against Georgia and Alabama. They got into another of those zero defense battles in the SEC Championship against Mizzou, and then they got some other breaks along the way to put them in the implausible position of playing for the national title.
Now, a level-headed Auburn fan would be able to see the above scenario and say "hey, we managed to keep our heads above water and got a bunch of breaks along the way...this is an amazing season for a team that really doesn't have a lot of business being here, but I'll take it." Unfortunately, very few of the aforementioned level-headed Auburn fans exist, so in the past month we've been treated to a bunch of "God is an Auburn fan" BS (note: I went to church the Sunday morning following the Georgia-Auburn game; if God were an Auburn fan, I'd have probably gone fishing instead). And it isn't even limited to Auburn fans. I've seen columnists, bloggers, and other people whose opinion on college football I generally respect buy into the cult. They've analyzed the national title game matchup, come to the conclusion that Florida State ought to be a heavy favorite, and then went the other way because the rest of Auburn's season didn't make a lick of sense and they concluded that Auburn is a "team of destiny". Here's a hint, guys...sometimes you roll a bunch of sevens due to random chance. That doesn't mean that you're any more likely to roll seven the next time. I wouldn't feel any more confident about a Georgia matchup against Florida State had we won the Clemson game in OT, the targeting call not been made in the Vandy game, and Harvey-Clemons batted the ball down on 4th down in Auburn. Auburn and Georgia are two evenly-talented, deeply-flawed teams. One just happened to have much better luck than the other to this point in the season. Yet if you asked anyone who would win in a hypothetical matchup between FSU and Georgia, it would be hard to get much money on the Dawgs. That's what a cult mentality does to you.
What does it all mean?
Just because you're in a cult doesn't mean you're necessarily worthless to the rest of society. I've got a number of Auburn friends and colleagues who I respect and admire for other parts of their lives. I just don't have any more respect or admiration than I would have due to their affiliation with Auburn. In many cases, it diminishes how I would feel about them otherwise, and in the worst cases it makes them completely insufferable.
In conclusion, I have written this rambling screed in the hope that I prevent just one metro Atlanta high school kid with a mediocre GPA and a borderline SAT from making a mistake that could diminish his future credibility. I hope that some kid in LaGrange doesn't end up making a fool of himself every day at the Kia plant for the rest of his life by wearing "All In" shirts and buttons. I sincerely hope that, somewhere, someone realizes the danger of cults and chooses to steer clear of Auburn. The world would be better off for it.