It's Christmas!!
Born Old


Given the reverence for a college education with which I was raised, I've always felt an emotional pull toward the "classic" college campus with the solemn buildings and the broad green spaces.  The pretty little campus of Lawrence University and the vastness of the University of Wisconsin were my earliest memories of what college was supposed to look like.  I carry a bit of mild regret that I've spent my professional career at two urban universities that had very little to recommend them along those lines.   (And I'm quite excited that this is changing for UAB).

So I was eager to stroll around the Auburn campus yesterday during the break between the business meeting and the morning speaker.    Auburn is classic in just about every sense: the oldest university in Alabama, and the largest (28,000 students).  It completely dominates the town, which is tiny on its own.  The campus has many beautiful spaces and they've done a very good job with preserving and restoring the old buildings.  The overall effect is somewhat marred by the amount of construction going on, but a lot of construction on a university campus is considered to be a good sign.

The emphasis on sports, particularly football of course, is a little unnerving.  In the official visitors guide that was in our conference packets the paragraph on Auburn's academic & scholarly achievements is slightly longer than the paragraph touting its athletic eminence, but one does sense a bit of padding ("...nationally renowned for many of its programs and accomplishments, including the invention of the flea pill, super bullet-proof vest, and high-performance dog food ... faculty from the college received an Academy Award in 2005 for achievements in motion technology...")  In fairness, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the School of Architecture are among the country's best, and one can no doubt get an excellent education at Auburn.  Still, that's not what defines the place and it is not what ties the students and alumni to it so tightly.  I said to Lynn as we were walking past some of the fraternity houses, "So what do you think gives the boys a bigger thrill -- those six astronauts who are Auburn grads, or the SEC championship last year?"

Sure, it's a cheap shot, and I really don't mean to sound disapproving, because I don't disapprove.  But I'm someone for whom "belonging" has not only never been desired, it's something I've actively avoided.  Whenever somebody starts talking about the need for "community" I want to run the other way, so the bond that one feels for one's college football team is simply foreign to me.  I understand that this is a character defect on my part.  Probably a fizzled gene.

But here in Alabama, where the UA/Auburn rivalry is such a big part of the social fabric it's something that fascinates me and that I try to understand.  Warren St. John's book was a great help.  The brilliance of it is that, while St. John is a passionate fan himself, he wrote a book that appeals equally to fans and non-fans.  He was able to blend his passion for his home team with his passion for his journalism to create a piece that clearly deserves all the accolades that it receives.

I was thinking about him when I passed a parking lot sign that said, "No RV parking here" -- not the kind of sign one needs at any parking lot at UAB.  St. John will probably be in Auburn this weekend.  Saturday is the Iron Bowl, the annual contest between Alabama and Auburn.  One of these years, when the game is in Auburn, I ought to spend the weekend there on an anthropological expedition.  I wouldn't even need to go to the game.  I could just spend a couple of days strolling and observing.   I imagine it would feel just about as exotic as the week we spent in Salvador.  I suppose I need to think about booking the hotel room now.


Mark D

I know what you mean about "classic" campuses. There is just something special about a classic campus. I always get a sense of accomplishment and seriousness. For me, the ideal "classic" campus belongs to Dartmouth. It is the quintessential New England college campus and town.

Like you, I’ve never understood college football rivalry. With that said, I used to love to go to Harvard/Dartmouth games (at Dartmouth). Hanover is a beautiful town nestled in the narrow Connecticut River valley wedged between New Hampshire and Vermont. The classic buildings, the campus green, the gentle wooded hills in a riot of fall color, a little nip in the air, everyone dressed in green and white (Dartmouth colors) - there was just something magical about it.

When I was young and poor, I would go to Murphy’s Pub just off the Quad on Main St and enjoy chili and a bear before the game. When I got older and wealthier, I would go to the Hampshire Inn (right on the Quad) for a world class meal and a bottle of good wine. There is something to be said for the ivy league.

I’m told that Armidale University (in Australia’s New England region) has a “classic’ campus. Maybe, when you come to Australia we will drive up and have a look. The universities here in Sydney are shockingly ugly. Unfortunately, uni campuses here are littered with modernist monstrosities turned on to themselves. I’ve come to call this style “academic fortress” architecture.


I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and the OSU-Michigan rivalry is far too intense. The game is this Saturday, which means that screams of "Go Bucks!" (it's the Ohio State Buckeyes) must be echoing through the streets.

Once I was at a miniature golf course, and a father--child in tow--wore a t-shirt featuring a picture of a Michigan cheerleader providing oral pleasure to Brutus Buckeye, the Ohio State mascot. Nothing like good old Midwest family values to make you smile.

Although the Michigan rivalry evokes the fiercest passions, it's all OSU all year round. Last year we went to Ohio on Labor Day weekend, for a friend's wedding. It was the preseason; conference play had not even begun yet. When we arrived in town, I called Dad to let him know we were there. He pleaded with me not to tell him about the OSU game, because he was taping it to watch it later that night. I didn't even realize they were playing.

Later, at the wedding, the minister said it was a good day for two reasons: The Buckeyes had won, and a new marriage was beginning. In Columbus, love itself is sweeter when the Buckeyes are victorious.

It's easy to ridicule this obsession, but I must admit that I get swept away sometimes myself. I went to Northwestern, and was elated last year when they beat OSU for the first time in 33 years. (We did much worse this year.) Jumping up and down elated.

So I can't criticize fandom too much. But that doesn't make it any less absurd, when you stop to think about it.



Katy G.

Good heavens, honey. You've been in Alabama 10 years now, haven't you? Do you mean to tell me that the football police haven't come and asked you to declare allegiance to either UA or AU? My, they are getting derelict in their duties...

T Scott

I try to keep a low profile...

The comments to this entry are closed.