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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

MY FAVORITE AUBURN FAN

For so many Auburn fans, Jordan-Hare Stadium is a place where memories are built for the first time. Older fans gather at the entrances and renew their spirit in Auburn lore and the memories they have made over the years. For new fans, Jordan-Hare becomes a passageway to many firsts: The first time they witness the eagle circling the stadium, the first time they see the team rush out onto the field, the first time they shout in unison with 87,000 others, “WARRRRRRR Eagle! HEY!” They are witnessing their first victory and even their first defeat.

For me, though, Jordan-Hare holds a much more special memory. It is not a first memory, but a last. It is the memory of the last game my mother, Olive, ever saw in person in our beloved stadium.

THE FAN

My mother came to the United States as a young teenager back in the early 50’s. She came to this great land from Ireland, became a citizen, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother over the next 50+ years. She saw four children attend Auburn through the years, and she was my favorite Auburn fan ever.

Football Saturdays at home were something special. Making her stay in the kitchen or in her bedroom, not watching for fear Auburn would lose, became a family ritual. Mom wringing her hands was as much a part of an Auburn football game as was the ball itself.

AN AUBURN FOOTBALL SATURDAY

The best parts of the season were the games we all went to together. Loading up early on a Saturday morning to make the 2-hour trek to Auburn to see the Tigers play was always a highlight of any week. Knowing mom was going made it that much better. We laughed, we sang, we told jokes and reminisced about past games or just talked about whatever was a topic for discussion. It was always a great time.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

That all changed in the spring of 2004. For the second time in her life, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Chemotherapy would be the method of treatment and it would continue for the next couple of years, taking more and more of a toll on her body as she tried to beat the worst disease I know.

By the time 2006 rolled around, she was beginning to slip away as the treatments grew harsher and the outcome bleaker. In September of 2006, I had surgery on my ankle for two torn ligaments--two days before the Auburn-LSU game. I knew my chance at going was minimal at best.

For mom, the chance to go was even less than that. Funny thing about Auburn Football though, it has such a pull that we both just “sucked it up” and made our way anyway.

THE FINAL GAME

I’ll never forget being on crutches, trying to navigate my way across campus. Mom was in a wheel chair because the Chemo caused her hands and feet to crack and walking was immensely difficult. About half way to the stadium, I was spent. I was about to say, “Forget it” when mom gave up her wheelchair for me. She limped for a while and I gave the chair back. We alternated until we finally reached the friendly confines of the stadium. Neither of us moved until the game was over.

The game was another Auburn-LSU classic. Auburn was third in the nation; LSU was ranked sixth. Number 3 pulled out a 7-3 win in a defensive struggle; all was right with the world at that moment. Little did I know that would be the last time I would ever step foot into Jordan-Hare with my mom there also. It was the last game she ever saw in person.

THE ULTIMATE LOSS

By the time the 2007 season started, Mom was gone and all that was left were the memories of her cheering the Tigers to victory so many times before. Gone was the laughter and the nail biting. The blessing of having someone you love so much there with you, through the good time and bad, vanished when she passed away. Auburn Football forever changed for me.

Stepping into the stadium for the first time in 2007 and realizing she would not be there with me was one of the hardest things I have ever faced. My memory of her at a football game has not diminished, my love for Auburn has not wavered but the significance of football has taken on a whole new meaning. It is now less about wins and losses. It’s about family, and friends, and time spent with those we love. There are so few football Saturdays throughout the year. I, for one, take none for granted; we never know which will be our last.

STILL WATCHING

Wherever she is, I know Mom is watching over my family and me. I know she is proud that I have the first second generation Auburn Tiger in my oldest son, a junior at Auburn. I also know that she is up there smiling and giving us a big WAR EAGLE each and every Saturday as the Tigers take the field. I miss her each and every day. Nothing will ever change that. However, to Olive P., My Favorite Auburn Fan, I say I love you, Mom. God Bless and War Eagle!

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