Auburn Faculty Hobbies

Auburn Faculty Hobbies

From painting orcs to racing dirt bikes, Auburn professors have hobbies as varied as their areas of expertise

It’s nothing fancy. Nothing too involved. It’s not like she has an elaborate dedicated studio. When Lindsay Tan needs to, she throws some newspaper down on the kitchen table and breaks out the Minotaur Maroon and Fairy Fuchsia, grabs the brushes and unwinds. That thing she does? It’s just a pastime.

Peter Stanwick, on the other hand? Pastime doesn’t do it justice. Heck, after 54 years, calling his colossal collection a passion probably doesn’t even cover it. (His wife might go with “plague.”)

Kevin Smith’s students don’t even know about his weekend double life. Maybe they have noticed some extra muscle tone lately, but he’s mostly managed to keep his recent adrenaline addiction under wraps.

But practically the entire neighborhood knows what David Timm’s up to out there on clear nights.

Here’s a look at four Auburn professors who, as it turns out, are people with pastimes and passions like the rest of us. Pastimes and passions pursued entirely outside the classroom. Pastimes and passions that, given their day jobs and expertise, might come as a surprise.


John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot
John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot

In 1969, an 8-year-old Peter Stanwick went to a store in his hometown of Toronto and bought his first vinyl record: the Beatles White Album. That was 12,000 records ago, give or take a few hundred. But mostly give. Because Peter Stanwick can’t stop buying them. Or spinning them.

In March, Stanwick, a professor in the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business since 1993, celebrated the 20th anniversary of his Auburn campus radio show on WEGL, “’80s Rewind.” The kids these days download the songs they want to play and then upload them into a digital audio library. Not Stanwick. He puts his back into it. He still lugs his weekly playlist in the doors in crates. Could anyone tell if he just popped in a thumb drive? Maybe. Maybe not. But Peter could. It is, he says, the principle of the thing.

Google around about the recent resurgence in vinyl records, and you’ll see audiophiles pretending that music sounds better on vinyl, sure. But most folks just credit it to something they call the connection. Maybe it’s the work that goes into it—the best practices of careful storage, of avoiding scratches, the magical sonic surgery of pulling songs from polyvinyl chloride with a needle. Maybe it’s the sense that watching a record spin is kind of like its own little performance. But vinyl, so the theory goes—and so Stanwick swears—allows music lovers to–somehow, some way–feel connected to the music they love more than any other medium.

Yes, he pays for a streaming music subscription. But only the family uses it, not him. It’s just not his style. Spotify doesn’t give you liner notes, it doesn’t show you what’s on the back cover, or what color the vinyl is. For Stanwick, music isn’t something to enjoy just with your ears. You do it with your ears and your eyes and your hands and your mind. And your wallet. And your basement.

“We made custom shelving for the records, for the music room. But we’re almost at full capacity with those shelves,” Stanwick said. “I don’t really know what Plan B is. I also have 5,000 CDs.”


John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot
John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot

For a guy who’s made a career of studying stuff on the ground, David Timm sure does look up a lot. So up that the neighbors ask questions. The most common is the obvious: “What are you looking at?” Timm will tell them and offer them a look and they’ll ooh and ahh, and then the next time they drive by and see the pavements and materials professor out at night with one or more of his four telescopes, Timm says some of the nicer ones will even help him out.

“They’ll dim their headlights for me to help maintain the dark sky.”

And dark skies are important for astrophotography. Which is exactly what it sounds like. And thanks to the astronomical advances in technology over the last decade or so, this type of dark-sky photography has become very popular.

Timm’s been at it for a decade and he and his scopes and digital cameras are slowly working their way through the Messier Catalog, a 250-year-old list of 110 cosmos Kodak moments. At last count, Timm has logged 70, some multiple times, like the Orion Nebula, his favorite.

Producing stunning images of the night sky and all its nearby nebulae has never been easier. Still, if you’re serious about it, it’s not exactly the simplest hobby. First you must align the telescopes and camera mounts to the celestial pole to counter the earth’s rotation. Then, collect the raw images—the deep sky objects sometimes in exposures as long as five minutes, the solar system stuff sometimes at 80 frames per second—and then stack and process the heck out of them with various astro-friendly apps. It all takes a lot of time. But he does it as often as life and work and clear skies will allow. The finished product? Always worth it.

“There’s just so much beauty to be found out there,” Timm said. “Most of which is invisible to us without a telescope.”


John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot
John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot

Maybe it was because her dad was into model trains when she was growing up. Maybe it was just something to do to pass the pandemic. Maybe it just caught her eye on Pinterest one day. Interior design professor and program coordinator Lindsay Tan can’t really pinpoint why exactly she got into it, or where she even got the idea. She just knows it works. Painting miniature, custom-designed, 3D-printed Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) figurines at her kitchen table does exactly what a hobby is supposed to do: take your mind off things.

“My job is really intellectually challenging, and I find myself constantly thinking about the problems I’m working on,” she said. “But this—this is something with straightforward parameters. I can just immerse myself mentally with this one thing.”

And, yes, it is a thing. “Miniature painting”—that’s how the bloggers who write about it and the companies who produce branded paints for it refer to the activity. Be it by simple base coating and highlighting, or more advanced stuff like layering, blending and wet blending, Tan uses tiny brushes with “Silver Dragon” or “Merfolk Turquoise” or “Fire Newt Orange” paint colors and paints tiny orcs, dwarves and dragons. Or whatever other fantasy archetypes populate tabletop roleplaying lore. The painting has practically become a pursuit in itself, separate from the games, which Tan has only now gotten into because of the painting.

“D&D was always on the periphery of my life, and a lot of my friends play,” Tan said. “I had done a few one-off (games) without getting too heavily into it. But then I was reminded that this figure painting component existed. I was invited to a group and joined a campaign, but I wasn’t cool enough to play D&D growing up.”

But she’s determined her kids will be. “I’m creating a campaign for them to do this summer.”

Which means it’s probably time to order more elven armor.


John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot
John Thomas Vaughn black and white eadshot

You’ve probably caught it on ESPN when they’re showing X-Games kind of stuff. People striving against all odds to race dirt bikes through the woods, up and down rugged inclines, over open terrain and rocks, through mud, through pain, through everything, in a set time limit. Sometimes it’s several hours. Sometimes it’s multiple days. It requires strength, strategy, smarts and stamina. And its name is enduro racing. And, Kevin Smith, mild-mannered media studies professor, is pretty darn good at it.

Second place is good right? That’s what he got in the Southern Off-Road Championship Series. There were around 20 entrants in his division and he and the Wombat—that’s what he and his wife call his bike just because it sounds cool—beat out 18 of them.

He started riding never intending to race. He’d gotten a motorcycle for his campus commute a few years back, and he’d done some dirt biking with friends out in Colorado. Then one day he decided to combine the experience. He pulled the trigger on a dirt bike and found some folks to ride with.

“I was kind of looking for something more,” he said. He wasn’t alone. And from a Church of the Highlands small group of thrill seekers sprang a local community of riders who joyfully spend their weekends straining muscles they didn’t know they had on a five-mile trail on a member’s nearby piece of property. Or, nowadays, at an officially sanctioned race.

Smith has done a few races. He has also once placed third. But we won’t talk much about what happened in February in muddy Mississippi.

“It rained seven inches the night before and there was this giant, muddy rut that just ate my bike,” Smith said. “The mud was so thick that the back end was straight up. That was a first.”

He was stranded for a little while, he says. But at least he wasn’t bored.

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Man Gives for 65 Years

Man Gives for 65 Years

Auburn grad invests in his alma mater for more than 65 yearsCatesby ap C. Jones ’49 in his Selma home, holding a framed portrait from his days in the U.S. Army. He was drafted in 1944.A love of Auburn runs deep for Catesby ap C. Jones ’49. “You know, some people say...

Auburn Faculty Hobbies

Auburn Faculty Hobbies

From painting orcs to racing dirt bikes, Auburn professors have hobbies as varied as their areas of expertiseIt’s nothing fancy. Nothing too involved. It’s not like she has an elaborate dedicated studio. When Lindsay Tan needs to, she throws some newspaper down on the...

John Thomas Vaughan ’55

John Thomas Vaughan ’55

February 6, 1932 — January 13, 2023  Dean Emeritus John Thomas Vaughan ’55 was born in Tuskegee, Ala. and earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Auburn University in 1955. He practiced briefly in his hometown, but when he brought a cow to Auburn to have...

Auburn’s Nature Preschool

Auburn’s Nature Preschool

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Swift Gift

Swift Gift

Taylor Swift at Auburn University
Ryan Leander (left) and Michael Wekall ’10 welcome Taylor Swift to Auburn in 2010.

2010 Auburn graduate Michael Wekall recently stepped away from his longtime video production gig at Marietta’s Johnson Ferry Baptist Church to try something different. “Different” didn’t quite go according to plan. So, to answer my question, no, he says, he’s not exactly working anywhere at the moment. But, in the spring of his senior year at Auburn, he hugged Taylor Swift.

Things will work out.

“That hug has gotten my foot in the door everywhere I’ve interviewed,” he says.

No reason it shouldn’t do the same thing again.

Wekall, who spent most of college in communications but technically graduated in history, was the brains behind “A Hug From Taylor Swift,” one of the YouTube generation’s first viral get-a-celebrity-to-notice-you social media success stories. It was the sort of thing that marketing and media companies usually pay attention to. Which, of course, was kind of the idea: to do something to make his senior year memorable, something that might make him stand out on the job hunt, something like convincing the new darling of the American music scene to come to Auburn to give him a hug.

“The entire idea just came to me all of a sudden,” he says. “I was instantly just like, ‘this is literally going to happen.’”

Call it psychic powers. Call it confidence. Call it having your finger on the cultural pulse. But on Jan. 26, 2010, armed with a Flip camera, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, a dot-com, homemade T-shirts, boyish charm and, ultimately, thousands of supporters who wish they’d thought of it first, Wekall and partner in crime Ryan Leander, a high school friend turned roommate, launched an Auburn-based internet campaign that instantly connected with blogs, TV stations, message boards, Swifties and, within a month or so, Swift herself.

“Those were the best few months of my life. It changed Ryan’s life. It changed my life.”

Taylor Swift preforming at Auburn University
Swift’s management team co-opted the project into a PR goldmine, having her address the hopeful huggers via video while on her first concert tour, promising them they would be one step closer to their innocent, ambitious embrace if they completed a series of charitable challenges like “Help an Old Lady Across The Street,” which dozens of her fans quickly embraced themselves.

“Other people were getting involved and posting their own videos of them completing the challenges,” Wekall says. “That was one of the coolest things.”

But not as cool as the coolest.

On Monday, April 26, 2010 when some of Swift’s video crew showed up to document the third challenge— packing the Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center’s 350-seat auditorium for a mass karaoke performance of “You Belong With Me” with just two hours’ notice—he crossed his fingers. After the song, he stretched out his arms.

Swift walked through the auditorium doors in her own custom T-shirt that read “A Hug For Ryan and Michael.” She walked on stage. She motioned for Wekall. She motioned for Leander.

“Those were some serious hugs,” Swift later said in a video.

The PDA eventually gave way to an impromptu concert. The surprise “Fearless Tour” stop made headlines around the world. Sometimes, Wekall says, it still seems like a dream.

“Those were the best few months of my life. It changed Ryan’s life. It changed my life.”

And his resume, obviously, was never the same.

“Oh, it’s on my LinkedIn page and everything,” he says. “Actually, I probably need to push it back up top.”

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Man Gives for 65 Years

Man Gives for 65 Years

Auburn grad invests in his alma mater for more than 65 yearsCatesby ap C. Jones ’49 in his Selma home, holding a framed portrait from his days in the U.S. Army. He was drafted in 1944.A love of Auburn runs deep for Catesby ap C. Jones ’49. “You know, some people say...

Auburn Faculty Hobbies

Auburn Faculty Hobbies

From painting orcs to racing dirt bikes, Auburn professors have hobbies as varied as their areas of expertiseIt’s nothing fancy. Nothing too involved. It’s not like she has an elaborate dedicated studio. When Lindsay Tan needs to, she throws some newspaper down on the...

John Thomas Vaughan ’55

John Thomas Vaughan ’55

February 6, 1932 — January 13, 2023  Dean Emeritus John Thomas Vaughan ’55 was born in Tuskegee, Ala. and earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Auburn University in 1955. He practiced briefly in his hometown, but when he brought a cow to Auburn to have...

Auburn’s Nature Preschool

Auburn’s Nature Preschool

Woodland Wonders Nature Preschool uses its outdoor-based, curiosity-first philosophy to better connect children to nature and learningI’ve just started down the dirt path that leads to the heart of Auburn’s Kreher Preserve & Nature Center (KPNC) when it hits me:...

Making Change

Making Change

Two Auburn entrepreneurs went from being banned on PayPal to building a better way to bank around the world

It’s a Wednesday afternoon in late January 2022. Life is good. Bitcoin is up. Ethereum is up. Yellow Card CEO Chris Maurice ’18 and Yellow Card CTO Justin Poiroux are back at their Airbnb in Brooklyn after talking shop with some folks from Block, the company started by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey (“Jack is great” Maurice said). Block is one of the big firms in on the $15 million Series A funding Yellow Card received, but they couldn’t make the dinner in Miami last September after the deal went down over Zoom. Which is a shame.

Because the wine at that dinner was great, Maurice said. And the irony, even better.

It’s still wild to think about. Eight years earlier, in 2013, Maurice and Poiroux had been at Maurice’s New Orleans home—just a couple of teenage technophiles, budding high school entrepreneurs unsuccessfully trying to convince PayPal not to ban them. They admitted to falling prey to overseas scammers with stolen credit cards to the charge-back tune of $40,000 in a week for selling digital money called bitcoin on eBay. But that wasn’t technically a violation of PayPal’s terms, and therefore didn’t merit a lifetime ban. They lost that argument.

And eight years later, Maurice is at the Series A funding deal, bumping fists and popping corks with heavy hitters like Block and another of the big names in on the deal, Valar Ventures, a venture capital firm cofounded by Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal.

“Yeah,” Maurice said. “I definitely love how it’s all come full circle.”

Valar’s website says that they “invest in high-margin, fast-growing technology companies that are pursuing huge market opportunities.”

So what was the huge market opportunity that Maurice and Poiroux spent six years of hard lessons and hard pivots and hard work pursuing? A billion-dollar better way for people to buy and use cryptocurrency overseas. Specifically in Africa, where the financial alternatives provided by bitcoin and Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies (crypto), a purely digital medium of exchange maintained through computer networks independent from any government or bank, are facilitating a new era of small business banking that is cheaper, faster and largely immune to the continent’s notorious economic instability. 

Into Africa

If you are looking for a secure, low-fee way to get in on crypto using Nigerian naira, Ghanian cedi or 14 other African fiat currencies, or you want to use a crypto exchange integrated into local financial systems so seamlessly you can buy bitcoin with a cash deposit at an ATM, you don’t download PayPal. You download Yellow Card.

For life at a global start-up, every day is different. They monitor downloads. You have to keep an eye on progress. Then they’ll spend the rest of the afternoon emailing and “WhatsApping” and fixing bugs and tweaking code and checking on whether one of their 160 employees, like their main guy in Ethiopia, quit on them, or whether it’s the government shutting down the internet again. All the usual stuff that comes with running an international company from a MacBook.

“Oh, and we signed an endorsement deal with a rapper today,” Poiroux said.

“Well,” Maurice said, “our marketing team in Africa did. It’s more Afrobeat than rap. He’s big in clubs in Ghana, stuff like that. He’s called Stonebwoy.”

Yep, there it is on Twitter.

This month alone, Yellow Card’s system has facilitated more than $160 million in transactions for its nearly one million users in 16 countries. All told? It’s $800 million.

“It will be $1 billion by the end of March,” Maurice said.

Not bad for a couple of 25-year-old Auburn men.

The Tycoons of Taco Bell

They met in high school while volunteering at a summer camp for people with mental and physical disabilities called Camp SMILE in Mobile, Poiroux’s hometown. They hit it off. Mutual friends with mutual ambitions. They both wound up at Auburn—Maurice in 2014 in finance and Poiroux in 2015 in software engineering, back when you only heard the word “bitcoin” in Lowder Hall after hearing the words “what is.”

But Maurice and Poiroux saw the future in bitcoin and took that future to the South Gay Street Taco Bell. There, they set up their own bitcoin brokerage amongst the burritos and Diet Cokes. They posted an ad on Craigslist and soon fellow crypto kids paid them 200 real American dollars in exchange for a shiny new bitcoin in their iPhone. They organized a loose network of Taco Bell brokerages at other schools like LSU, Georgia, Alabama and Yale. They called it The Crypto Connection. Seventy thousand dollars was exchanged in four months. They took a percentage. A lightbulb went on. They named it Yellow Card and took it to the New Venture Accelerator in Auburn’s Research Park.

The New Venture

“The name Yellow Card sticks with people,” Poiroux said. And in the beginning, it made sense. Because the simple innovation the Yellow Card boys thought they could bring to crypto was convenience in the form of a gift card. Instead of reaching for an iTunes gift card in the Walmart checkout line, why not give your techie nephew a $10 bitcoin gift card for his birthday?

“Bringing Cryptocurrency To The Masses.” That was an early slogan. And everyone loved it.

Maurice and Poiroux became pitch deck poster children for everything the New Venture Accelerator could offer two Auburn students with dreams and drive: office space, mentorship, investor connections, first place start-up competition finishes, publicity.

And Dr. Baker.

Lakami Baker, associate professor in management at Harbert College of Business and former managing director of the Lowder Center for Family Business and Entrepreneurship, had to Google it.

“It almost sounded like dark web kind of stuff,” Baker said. “I was like, ‘what is bitcoin?’”

After a quick crypto crash course, she was supportive. Baker oversaw the New Venture Accelerator. That was the job—supporting student entrepreneurs with a vision. Which is what she saw in Maurice’s and Poiroux’s bloodshot eyes every day.

“They were our first tenants,” Baker said. “Their office was right next to mine. I wondered if they were sleeping there.”

Spending the night, yes. Sleeping, not so much.

They still think about preparing for the first pitch competition. They did not leave the office for three weeks. If the New Venture Accelerator taught them anything, it was how to craft an investor pitch. They crafted Yellow Card’s pitch from dawn to dusk to present Baker as many iterations as they could. Rinse. Repeat. War Eagle.

Yellow Card leadership summit

The Yellow Card team at a 2021 leadership summit in Nairobi, Kenya: (Back row L-R) Ernest Murimi, Roger Taracha, Chris Maurice ’18, Munachi Ogueke, Justin Poiroux, Neil Kelly, John Colson ’18, Peter Mureu. (Front row L-R) Lasbery Oludimu, Oparinde Babatunde, Mandy Naidoo, Jason Marshall, Uche Akajiuba.

They flew to Minneapolis and came in third, good enough for $25,000. It bothers the guys with the $15 million in funding to this day. “We should have won,” Maurice said with the degree of confidence he also credits to Baker and the New Venture Accelerator.
“We owe a ton to Dr. Baker,” he said. “She helped us with so much stuff.” Like pivoting when it became obvious that the red tape and astronomical costs involved in truly implementing the gift card model would keep Yellow Card from becoming the success story they knew it could be.

“But we also put her through a lot of crap,” Maurice said.

Baker nods. Ah, yes. The empty water bottles everywhere. The moldy pizza on the floor. Justin dropping out after his freshman year to work on the company full time. Maurice, the eventual Rhodes Scholarship finalist, thinking of doing the same. Nearly missing their flight back from Minneapolis because they’d been out too late the night before.

“The running joke was that they were my adopted sons,” she said. And Mom is proud as she can be, and not just because of the bottom line. It is also the social component of it all—the Creed stuff.

“The thing that really pushed it was the emphasis on Africa” she said. “And solving a real problem those individuals had. I guess they probably told you about the man they met at the bank.”

“The thing that really pushed it was the emphasis on Africa and solving a real problem those individuals had.”

Making Crypto Work

It was the “aha” moment—or maybe the moment they realized that cryptocurrency’s democratizing economic promise for developing nations could only be kept with the proper infrastructure.

It was late 2017. The Wells Fargo lobby was quiet. The man at the counter expected the $200 MoneyGram he wanted to send his mom in Nigeria to cost $200. With the service fee, it was $290. Maurice and Poiroux overheard the man’s dilemma and looked at each other.

“It was, like, ‘whoa, this is a perfect use-case scenario right here,’” Maurice said.

Maurice introduced himself. Ever hear of Bitcoin? He told him about how cheap and fast it was. The man just walked out the door.

“What we realized was that, say this guy took our advice and sent $200 in bitcoin to his mom, who may barely know how to use the internet, it wouldn’t have done anything for anybody,” Maurice said. “If anything, the problem might have been worse. At least with losing $90 his mom would still end up with money. That was the moment we realized that Bitcoin alone wouldn’t solve that problem, that an extra layer was needed for it to work [in Africa]. So, that’s what we started looking into.”

Two weeks of late nights and LinkedIn networking later, Poiroux was in Nigeria meeting with Munachi Ogueke, seemingly the most connected crypto man on the continent. Four years later, Ogueke is their CBO—chief bitcoin officer— and the first tenants of the New Venture Accelerator are running the fastest-growing cryptocurrency exchange in Africa. And that exchange is allowing ordinary Africans everywhere to open small businesses and send money around the globe.

And what about PayPal? Everyone can now buy Bitcoin with PayPal.

Well, maybe not everyone.

“Oh, yeah,” Poiroux said. “We’re still banned.”

Read More Auburn Alumni Stories

Laser Eyes of the Tiger

Laser Eyes of the Tiger

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Deep-fried memes and peacocks: How Twitter became the digital Toomer’s Corner for Auburn fans 

What the Kentucky Men’s Basketball Twitter account tweeted on Jan. 22 quickly got more interactions than any tweet since the account was created in 2009. It was merely three words— “Final from Auburn”—plus a photo of Auburn center Walker Kessler out-jumping Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe during the tip-off. Superimposed over the photo was the score: Auburn 80, Kentucky 71.

After a day, the tweet had been liked more than 2,000 times and retweeted more than 500 times. Strong numbers, but nothing special for a blueblood like Kentucky pushing a million Twitter followers. The stat that shattered the record was the number of replies.

The final score tweet for Kentucky’s previous game, a win over Texas A&M, got 50 replies. The final score tweet for their following game, John Calipari’s 800th victory, got 23.

The Auburn game got 4,153 replies.

Trolling Toomer’s Corner

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how tweeting replies to the final score tweets of defeated Auburn basketball opponents with the garish form of images the kids call “deep-fried” memes became the post Gen-X version of rolling Toomer’s Corner.

An expert practitioner, 2015 Auburn grad @JoshDub, traced Auburn’s embrace of what had mostly been an NBA Twitter thing back to early 2020, after Auburn’s win over South Carolina. A guy named @gregoryboydd replied to South Carolina’s final score tweet with a six-second video loop of the words “You Just Lost To Bruce Pearl” superimposed over an oversaturated picture of Pearl and set to the song “Zombie Nation.”

After the next win, a few more people tweeted the same video. The win after that, a few more, plus some similarly styled originals. The embryonic Auburn artform stuck around through Covid, and the 2020-21 season, virtually indistinct from run-of-the-mill Twitter trolling. Internet memes weren’t anything new, after all. In fact, available in the official Auburn team store is a T-shirt that name checks Auburn basketball’s “social media mob,” whose most active member might be the Twitter account @AuburnMemes, started by a 2015 Auburn grad in 2012.

But in 2021, something about the in-your-face swagger of the deep-fried memes—a washed-out baby Walker Kessler playing with “blocks,” Wordle scores in the shape of an L (for loss)—began satisfying Auburn Twitter’s insatiable schadenfreude in ways traditional trash talk never had. The medium—just tweeting funny, stupid things at conquered opponents—became the message. Then, in December, something funny happened: The message became the multitude.

You got ratioed

They call it a ratio. Get way more replies to your tweet than retweets or likes? You’ve been “ratioed.” And almost every team Auburn played got ratioed.

The numbers grew, game by game—23 meme replies to Morehead State’s final score post, 35 for ULM’s and 63 for USF’s. By Auburn’s blowout win over Nebraska, it was well into triple digits. Then came conference play. More than a thousand for LSU, nearly the same for South Carolina and 1,378 for Florida.

On January 11, 2022, things went nuclear. Alabama’s final score tweet of its 81-77 home loss to Auburn received more than 4,000 replies—in less than 10 minutes. After an hour, it was more than 5,000. The sheer volume was unique in the sports landscape. Some victims of the hive-mind hijinks even began welcoming the inevitable siege with “oh boy,” “have at it,” “here it comes” in their final score tweets.

There were local stories. There were national stories. Auburn had a phenomenon on its hands.

“It really was gradual at first, but it was almost just like Auburn Twitter decided to see if we could make this a thing,” says 2012 Auburn grad @PabloEscoburner—Pablo to his friends and enemies. “Like, let’s see how many we could do.”

Pablo, arguably the movement’s tip of the spear—he and @AuburnMemes cohosted a live online tutorial on how to deep fry a meme for new initiates—has no idea how many he’s done. Must be hundreds, dozens of which were workshopped with top-tier Auburn meme makers before being launched into legend.

But his most enduring contribution is the image of fan-favorite Auburn guard K.D. Johnson, the man of 1,000 memeable faces. Pablo borrowed a close-up of Johnson, tongue out, eyes wide, shot during his Auburn’s season opener against Morehead State. On the tongue is Auburn logo. The eyes are the glowing laser-eye thing, a deep-fried meme must and the artform’s most distinct calling card.

All the players want laser eyes

“Oh, the players love it,” says 2016 Auburn grad Josh Wetzel, the man with the keys to Auburn Basketball’s social media accounts. “They’ve definitely seen it. We try really hard to build their brand and maximize their exposure, so a lot of them play into it a little even in their own social media.”

Wetzel played into it, too. Upon taking the digital media specialist job for Auburn Athletics, he’d been tasked with infusing youth and swagger into basketball’s social media strategy; meme madness was a Godsend.

“Everything that happened this season was like the perfect storm,” he said. “What was so exciting is that fans started doing this. We literally haven’t done anything besides embrace the culture.”

That embrace—from printing T-shirts to soliciting pregame memes — put Auburn in the top five of interactions on social media among college basketball programs for January and February.

“It’s made the job easy,” Wetzel said.

The only thing difficult about the new world order? Keeping up with the hourly evolution of memes.

Peacocks of the Walk

“Yeah, the whole peacock thing kind of caught me off,” Wetzel said. “I mean, as our fans jump on something, we’re not always going to jump right into it, but if it fires them up and sparks engagement, then hey.”

The official Auburn basketball twitter doesn’t have a peacock icon in its header. But Wetzel’s personal account does, as do hundreds if not thousands of other Auburn fans who embraced the flamboyant fowl as the season’s unofficial mascot, a symbol to embody Auburn hoops hoopla both on and off the court.

A meme in its own right, that particular trend and its real-world representations—stuffed peacocks at games, signs, and, yes, T-shirts—traces to an Auburn fan podcast (and subsequent blog post) in which 2008 Auburn grad Drew Crowson, the man behind “We’ve Got Jared,” the unofficial Twitter-born anthem of the 2019-20 Final Four team, insisted that Auburn fans needed to embrace the Tigers’ amazing run with bravado—“like a peacock.”

“Auburn is now on the basketball map, and this ridiculously passionate fanbase isn’t just along for the ride, we’re a part of it.”

Deep-fried peacocks with laser eyes popped up on Twitter almost immediately.

The team that NBC streaming service Peacock, per an official tweet, rooted for in the NCAA Tournament? The Auburn Tigers.

“It’s beautiful,” Pablo says. “This fanbase has been starved for basketball success for far too long. Bruce Pearl built a program that has Auburn competing with the elites, which is easy to rally around, but it didn’t happen without a lot of investment from all parties involved. This rise isn’t an accident. It’s been cultivated. It’s the building of a basketball culture through every imaginable avenue. Auburn is now on the basketball map, and this ridiculously passionate fanbase isn’t just along for the ride, we’re a part of it.”

Pablo says the one that @BasketBarner did was probably his favorite. It’s a variation on the big Captain Phillips meme—two frames from the scene in the 2013 movie “Captain Phillips” when, after boarding the boat, the main Somali pirate tells Tom Hanks “Look at me—I’m the captain now.”

Except Tom Hanks is the Kentucky logo, and the pirate is Pablo’s deep-fried K.D. Johnson, eyes glowing, tongue logo’d, delivering the message of the moment.

“I’m the blue blood now.”

Read More Auburn Alumni Stories

Playing With Fire

Playing With Fire

Twenty-five years later, Auburn’s “Barn Burner” game is seared in the minds of fans and those who fought the largest fire in campus history

Football player running over the a burning barn picture in back

IT WAS HIS NIGHT IN THE WELDING GLOVES. And he missed it. He had to pass the beautiful bird off to one of his Alpha Phi Omega brothers—Kurt something. Twelve of them would take care of Tiger before the Southeastern Raptor Center took over in 2000, and the seniors usually got her for the best games…you know, like the biggest home game of the season.

But no—eight years after 1988’s godforsaken “earthquake game,” the bad guys had apparently brought their damn voodoo with them up from the bayou to brand their bragging rights with yet another natural disaster. He could already hear the headlines: Tigers get torched! SEC hopes go up in smoke! Barn Burner on the Plains!

Good grief… as if lifelong Auburn fan, senior communications major, War Eagle handler and student firefighter Matt Jordan ’97 needed another reason to hate LSU.

The first thing on the right in Station No. 1’s fancy new Public Education Room is the Auburn Bulletin’s front page after the Kopper Kettle explosion. That’s what the old timers used to talk about. But no one currently pulling shifts in town was around in 1978. That’s been true for years.

But there are still a few who actually saw the crazy scenes captured in the first photos on the left with their own eyes. Matt Jordan might even be in one of them. It’s hard to tell. Even if he isn’t, when he sees them, he goes back there. Just for a second. It’s hard not to. It was the biggest fire he’d ever fought. Twenty-five years later, it still is.

Sept. 21, 1996 didn’t just give Matt Jordan the eagle handling student firefighter a wild story to tell. It gave Matt Jordan, the now-deputy fire chief, a defining professional moment to point to.
Jason Brown, ’00 exercise science, and the other Station 2 guys were in the day room fiddling with the antenna. Not that they got ESPN; you had to wiggle things just right just to get WSFA. But you never knew—maybe they’d catch a highlight or something. It was a big game. No. 13 Auburn. No. 21 LSU. Both undefeated. He’d wanted to be there. But such was life for the younger guys in the Auburn University student firefighter program. Most fall Saturdays, you relied on radio.

First came the chatter on the scanner. A lot of it. It was hard to understand. About five seconds after making out the word “stadium,” they heard the tone.

A series of blasts meant a one-station response. This was solid. Solid didn’t mean a car fire on I-85. Solid meant all hands on deck. Solid meant structure fire—Brown’s first as a newly promoted apparatus operator. He threw on his gear and hopped behind the wheel. He looked up. Nope, no time to be nervous. He turned on the lights, flipped on the siren and pointed the engine toward the giant black cloud rising above Auburn University. Jordan didn’t hear the tone. He saw the smoke. Then the flames. Was it the stadium? A nearby building? It really didn’t matter. He knew he was about to switch roles. When a request for student firefighters to report to the Sports Arena went out over the Jordan-Hare Stadium PA, it was official. He handed the eagle off, slipped out of the gloves and started running.

Since 1976, the City of Auburn had operated just two fire stations. In 1997, it added a third. It wasn’t a coincidence. For a story on the expansion, the Auburn Plainsman asked Jordan and freshman Jason Brown to pose by the city’s $220,000 fire truck. That little purchase wasn’t a coincidence, either. “In my mind,” Jordan says, “that night fundamentally changed the fire department’s approach to gamedays. Sept. 11 changed it even more, of course, but it started that night.”

ESPN’s Ron Franklin had to say something.

“This fire has broken behind the stadium…we saw light smoke first, and now we can see flames… Hopefully, it’s not a part of the stadium. Right now, very few people are watching the field. They are very concerned about the situation in the southeastern corner of the stadium…David Housel, the athletics director, is coming toward the booth…it is next door to the stadium….Wow, we’ve had an electric start here but that really has got this crowd with their neck on a spindle. The fire department is there and everyone is safe, so if you’ve got loved ones here, don’t be worried, as Faulk goes over the right tackle, takes it out to the 21, Brumbaugh stops him. No score in our ballgame, 3:39 to play in the first quarter…”

Football player running with ball

Older grads would point and maybe tell their kids that in 1968, the year before the coliseum opened, they’d watched Auburn beat LSU at that building right there, even with “Pistol” Pete Maravich putting up 49 points. But by 1996, with the exception of the gymnastics team that called it home, most Auburn students simply knew the Sports Arena as the old white wooden building with the rounded roof that kind of looked like a barn. It was some charming piece of yesteryear right by the stadium, a place you could tell friends to meet you to grab their ticket or a beer or a hot dog, a place with an awning under which
tailgaters could apparently keep their coals dry on wet, late- September afternoons.

It was built in 1942 as a recreational facility for the boys of Louisiana’s new Camp Livingston. When Livingston closed after the war, the Federal Works Agency dismantled the thing into sections and relocated all 24,000 hard-pine feet of it next to Auburn Stadium. The basketball team needed a bigger, better home. Alumni Gymnasium had been built in 1916. It was time. The new court was to be christened against Georgia Tech on Jan. 30, 1948. The athletics department expected a capacity crowd of 2,500 and then some. But they wanted the Chesterfields left at home.

Jeff Beard, business manager of the Auburn Athletic Association, asked the Plainsman to notify students not to smoke when attending events in the new Sports Arena. Not only is the smoke a hindrance to the competing athletes, but the building itself is not fireproof, he said.

black and white photo of old Auburn Barn practice facility

Built in 1942, the Sports Arena was nicknamed “The Barn” and was located next to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Jason Brown had been inside just one time. And just barely. He was walking to class one day and just peeked in to see what was actually in there. Ah, gymnastics.

The next time he saw inside was when his battalion chief opened the double doors to reveal a swirling inferno like something out of a movie. Of course, the whole night was like something out of a movie. The surreal silhouettes of fans watching from the Jordan-Hare ramps. Trying to take a nap in the middle of Heisman Drive before the sun came up with a five-inch hose as a pillow.

Had it happened post-9/11, who knows? Panic might have set in. Had the wind shifted, who knows? The smoke might have stopped the game, forced folks to the exits and created a traffic nightmare for first responders.

Instead, with everything inside the stadium completely normal (save the student section’s view of the biggest local fire in a generation burning 50 yards away), no one seemed to leave. The show went on. When the first quarter ended, folks went to the ramps to smoke, same as always. They went to the bathroom, same as always.

They just couldn’t flush the toilets. If that was you, Brown, who retired from the department a couple of years ago as a lieutenant, apologizes. But they had to get those 5,000 gallons per minute from somewhere. They were pulling water from every building in the vicinity. And none had more than the one built to accommodate the bodily functions of 85,000 people.

“That spot where the arena was is the parking deck now,” he says, “but, you know, that hydrant we connected to just above the intersection of Heisman and Donahue Drive—that’s still there.”

 The night didn’t last quite as long for Matt Jordan. He found his lieutenant, helped spell some of the guys on the line and pitched in where he could. Brown and the others on shift were there all night, but things were pretty much under control after an hour or so. The approximately $200,000 of gymnastics equipment was obviously a total loss. Two dozen cars were damaged. But no one died. No one had even been hurt. Even that close, the stadium was never really in danger.

He made it home in time for ESPN’s 2 a.m. replay. Missing it in person had almost been a mercy. Auburn’s last-minute comeback fell short. LSU ran Auburn’s botched two-point conversion attempt back 98 yards for two points of their own. Instead of going into overtime tied at 17, LSU won 19-15. That’s the kind of game you want to forget. But he hasn’t. He can’t. No one can. Everyone who saw it on TV still talks about it. Everyone who was there still talks about it. Some just whisper.

The report listed it only as the “probable” cause, but when the grill was found, it was all but certain. As, eventually, were other things. Names were never released. Charges were never filed. But Deputy Chief Jordan has it on good authority—they figured it out. Witnesses were interviewed, vehicles were ID’d. “Remember, you used to be able to park pretty much anywhere,” Jordan says. “Tailgating at the 1996 Auburn-LSU game looked a lot different than tailgating today. Again, that night changed things. Not just tailgating, but the number of firefighting personnel on campus and in the stadium.”

“Well, I guess that’s one thing we can thank LSU fans for,” I say. “I mean, you can tell me, Matt. I won’t say anything—it was LSU fans, right? Had to be, right?” Jordan pauses for a second. He smiles. “Well,” he says, “that’s my story.”