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
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
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.”