The Big Question

The Big Question

What is your earliest memory of attending an Auburn football game?

Big Question header

“Nov. 18, 1978, Auburn/UGA game in Jordan-Hare. Auburn tied a top-10 UGA team 22-22 while wearing orange jerseys. It was an awesome game and had me hooked on Auburn. War Eagle!!”
James Martin ’89

“I attended my first Auburn football game at Jordan-Hare
Stadium in 1986 with my grandfather Deryl Seifried.”
Jonathan Seifried ’04

“It was 1987, Auburn vs. Florida at Jordan- Hare. Emmitt Smith was a freshman at Florida. Auburn won and Emmitt was in tears under the Auburn goalpost. Fireworks were everywhere. I was sold all in on Auburn. I enrolled
at Auburn the next fall.”

Mark Sobel-Sorrell ’91

“My dad took me to Athens to see Pat Sullivan and the Tigers beat the damn Dawgs, and that performance sealed the Heisman trophy!”
Wade Moore ’80

“In 2000, celebrating a victory over Georgia at Toomer’s Corner with (left) Amity Neighbors ’04 and (right) Melanie Russell ’01.”
Erin Sloan ’04

bowl of tortellini

“I started going to Auburn football games when I was little. We went to every home game as well as a couple away games. Early memories of going out on the field to watch the majorettes after the game come out and twirl (I went on to be a 4-year member of the AUMB but on an instrument instead of as a majorette).”
Traci Ash ’83

“In ninth grade, I moved to Alabama from Washington State so my first football game was my freshman year as a student and the energy of the student section was unlike anything I had ever been a part of. I stood the entire game and now when I go to the games with my family, I always remember my days in the student section.”
Jeffrey Ioimo ’08

AU Gingerbread house graphic

“Tailgating as a young boy with my dad out of the trunk of his car beside Thach Hall. In the mid to late ’70s. Throwing a football, eating sandwiches and walking around campus. And watching Joe Cribbs, James Brooks and William Andrews play in the same backfield.”
Art Guin ’92

“Auburn vs. Florida, 1969. I sat on the front row in the north end zone. Got a chin strap from an AU player after the game!”
Bill Stone ’85

“LSU at Auburn, 1972. Very cold. Pouring rain! We stepped into 32-gallon trash bags to keep the rain out of our shoes and to help keep us warm.”
Katherine Thrasher ’79

“The first Auburn- Alabama game attended was in Birmingham. Auburn won! 17 to 16! Need I say more?”
Theresa Dunn ’80

4 women kneeling around a yellow table

“My first in-person Auburn football game was in an Auburn band uniform. I was never really interested in football. I just loved playing in the band. That game changed my feelings about football forever. Being at Jordan-Hare with all the excitement of being a part of the Auburn Family and playing in the stands and the field made me realize how fun being a football fan could be.”
Nanette Arata ’86

“Justin Davis was my favorite Camp War Eagle counselor, and he used to always check on me when school started. I ran into him waiting for the gates to open for the season opener that year. My first football game at Auburn is an experience I will never forget!” 
Gabrielle Brundidge ’13

drawing of a RV

 

“1982 Iron Bowl played on Legion Field. Auburn beat Bama 23-22. Bear Bryant’s last Iron Bowl game. Crowd rushed the field and tore down the goalpost. WAR EAGLE!”
Lisa Tolar ’93

“At age three, sitting in my dad’s lap at a game when Travis Tidwell was the quarterback, circa 1949!”
Patricia Gleason ’74

bowl of tortellini

Chad Jones ’99, L-R Elizabeth, Grayson, Harrison, Benjamin

“Earliest for me was when I was a freshman at Auburn. It was the late ’80s and the tailgate was like nothing I had ever experienced. People were beyond welcoming and friendly; it was like one huge family reunion where everyone welcomed you!”
Richard Miller ’94

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.”

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The Everything Player

The Everything Player

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Jabari Smith is the everything player at the everything school.
Jabari Smith

With the height of a center and the skills of a guard, Jabari Smith considered multiple pathways to professional basketball.

He chose Auburn.

“I wanted to experience the college life,” said Smith, a 6-10 freshman power forward on Auburn’s Men’s Basketball Team who picked the Tigers over other colleges and the NBA’s official minor league organization. “You don’t really get that college life going to the G League and different routes.”

The opportunity to attend SEC football games, interact with fellow students and begin his college education appealed to Smith. A recruiting pitch from Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl, who showed Jabari how other Atlanta metro players—such as Chuma Okeke and Isaac Okoro—thrived at his position in Auburn’s system before getting picked in the first round of the NBA Draft, sealed the deal.

“The words he said really stood out,” Smith said. “Watching their role, how much the ball is in their hands and how much freedom he lets his fours play with. It came down to the family atmosphere, the coaching staff, how much they invest in their players. That played a big part in me choosing Auburn.”

Smith wasted no time adjusting to college basketball, giving fans “a taste of everything”—as Pearl put it—in his debut: points, rebounds, steals, assists, blocked shots.

“Play the game the right way and it’ll give back to you.”

In his second game, the freshman phenom impressed again, recording his first double-double: 23 points and 10 rebounds.

“Jabari has a very advanced skillset,” said Pearl. “He’s a great jump shooter.”

A founding member of what teammates call “The Breakfast Club,” Smith arrived at Auburn Arena at 6:30 a.m. each day before the season to perfect his craft.

“We feel like going early makes you get up and push through,” Smith said. “It shows that you really want it.”

For every shot Smith shoots in a game, he’s made thousands from the same spot during practice.

“I put that confidence in me,” he said. “I’ve put in the work over the years with my teammates, my trainers and my dad.” At Sandy Creek High School in Fayetteville, Ga., Smith developed into a top-five national player in his class, becoming the highest-rated signee in Auburn history.

“My junior year was my first year of being the best player on my team. Having to lead a team. I feel like I’ve come a long way at being a leader. Being more aggressive and trying to give your team a spark.”

After graduating from high school, Smith moved to Auburn and added 20 pounds of muscle over the summer thanks to what could be called “fueling and grueling”: nutritious meals at Auburn’s Wellness Kitchen and intense workouts with Strength and Conditioning Coach Damon Davis.

“It’s making a great difference, taking bumps, being able to play with the physicality of the SEC,” said Smith, who’s listed at 220 pounds. “Feeling stronger on your shot, extending your range and how you look. It makes you feel a little better about yourself, too.”

He may be months away from becoming an NBA first-round pick, but for one season, Jabari Smith is enjoying college life and a chance to be part of a team before basketball becomes his profession.

“We love to see each other succeed,” he said. “Play the game the right way and it’ll give back to you. I’m trying to prove to everybody that I am what they think I am.”

AT A GLANCE

HOMETOWN

Fayetteville, GA

CLASS

Freshman

POSITION

Forward

HEIGHT

6’10”

1.3

STEALS

POUNDS

220

6.5

REBOUNDS

15.2

POINTS

2.0

ASSISTS

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The Big Question

The Big Question

What was your favorite bar, restaurant or hangout when you were a student?

“Prevail Union! Prevail was where I spent most of my time in college. I loved the community aspect there and how close it was to campus. It was also where I spent the majority of my money buying coffee during latenight study sessions!”

Addie Roberds ’17

“The Silver Spur. We would take line dancing classes on Tuesday night.”

Landra Cooper ’98

“The Casino! I learned to shoot pool there. As a local gal, my parents were NOT happy about it.”

Elizabeth Farrar ’76

“My boyfriend and I met at Quixotes in 2016! We were regulars every week until graduation. We graduated in 2019 and now live in Cincinnati. This bar has always meant so much to us. We wish we could go back for one more burger night!”

Sara Brillanti ’19

“Greeley’s or my friend’s trailer on Wire Road.”

Carol Coffey ’83

“The Casey House on the corner of Casey Avenue and Armstrong served as our favorite bar, restaurant and hangout spot. There’s something special about a house that never needed to be locked. There was always a group of friends over. No one needed an invitation.”

Hillary Rupert ’12

“My favorite bar was Bodega’s, which was on the corner of College and Magnolia. With two floors and a back patio area with lots of seating, my friends and I enjoyed hanging out there when we would go downtown. The back patio was especially fun for people watching! Bodega’s was where I spent my graduation night celebrating with friends, so it holds some great memories for me!” 

Tressa Richards ’10

“Momma G’s 99 cent chicken Italian sandwiches every Tuesday night, great on a student budget- they don’t have them anymore, or the keg corner for a jug of beer to go—good times for sure!”

Bret Mehlhouse ’89

“War Eagle Supper Club. Great music. That was a long time ago. Thankfully, we didn’t have cell phones or social media.”

Maribeth Word ’88

“Amsterdam Cafe was a great place for lunch or an early dinner date. It would get rowdy later and on the weekends. Best memories include the cold beers, playing table shuffleboard, listening to bands (the Quadrajets!) and spilling out on the sidewalk to a neighboring house where the party would continue.”

Angela Hudson ’96

“During my time in grad school the old Harry’s bar was my favorite go-to spot. Me and a friend of mine would go there to shoot pool at least 2-3 times a week. While the overall aesthetics of the place left much to be desired with the decades of graffiti on the walls, the essentially nonfunctioning toilets and the odor of 30 years’ worth of cigarette smoke gave the place a certain charm.”

Christopher Murray ’98

“My friends’ favorite hangout spot was Skybar!”

Alisa Lamar ’18

“Pasquale’s pizza downtown and Sani-Freeze. They were about the only spots in walking distance of campus.”

Kay Keeshan ’69

“Momma Goldbergs right across the street from lowder. We even would have classes there at times.”

Jonathan Krueger ’20

“The Supper Club, Wings to go, Bottchers, Highlands, Bourbon Street and The Blue Room.”

Britni Miltner ‘04

“Finks. A chill place during down times, and the coolest spot for a band or Halloween gig when crowded. (It didn’t hurt that my roommate was a server!) War Eagle!”

Katie Parker ’02

“War Eagle Supper Club—especially on Sunday nights when Bob Richardson and Jane Drake brought the jazz!”

Paul McCracken ’91

“Byron’s for breakfast no doubt!!! Favorite memory there is f irst day of school breakfast our senior year. The six of us were in basically every class together all four years at Auburn! War damn COSAM!!!

Katelyn Riant ’19

“Quixotes! Probably spent too much time there, especially during freshman/sophomore year!”

Brian Moyer ’10

“I loved Price’s BBQ House. My friends and I started going there when they first opened and continued to go every time I was in town. I also took my kids there before every home game and made sure I went by the last week they were open. You never knew who you might meet there as well.”

Harry Abrams ’81

“Definitely the War Eagle Supper Club! I once met Zac Brown Band there when they were nobodies performing on a random Thursday night. We had a few drinks together and then they played til the cows came home!”

Kate Cole ’07

“Bodega, located at the NW corner of Toomer’s Corner. Lots of laughs and good times had with life long friends.”

Nicole Brown ’10

“Behind the Glass when it was a cafe, art gallery and boutique.”

Wendy Blaszyk ’89

“Denaro’s on Wednesday nights. Coach Bowden would usually show up for the karaoke.”

Jamie Cragg ’96

David Markey ’74 and June Copeland ’71 celebrated their 50th anniversary by spending a weekend in Auburn. “We enjoyed visiting where we met at the ‘Haley Wall’ and a great dinner at Hamilton’s on Magnolia … formerly Pasqually’s!”

David Markey ’74

June Copeland ’71

“The strutting duck”

Ella Bitto ’99

“Harry’s where the ‘ambiance will seduce you’!”

Beth Stephens ’93

“The Flush. Ice Cream after a long day of studying was always a treat.”

Steve Ramey ’80

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To the Moon and Beyond: Chuck Bergh ’94

To the Moon and Beyond: Chuck Bergh ’94

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How are we going to explore distant planets? With robots, of course

 

Chuck Bergh and the robot

RoboSimian (Cylde) with Brett Kennedy (left) and Chuck Bergh. RoboSimian, developed to respond to mass industrial accidents such as the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant meltdown in 2011, placed 5th worldwide in the DARPA Robotics Challenge. December 2013. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Chuck Bergh ’94 has been passionate about all things aerospace ever since he was a child. Both of his grandfathers served in the military and his father was in the Air Force, so he grew up around stories of fighter planes and all of the military’s cutting-edge technology.

But by the time Bergh was ready for college, his dream of pursuing a career in aerospace seemed as dim as Saturn’s rings. When he got to Auburn University, he switched his major from aerospace to mechanical engineering and set his sights on a career in manufacturing, securing a job with electronics giant TDK Corporation after graduation.

“We’d seen the beginnings of the ‘peace dividend’ start to kick in because we had already ended hostilities with the Russians at that point,” Bergh says, “and America just wasn’t spending as much on its defense program at the time.”

Nearly three decades later, though, Bergh is the lead test and integration engineer for the Vision Compute Element of the Mars 2020 mission, named Perseverance and launched this past summer, which will seek signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples for possible return to Earth.

“The Vision Compute Element is a computer we built to improve landing accuracy,” Bergh says. “For example, the landing sites for the previous Spirit and Opportunity rovers were roughly 100 kilometers by 10 kilometers, or about the size of a county. For Perseverance, we have tightened that to a 40 meter diameter circle, or about half a football field.”

Bergh got the opportunity to reclaim his childhood dream of working for NASA while he pursuing his doctorate in engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology in the late 1990s. As luck would have it, he happened to get an interview with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where they essentially offered to pay him to do the work he was about to do for free during his Georgia Tech doctorate.

“I grew up watching the Apollo program, the Space Shuttle program, and all these really cool things happening,” Bergh says, “and suddenly I’m being invited to join that club. So I jumped on the opportunity to come out to Pasadena.”

Bergh started his career with NASA in robotics, and that’s where he’s been ever since — including work on RoboSimian, an ape-like robot that competed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge finals in 2015. An engineer with a master’s degree among a team of PhDs, Bergh is affectionately called “Howard Wolowitz,” the character from The Big Bang Theory, by his wife Tanja. Now, with the Mars 2020 mission, Bergh has been able to transfer his engineering expertise from a walking robot to a driving rover.

“When I came to JPL, I started working on these portable robots, which later became PackBot from iRobot and picked up by the military,” Bergh says. “This is what they were sending into the caves to protect our soldiers trying to clear caves and in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, I was also working on new ways to land on comets, and those techniques have evolved into what we’re using for Mars now.”

What’s unique about Mars 2020 is that Bergh and his team have come up with the first purpose-built instrument that will change personalities during a mission. When Perseverance lands, the team will load new software into the Vision Compute Element that will transform it from a landing computer to a driving computer.

“What most people don’t know,” Bergh says, “is that all the previous rovers would drive for a little bit, stop, look around, assess their surroundings, choose a new path, and then move forward again. The whole purpose of this new computer is to allow the rover to drive on the surface continuously.”

Bergh’s plan for the foreseeable future is to keep answering the calls of what the NASA scientists come up with next, including working to provide terrain-relative navigation for the Human Landing System for the Artemis program, which intends to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024.

But one of the areas he’s particularly interested in is a mission to the ocean moons orbiting Saturn and Jupiter.

“We’re working on some cool technologies to explore these water vents and cryo volcanoes that exist on these other moons,” Bergh says. “We’re developing a snake robot that could potentially crawl its way down into them and investigate.”

Though Bergh has seen many changes in manufacturing technologies since he got that serendipitous interview with JPL twenty years ago — innovations like additive manufacturing and 3D printing that allow NASA engineers to make better motors and structures for going to these far-off places — neither his curiosity nor his passion has been satisfied.

“I still think about my grandfather a lot,” Bergh says. “He grew up in central Alabama at the turn of the century, and yet he saw so much in his lifetime: the Battle of the Bulge, the entire Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.”

“I’m hoping that I can see nearly half as much change in my lifetime as he saw.”