A few months back I was approached by Jeremy at The War Eagle Reader to see if I would be interested in contributing to his website. The idea, which came from Jeremy’s wife Jennie, was to look at Netflix Local Favorites to see whether wins or losses affected the rental patterns of Netflix users in college towns, specifically Auburn and Tuscaloosa. In week two a movie I had missed in theaters, but wanted to see, The Eagle showed up in the list of local favorites for Auburn. Immediately upon seeing the movie on the list a phrase from the trailer came to mind, “The Eagle is Rome”. Ever since that night I’ve been wanting to write something about The Eagle. So here I sit on the eve of the Iron Bowl, typing away on my computer late into the night to relay to you what The Eagle can teach us about Auburn.
I think our discussion really has to start with the question “What is Auburn”? In the simplest of terms, it’s one of the largest universities in the South, located in the small town of Auburn, Alabama. Auburn University offers over 140 different degrees across 13 schools and colleges. As of Fall 2010, over 25,000 students were enrolled at Auburn. In the simplest terms Auburn is just a university in the South. At Auburn we know there’s more to Auburn University than that. There’s an intangible element that makes Auburn unique. For lack of a better term, I’ll call this intangible “The Auburn Spirit”.
Auburn Men and Women through the years have embodied this spirit and have strived to live their lives according to The Auburn Creed. While watching The Eagle I was struck by how many of the ideas put forth in the stanzas of The Auburn Creed were apparent in The Eagle. The movie revolves around a young Roman centurion, Marcus Flavius Aquila, who has requested a post in Britain. We learn that Marcus’ father was the leader of the Ninth Legion which went missing 20 years earlier, along with its eagle standard. The young man has asked to be stationed in Britain to reclaim his family’s honor.
What does this have to do with Auburn? Well, the movie and its themes should be familiar to anyone who has ever read the Auburn Creed. The first stanza of the creed says, “I believe that this is a practical world and that I can count only on what I earn. Therefore I believe in work, hard work.” This stanza is a favorite among Auburn Men and Women. At Auburn we value hard work, on the football field and in life. In Marcus Auburn Men and Women will see a young man who embodies the Auburn Spirit in how he doesn’t want to sit back and send others to do his bidding, he leads his men into battle and is willing to put in whatever hard work is necessary to keep his men safe.
The Auburn Creed’s fourth stanza begins, “I believe in a sound mind, in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid.” Marcus is again a great example of someone with a spirit that is not afraid. He bravely leads his men into battle, even when they are outnumbered. On a few occasions Marcus faces death with courage. This fearless spirit has been a hallmark of Auburn football teams in the past. Auburn loves being the underdog and never shies away from a challenge, regardless of how daunting the task might be (say for instance: your biggest rival coming into town with a number 2 ranking and chance to play for a national title).
The sixth stanza of The Auburn Creed reads, “I believe in the human touch, which cultivates sympathy with my fellow men and mutual helpfulness and brings happiness for all.” Throughout the film Marcus shows that he has a genuine concern for the well being of his men and also the well being of his slave, Esca.
So why focus in on The Eagle instead of other films? Again, it goes back to the line in the trailer, “The Eagle is Rome”. The complete phrase from the movie is, “The Eagle is Rome. Wherever The Eagle is, we can say, ‘Rome did that’”. I believe one could make the argument that "The Eagle is Auburn". Of course Auburn’s official mascot is a Tiger, but “War Eagle” is a phrase used by Auburn Men and Women the world over as a greeting & battle cry. There are several different versions of the War Eagle Legend, but my favorite involves a Civil War veteran who finds a wounded eagle upon a battlefield. The young soldier takes in the wounded bird and keeps it as a pet. The bird goes everywhere with the man, remaining on his shoulder as it can no longer fly due to its injuries.
Legend has it that the bird accompanied the veteran to an Auburn football game. Things weren’t going well for the Tigers at the time, but out of nowhere the eagle flew from the veteran’s shoulder and began circling the field. Auburn fans noticed this and began shouting about the “war eagle”. As the eagle soared above them, Auburn rallied to win the game. Sadly, the eagle was too exhausted from his flight and ended up collapsing onto the field, never to get up, having given his all to help Auburn achieve victory.
Of course, there may never have been a civil war veteran who attended Auburn that rescued an injured eagle. That’s not the point. For me the eagle is not an actual bird, but an embodiment of the Auburn Spirit. An eagle is proud and strong. One might even say it possesses a “Spirit that is not afraid”. The phrase “War Eagle” is used by Auburn Men and Women to show their support for one another and admiration for a university that has given so much to so many of us.
One of the things Coach Chizik has told his young team this year is that “Tradition never graduates”. He’s right. The Auburn Spirit is unending. It’s “ever to conquer and never to yield”. The Auburn Family knows win or lose, “It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger”. If Auburn wins the Iron Bowl, we’ll go roll Toomer’s Corner for what could be the final time. If Auburn doesn’t win, the sun will still rise on Sunday and we’ll still be proud of our university and what it has achieved on and off of the football field. For at Auburn we know football seasons will come and go, but The Auburn Spirit never goes out of season. To that notion I say War Eagle Today, War Eagle Tomorrow and War Eagle Forever!