GAMEDAY: Fans behind enemy lines: Auburn students at UABy Kayla Montgomery | 11/22/2015 6:48pm
Every other year, Alabama fans make the trek into enemy territory for the Iron Bowl. CW | Layton Dudley
The world of sports in Alabama is a funny thing. Without professional franchises in the state and nothing to watch on Sunday, fans live and die by their Saturdays. Loyalty lines are drawn at an early age here, and children are quickly swaddled in orange and blue or crimson.
For many, these lines are permanent, and cannot be erased – no matter how badly the season may go. But for some, these lines can be challenged when it comes time for Alabama teenagers to choose their college.
From age 15, Hunter King knew he wanted to go into sports broadcasting. As an Auburn fan, he also realized that this passion would ultimately lead him to The University of Alabama, despite his fan-hood.
“The closest thing [Auburn] had was journalism, and I wasn’t interested in writing – I was more interested in talking,” King said. “In the state, this is the best four-year university that offers a sports broadcasting or reporting program. Alabama was the best option, so I just had to swallow a hard truth.”
A Birmingham native, King grew up in an Auburn family. His mother, he said, always supported the Tigers, so it was something he inherited at an early age. Since arriving in Tuscaloosa, though, King has become a bit of a hybrid-fan.
“When I came down here, I started working with the softball team, so I kind of transition in the spring,” he said. “I’m Auburn from August to December, but I transition a little bit in the spring. For football, though, I’m orange and blue through and through.”
King doesn’t proclaim his choice of teams across campus, he said, avoiding openly asking for trouble. He’s used to being in the minority, though, so attending school in Tuscaloosa wasn’t a huge transition.
“It’s pretty lopsided due to the fact that Alabama has had so much success on the field and so many coaching legends come through here, be it Bear Bryant or Nick Saban. Auburn has had its fair share of good coaches, but none that compare to Bear or Nick. Auburn’s had its fair share of good players, but I think the success Alabama has been afforded really plays into how the fan base is divided.”
This season, King said, his friends have gone a bit easier on him than normal.
“Being an Auburn fan this year is torture enough,” King said. “People don’t have to throw anything else at me because watching Auburn football is emotional distress as it is.”
Josh Hillman decided to attend UA as a pre-law student. Scholarships at the Capstone also played an important part in his choice.
“Alabama is pretty generous with its money now that it wins a lot of games,” Hillman said.
Like King, Hillman isn’t ashamed of his Saturday loyalties, but keeps them under wraps in crimson Tuscaloosa.
“I’ve worn an Auburn shirt twice on campus,” he said. “Once was my first week here, and I learned pretty quickly that that wasn’t a great idea.”
Most of his criticism, Hillman said, comes from an unexpected crowd. Alabama natives have grown up around the rivalry and with an understanding that both sides have their own draws. For out-of-state students, though, it’s a different story.
“The guys from in-state don’t give me a whole lot of grief – they know I’ve been an Auburn fan my whole life,” Hillman said. “It’s the out-of-state guys that since the committed to Alabama, they refuse to accept that someone can root for Auburn.”
Overall, Hillman said, it hasn’t been a bad experience being orange and blue in a sea of crimson. Mostly, though, the amount of ridicule he endures depends directly on how his team is performing that season.
“When Auburn is good, it’s probably worse to be around Alabama fans,” he said. “When Auburn is really bad and Alabama is beating them up, it’s a little more bearable.”