Now, Nikki, I Know There’s a Tiger In You….
That’s what my cousin Joyce said to me when I first started sharing my UGA tailgate menus on social media. She knows more of my backstory than most of you do, and she’s great a keeping a girl honest. So here’s the deal….
Yes, Cousin Joyce, there is a Tiger in there somewhere. Maybe more than one. But for today – and for the sake of my public reputation – let’s just stick with the one that goes by Aubie, and I’ll tell you the story of how my switch from Blue and Orange to Red and Black was finally complete.
Home is Columbus, Georgia, a mere 45 minutes from Auburn University. My parents are from Montgomery, Alabama – just an hour on the other side of Auburn. Daddy went to Auburn. Mama grew up cheering for the Crimson Tide. I understood A House Divided from my earliest days. Another young memory is the washed-a-zillion-times fraternity jersey that my dad gave my mom when she visited him on The Plains while they were dating. It was my favorite nightgown as a little girl, and I have no idea what happened to it. It’s funny how kids have attachments to their parent’s clothes. My youngest has asked if he can inherit a navy Eddie Bauer sweater I gave his dad when we were dating. Only worn in the house now, that sweater has a similar softness to my daddy’s frat jersey, and I know why Sam loves it so much. It better not ever find its way into a Goodwill bag.
Living in Georgia, but so close to Auburn, you can imagine that the oldest college football rivalry was also the biggest football rivalry in town. It seems like half of my graduating class went to Auburn and the other to Georgia. I did neither, but when I started dating a UGA Redcoat, it was clearly explained that while I would sit next him in the Georgia student section for every other game, I would not be at his side for the Auburn-Georgia matchup. A girl has to stand her ground, you know.
But I must admit, all that standing right next to the Redcoat Band did a thing to me. Over time, I learned their cheers and got as tearful as any good Bulldog when the trumpet sang from the north end zone before every game. By the time his days in the band were over and we were married and in graduate school, I had mostly forgotten about Auburn and only paid attention when I wasn’t watching a Georgia game or when I was visiting my family. Except every November when that old border battle came around… No matter where we were living, when the Red and Black met the Orange and Blue, I was always, clearly, steadfastly shouting, “War Eagle!” and taunting him with the fight song.
And then we had children… and moved back to Georgia… and were invited to countless games and tailgates by the warmest Bulldog fans around… and my first-born started cheering at kickoff, “Gooooooo Dawgs! Sic ‘em!” His little woof was the cutest thing ever. If his daddy couldn’t complete my conversion, my baby boy probably could. But I hadn’t given up yet. On the second Saturday in November, when I was clearly outnumbered, I donned my Auburn hoodie and called my daddy on the phone.
And then my second son was born…. I was determined to make my baby a Tiger at least one Saturday each year. He was born in July, so come football season, I made sure my chunky four-month-old was dressed in his Auburn onsie on game day. My daddy was quite pleased with his little girl. You know how he felt about his grandson. The next season, we upgraded to an Auburn sweatshirt that was a little big, but what’s cuter than an oversized sweatshirt on a toddler with that diaper hanging out the back? He was talking, and I worked all day to get him to say, “War Eagle.” I don’t think it ever happened. He probably said DADA before he said MAMA too. My memories of those days are a little fuzzy, but I think he cheered for everyone all the time.
Sam’s third football season was a different story. By then, I had a two year old with the most definitive clothing preferences you can imagine. He had grown into the Auburn sweatshirt, but he was having nothing of it. He wanted to wear red like his brother. He was a Dawg like his daddy. Saving my battles for smocked church clothes, I gave up. It was three to one, and that little guy carried my heart right across the stadium to the Red Team where I joined my pack of Dawgs… even on the second Saturday in November.
There is absolutely a little Tiger in me. The boys in my house would be happy to tell you how they know, but ever since sweet Sam said, “Sic ‘em!” that Saturday years ago, I’ve been a Dawg first and I probably always will be.
To honor the journey though, this week’s tailgate menu is one both Georgia and Auburn fans will agree on. Guthrie’s. The little hometown chicken finger chain that had locations in both Auburn and Athens when I was in college may have been a driving reason I went to visit my fiancé all those times. Zaxby’s has tried to imitate it and has done a passable job, but nothing, nothing compares to Guthrie’s. There’s not one in Athens anymore (Auburn still has one, so you win that, folks), BUT there is a Guthrie’s on Signal Mountain above Chattanooga, and I will be making a trip up the hill to pick up lunch. Here’s the blog bonus – no need for extra sauce. The Comeback Sauce recipe I shared for the Mississippi State Game – THAT’S IT!! I’ll be making another batch so there is plenty to go around.
I’ll melt up some Rotel dip too – because when it comes to Velveeta and spicy tomatoes, red and orange really do go together. Besides, it was without a doubt the slumber party staple of my high school years, and though our Girls Weekends are a bit more sophisticated these days, when we gather at the River, there is always Rotel. To end the meal and the game, I’ll honor my favorite Columbus BBQ restaurant – Country’s – and make an amazing Peanut Butter Pie. (Sam says dessert should always hail from Georgia anyway because victory is our sweet ending. Gotta’ love that kid!)
Whether you are a cradle fan or a new convert, were born into your football family or married into it, have a great time cheering for your team this weekend, and always…