War Eagle

 

Courtesy J. Glover-Atlanta, GA

Over 80,000 people gather at Jordan-Hare Stadium every Auburn University home football game to experience Southeastern Conference (SEC) football in one of the nation’s great on-campus venues. About 15-20 minutes before kickoff, the marching band plays the fight song on the field and the electricity and energy in the stands rises. Then seemingly out of nowhere, a live eagle begins to glide around the inside of the stadium, slowly descending until landing near midfield. As the Auburn football team readies to enter the field, the Auburn faithful by the thousands regale the area with one of the more famous chants in college football, “War Eagle.” Besides yelling the chant at athletic events, fans may employ the chant as a form of endearment, a greeting, or salutation among other Auburn fans. The chant and the eagle mascot have been Auburn traditions for years and the following hopes to enlighten those unfamiliar with the stories behind the traditions.

Outside the Auburn fan base, very few people know the origin of the chant.  The true Auburn fan will offer you four possible stories.

One involves a veteran of the Civil War watching Auburn’s first football game in 1892 with his pet eagle found on a battlefield during the war.  According to witnesses, the eagle broke free of the veteran and began circling the playing field at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park as Auburn drove for the winning score against Georgia.  As the Auburn fans watched their team drive down the field with the eagle circling above, they began to yell “War Eagle.”  At the end of the Auburn victory, the eagle crashed to the ground and died.

A second story comes from Auburn’s 1914 game against the Carlisle Indians.  The Indians’ best player was named Bald Eagle.  Auburn ran play after play right at him in hopes of wearing him down.  Without huddling, the Auburn quarterback yelled Bald Eagle to start each play.  Auburn fans thought the quarterback was yelling War Eagle and began shouting the name before every play.  When an Auburn player scored the winning touchdown, he supposedly yelled War Eagle and the cry became a tradition.

Story number three comes from a pep rally before a game in 1913.  A cheerleader yelled out that for Auburn to win the game “they would have to go out there and fight, because this means war.” At that very moment an eagle emblem fell off of a student’s hat.  Asked what it was, the student replied “It’s a War Eagle.”

The final story has its links to the Saxon Warriors.  When buzzards circled the battlefield after a Saxon victory, the warriors yelled “War Eagles” as their victory cry.

The live eagle mascot is called War Eagle. The eagle, real or contrived, from the 1892 Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama (now Auburn)-Georgia game receives credit as War Eagle I. According to legend, during the Battle of The Wilderness in Virginia, a former AMCA student from Alabama was the sole Confederate survivor. As he struggled to cross the battlefield, he happened upon a young, wounded eagle. The soldier gathered the young bird and nursed him back to health. The young man eventually joined the Auburn faculty and brought the eagle with him. The eagle became a well-known figure on the Auburn campus. In1892, the eagle and the old soldier attended Auburn’s first football game against Georgia. The eagle broke away from the man, flew around the field, and crashed to his death upon the Auburn victory. Whether the legend is true is open to debate, but it does make for a great story.

War Eagle II came to Auburn in 1930. A golden eagle became entangled in some vines while hunting its prey on a farm southwest of Auburn. As the story goes, the farmer sold the eagle to some people for $10 and it ended up in the care of two Auburn cheerleaders. The cheerleaders put the bird in a wire cage and took it to Columbus, GA for the South Carolina game. Auburn had not won a Southern Conference game in four years but vanquished the Gamecocks that day, 25-7. The student body concluded the eagle brought victory that day and should remain a part of Auburn tradition. The eagle remained in a cage on campus attended to by the cheerleaders. No one knows for certain the rest of War Eagle II’s story.

The next eagle in the War Eagle line, War Eagle III, arrived on campus in 1960. A Talladega County farmer found the bird caught between two rows of cotton, gave it to authorities, who then gave it to the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. The Alpha Phi Omega fraternity built a cage for the eagle and began a run of about 40 years as caretaker of the eagle mascots. Unfortunately, War Eagle III escaped his leash during the Tennessee game in Birmingham in 1964 and was found shot to death in a wooded area near Birmingham.

The Birmingham Downtown Action Committee located another golden eagle at the zoo in Jackson, MS and presented it to Auburn in October 1964. War Eagle IV lived on campus in a large aviary. The aviary, the second largest single-bird cage in the country, stood until razed in 2003. A new tradition began when War Eagle IV received the nickname of “Tiger.” The 22-year old golden eagle served Auburn for 16 years before dying of natural causes.

War Eagle V came from Wyoming in 1981 under the stewardship of the United States government under the stipulations of the Endangered Species Act and was on loan to the Auburn University Veterinary School. The bird also took the nickname of “Tiger.” Tiger served for five years before dying from a ruptured spleen at the age of eight.

War Eagle VI came to Auburn on loan under the same government arrangement as War Eagle V. During the 2000 season, War Eagle VI became the first of the line to perform the pre-game ritual around the inside of Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Auburn took over care of War Eagle VI and all other eagles beginning in 2000. War Eagle VI gained international fame when the golden eagle flew around Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT as part of the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The school retired the eagle on November 11, 2006, and she lived to be 34 years old before dying in 2014.

The current eagle mascot, War Eagle VII, came to Auburn six months after birth at the Montgomery Zoo in 1999. The golden eagle immediately took over for War Eagle VI and currently shares the traditional pre-game flight with two more eagles, another golden eagle and a bald eagle.

War Eagle embodies two of the great Auburn traditions. The chant and the eagle have not only captured the hearts and souls of the Auburn faithful but have earned the honor of two of the most famous and recognizable traditions in college athletics.

 

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