My friend Amy posted on Facebook recently that her cousin Billy, who was just 36 had unexpectedly died. She was heading to Alabama to his funeral. I’m surprised I even noticed her comment as it flitted by my newsfeed wedged between pictures of friends’ ostensibly adorable children and comments about the upcoming elections.
Her follow up the next day also caught my eye. She wrote, “The entire congregation at my cousin’s funeral said “War Eagle” in unison in Billy’s honor - even the Alabama fans. I truly love being Southern.”
If you’re not familiar, “War Eagle” is the cry of an Auburn University fan. This would be their counter to rival University of Alabama’s “Roll Tide.” These people take their rivalry seriously. And I’m saying that as a participant in the Duke-Carolina rivalry. We might tell Carolina to “go to hell” during basketball season, but there might not be a deeper in-state rivalry than Auburn-Alabama. It’s been (controversially) compared to Israel-Palestine. No kidding.
Tide fans saying “War Eagle”? I had to find out more.
Amy wrote me lovely things about her family and her cousin which I can’t copy in full here. But let me share some highlights.
Throughout the wake, the funeral and the time visiting with family, we saluted Auburn in Billy’s honor. The piano prelude of the funeral service incorporated the War Eagle fight song. Family friends who are diehard Alabama fans paid homage to Billy by wearing orange and blue jewelry or scarves, including a woman who is such a massive Tide fan, she dies her hair crimson for Alabama games. Wearing your rival’s colors is a serious concession, and quite a tribute to Billy. Jeanie [Billy’s mother] was as touched by that as by any spoken words.
At the end of the service, the minister asked us all to say in unison, “War Eagle.” And we did - even the Alabama contingent. My cousin Mills, who is from the Carter side of my family and so not a blood relation of Billy’s, is an Alabama graduate and as passionate about his team as Billy was about his. Mills made a point of telling me after the service that he said War Eagle.
As Amy told me, “That’s serious. That’s respect.”
I’m not sure how that story plays outside of the South. But to me, a few thousand miles away, it reflects love and loyalty and warms my heart. Billy’s friends chose to celebrate and honor something close to Billy’s heart out of their love for him. Even if saying “War Eagle” would be morally impossible any other day of the year. I hope when I go to my final reward the people in my life know me well enough to celebrate the things and people that I love passionately, too.
So, in Billy’s honor, I too say WAR EAGLE.