TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—Kristen Bolden walks up to Rowand Johnson Hall on the campus of the University of Alabama. She seems innocent enough, just another student carrying herself to an 8 a.m. class on a cloudy Thursday morning. But Bolden has a secret that she isn’t exactly keen on flaunting to the world: she’s an Auburn fan who goes to Alabama.
Bolden is one of a select few Alabama students who can’t stand the athletic program of the school they attend. They came to Alabama pursuing education but are Tiger fans to the core.
Bolden allowed me to follow her around on campus to class and lunch for half of the day last Thursday to see a typical day in the life of an Auburn fan at Alabama. I came away with a deeper appreciation for English poetry, and more importantly a better understanding of what it’s like to live and go to school behind enemy lines.
She doesn’t usually flaunt her Auburn fandom, but I made her at least identify herself somehow. She went above and beyond, wearing a navy No. 1 Auburn jersey and a pair of orange and blue Tiger sunglasses.
A Day In The Life
We walk into her 8 a.m. Advanced Studies in British Literature class where they’re studying Keats, an English poet.
Bolden sits in her chair and takes off her rain jacket, revealing her jersey. She gets a couple of stares, but class begins.
It’s not like she is hated in the class. In fact, it’s far from that. She makes conversation with a girl wearing an Alabama jacket beforehand and nothing seems out of the ordinary with her outside of the apparel.
The class hit a lul, as 8 a.m. classes tend to do. So, the professor decided to try and wake the class up with a discussion on everyone's favorite English poet. As the class chimed in, he turned to Bolden and paused.
“Is that an Auburn jersey?” he asked her. “That’s really offensive.”
And then a classmate asks the million dollar question: “Why do you go here?”
Bolden is a telecommunication and film major and originally wanted to be in journalism. When she was deciding to go to school, she wasn’t exactly blown away by Auburn.
“I believe in Auburn and I love it,” she says, quoting the school’s creed. “But I don’t have much faith in their journalism program, as much as I love them.”
So she bit the bullet and came to Alabama in the fall of 2010. Most of her friends are aware of her allegiance but not her professors.
“The majority of them don’t know,” she said. “One of my teachers is like, ‘Why would you do that?’ And I’m like, ‘It just sort of happened.’”
2010 wasn’t the worst year for an Auburn fan to be in Tuscaloosa. The Tigers, of course, rode Cam Newton to a national title, completing an epic comeback in the Iron Bowl along the way.
“It was difficult to overhear people bashing my team,” she said. “But I just sort of sucked it up, because I chose to go here.”
Her next class is Romantic Prose Genres, and as we walk across campus she draws a few stares from curious bystanders and passersby. Still, we push on and enter the class, where only six people decided to attend today.
Class goes smoothly until the professor reads a passage from William Hazlitt’s On Living to One’s Self:
"The public is as envious and ungrateful as it is ignorant, stupid, and pigeon-livered/A huge-sized monster of ingratitudes."
“Here, the public is the stupidest mass of idiots you've ever encountered in life, you've ever been a part of in life,” the professor analyzes.
“Kind of like Auburn fans,” he adds, glancing at Bolden.
“I was thinking about Bryant-Denny,” Bolden shoots back.
And such is life for a fan on this side of the Iron Bowl rivalry but going to class in Tuscaloosa. She never really experiences true hostility. But students and professors will never hesitate to take in a jab here or there, especially when the stakes are so high this year.
Peggy Rossmanith is another Auburn fan that goes to Alabama. She attended Alabama as an undergrad also studying journalism, and after working in newspapers for three years she came back to go to law school.
She writes a column at the SB Nation Auburn site College and Magnolia called Undercover Barner. Rossmanith, like Bolden, came to school here because of the journalism school.
“It’s a little easier for me because as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted, athletically, Alabama to lose at anything they ever tried,” she said, sitting on a bench outside of the law school, right across the street from Coleman Coliseum where the Crimson Tide plays basketball. “But when I came here, I felt a tremendous sense of pride, especially in the college of communications. They’re just good at what they do. And this law school is extremely highly ranked.”
Rossmanith has been an Auburn fan since birth and her parents met in school on the Plains. Her parents, though, supported her decision despite their fandom.
Rossmanith was an undergrad from 2006 to 2009 and has endured her fair share of taunting too, as Alabama rose to prominence during her undergraduate time. She even attended the 2006 Iron Bowl in the Alabama student section clad in orange.
“You deal with the trash talking and you just don’t say anything back,” she said.
Last year wasn't exactly smooth sailing for those like Bolden and Rosmanith. Auburn only won three games just two years after its title run and was little more than a punchline in the SEC.
“Last year was difficult," Bolden said. "I actually cried once because it was so horrible."
But now with Auburn at No. 4 in the BCS and very much in the discussion for a national title, they have plenty to be proud of.
I don’t know what it is, but Bama fans feel really entitled," Bolden said. "My hope is that the Iron Bowl will put them in their place. But I know it won’t. If 2010 didn’t do it, nothing will.
The strategy of just absorbing the trash talk seems to be a theme. Bolden basically did the same thing in her two classes, just shrugging the side comments off with a laugh and a smile or the occasional comeback.
Still, there isn’t a deep hatred or loathing for Bolden or Rossmanith. After all, they weren’t forced to Alabama against their will.
They came here for academics and can separate that from the sports team they love so much.
“I wear Alabama stuff all the time,” Rossmanith said. “Not because I love the sports teams, because I think the elephant is cute. I don’t wear Alabama football things, but I’ll wear a shirt that says Alabama."