Aug 29, 2013
Eagles have been flying at Jordan-Hare Stadium since the 2001 season
First, there was a collective gasp from the crowd waiting to watch Auburn play Northern Illinois on Sept. 23, 2000. Seconds later, there was a mighty roar. War Eagle VI, a female golden eagle named Tiger, swooped majestically over Jordan-Hare Stadium and landed on the field.
Roy Crowe, who had trained Tiger for her flight, looked at Joe Shelnutt, then the director of the Auburn Raptor Center, in amazement.
"The crowd just went crazy," Crowe said in a fascinating interview a few years later. "I told Joe `We've created a monster.'"
They had not created a monster. They had created tradition that is cherished by Auburn people to this day.
An ordained minister and master falconer, Crowe trained numerous falcons and hawks to hunt, an ancient art that goes back to the day where there were no guns. He volunteered to help out at the Raptor Center in 2000 and was soon training Tiger.
I often wondered what kept the soaring eagle from leaving Jordan-Hare and flying away. Crowe explained.
"We just took the same techniques and trained the eagle as if we were going hunting," Crowe said. "The lure I used to call the bird to me is the same I would use to call a red tail (hawk). The bird knows if he goes to that lure that he's going to get fed."
Crowe spent most of the summer of 2000 preparing Tiger for her debut at the stadium. She would fly for the first time in the 2000 opener against Wyoming, going from one goal post to the other. She was trained to land on the goal post and did what she had been trained to do until she saw Crowe standing in the tunnel, where Auburn football players were waiting to take the field.
"When Joe Shelnutt walked out on the field, the bird looked at me," Crowe said. "I could tell the bird was coming to me. Instead of landing on her perch, the goal post, she flew right into that tunnel. Those players were running like crazy."
Two weeks later, before the LSU game, Tiger flew goal post to goal post again, this time landing as she was taught. Crow told athletics director David Housel it was time for Tiger to spread her wings.
"Those first two flights off the goal post weren't that spectacular," Crowe said. "After that, we were flying her out of the top of the stands. Nobody saw where she was coming from. They loved it."
Perhaps Tiger's greatest moment was on Feb. 11, 2002, when she flew at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Tiger, at 33, has already lived longer than most eagles in captivity and has been retired since 2006. War Eagle VII, named Nova, and Spirit, a bald eagle, have continued the tradition.
The eagle has been a part of Auburn stories for the better part of a century. The cry "War Eagle!" is uniquely Auburn's. Legend has it that it originated on the day of Auburn's first football game, a 10-0 win over Georgia in 1892.
Here's how the story goes:
A Confederate soldier named Eugene was lying near death on the battlefield. When he awoke, all he saw was a wounded baby eagle. When the soldier was rescued, he took the wounded bird with him and nursed him back to health. Eugene eventually became a member of the Auburn faculty.
When Auburn scored the first touchdown against Georgia, the old eagle broke free and began to soar above the field. Auburn people looked skyward, saw the eagle and shouted "War Eagle!" The eagle collapsed and died on the spot, having giving his all in pursuit of victory for Auburn.
None of it is true, of course. The tale was actually written in 1959 in The Auburn Plainsman by imaginative sophomore journalism student Jim Phillips.
No one really knows for sure where the War Eagle cry originated, but it has been dear to the hearts of generations of Auburn people. It's a battle cry. It's a greeting to strangers with nothing in common other than their school. It's an identity.
Tiger the eagle started a very real tradition in 2001. And it has become as much a part of Auburn lore as the fictitious eagle of long ago.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: