Tiger Walk: Often imitated, never duplicated
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By Jack Smith
Tiger Walk. It's a pep rally. It's a homecoming. It's a family reunion. It's an experience that holds a special place in the hearts of Auburn men and women, boys and girls.
And for scores of Auburn fans that waited to see the players and coaches up close as they descended from the top of Donahue Drive to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, it is a gameday tradition not to be missed.
The Saturday pre-game ritual known as Tiger Walk has become as much a part of Auburn tradition as Toomer's Corner or the flight of the eagle. It is often imitated, fans like Richard Bishop say, but never duplicated. Bishop, a 1972 Auburn graduate from Valley, has been parking his orange "Planet Auburn" Volkswagen van close by for a prime view of Tiger Walk for years. He has never missed one.
"Other people try to copy it, but it's the original," says Bishop, sporting an orange-and-blue tie-dye shirt and AU hardhat stuffed with Auburn shakers. "It was the first, and it's the best. We all get in there like we're family at a reunion. We're just slappin' and huggin' and having a great time. There isn't anything else like it."
A little farther south on the famed Tiger Walk route, beneath the trees that were once filled with fans that climbed up for a look over a massive sea of orange and blue for the "First Ever" game on December 2, 1989, the rumble of drums can be heard. Michael and Holly Franklin are holding their children, Maggie, 4, and Maddox, 3. They drove four hours from Fayetteville, Tenn., so the kids could experience their first Tiger Walk up close.
"I just like the emotion of Tiger Walk," Michael says. "The players coming by, coaches coming by and everybody getting ready for it. The emotion is just awesome. It just pumps you up before the game."
While Michael and Holly were excited about seeing Cam Newton and other new Tigers on the 2010 team, Maggie left little doubt who she came to see. "Aubie! He's the best." Much to Maggie's delight, Aubie sped by on a golf cart as the cheerleaders began making their way up and down the Tiger Walk route, signaling that the bus full of players and coaches would soon roll to a stop at the north end of Donahue and Samford Avenue.
Fans of all ages say Tiger Walk never gets old--not even for those like 1979 Auburn graduate Dave Goldin. Goldin says he has never missed a home Tiger Walk and has been to countless Tiger Walks on the road.
"I haven't missed a Tiger Walk at home since it started," said Goldin, who stakes out a spot at the start of the route every home Saturday. "All you've got to do to know how much I love it is watch me. I chest-bump Trooper Taylor every week. Stanley McGlover and I used to bump each other. It is the most thrilling thing for me and it is the most fun part of the day. I would almost rather do this than watch the game. My nieces and nephews won't come with me anymore, because I embarrass them."
Goldin says he has been to games in many places, and none can compare to gameday at Auburn. "There's nothing like Auburn. If you're an Auburn man, you know that. If you don't, you can't explain it. You just have to experience it."
Robert Edwards, a 1952 graduate who always joins Goldin and fellow alumnus Rick Poole at the same spot, says Tiger Walk is one of the many traditions that set Auburn apart.
"I rarely miss one," Edwards said. "December 2, 1989, (when Auburn upset Alabama in the first Iron Bowl ever played in Auburn) was the best Tiger Walk and the most memorable one out of all the ones that I've ever seen. It was the greatest day of my life."
For Edwards, like many Auburn fans, Tiger Walk is as much a part of the Auburn gameday experience as any other tradition. "I feel like I've missed part of the game if I don't make Tiger Walk," he said. "There is nothing else like it."