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Aubie 'part of our legend' at Auburn

Editor's Note: Originally published on Sept. 28, 2011, is re-releasing a piece on the beloved Aubie to celebrate the life of its creator, Phil Neel. 

By Jack Smith


AUBURN --His motto is "Women love him, children adore him, and men want to be him."

He is a part of Auburn lore. He embodies the Auburn spirit. And next week, he will celebrate a birthday of sorts.

He is Aubie the Tiger, the creation of Phil Neel, the Birmingham Post-Herald artist who did not attend Auburn but who, Athletics Director Emeritus David Housel says, has Auburn in his heart.

"Phil Neel did not go to Auburn but you will never find a better Auburn man than Phil," said David Housel, Auburn's Athletics Director Emeritus. Housel co-authored a book with Neel called "The Aubie Story," which chronicles the creation of Aubie and features pictures of every cover and ticket face the lovable mascot appeared on.

"Phil's creation of Aubie is a part of our legend," Housel said. "It gave personification and a face to the name Auburn Tigers."

Neel's Aubie first appeared on the cover of an Auburn football game program on October 3, 1959. Aubie evolved over the years, from a slightly more ferocious character that graced the covers of game programs on all fours, to a Tiger who stood upright and took on more "human" characteristics.

Yet it wasn't until 1979 that the embodiment of the Auburn spirit really came to life. Aubie made his first live appearance at the Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament in 1979. He has brought joy to the Auburn family ever since.

Aubie began his career as a mascot when James Lloyd, who was spirit director of the Auburn SGA at the time, reached out to a costume designing company in New York City that had done work for Walt Disney. Three "Friends of Aubie," Bob Harris, Barry Mask and Vicki McGinty, brought the suit to life that first year.

Next week will mark 52 years since Phil Neel's creation first appeared on an Auburn football program. The first suit, now on display at the Lovelace Hall of Honor inside Auburn Arena, may have changed over the years, but the spirit of Aubie hasn't. He's still a mischievous, playful Tiger that delights and excites Auburn fans.

That ability to connect with fans of all ages is what makes Aubie special, Housel says.

"Down through thee years, Aubie and the Friends of Aubie have shown a unique ability to relate to the fans, especially the younger fans," Housel said. "Though he doesn't speak, there is a kinship there, a shared enthusiasm and shared excitement. There is a caring that goes from Aubie and his Friends to the fans."

Logan Matthews, a former friend of Aubie who graduated in August, always gives the same answer whenever he's asked about his time working with the Aubie program.

"I was the most popular person on campus that nobody knew," Matthews said.

Not only is Aubie's character unique. The Aubie program is one of the few mascot programs that it is entirely student run.

Anna Grayce West is the current SGA Director of Aubie. She is in charge of scheduling Aubie's appearances and spends a lot of time with Aubie. It never gets old.

"Aubie is endlessly energetic," West said. "He is mischievous and playful, with a heart of gold. He is a fur ball of joy that is constantly bouncing off the walls. Aubie can't go an hour without being flirtatious."

Aubie was the first mascot inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame. He has won more National Championships--six--than any other mascot in the nation. Being that good takes hard work, former Friends of Aubie say. The tryout process is rigorous, and Aubie's antics don't happen by accident.

The Friends of Aubie say he is much more than a mascot. He is a character with a distinct personality. Friends of Aubie have to master Aubie's walk and his other moves from the tailspin and the playful Aubie flash to his signature head bobble.

Most children are drawn to Aubie, an art that Friends of Aubie develop.

"Aubie lets children come to him," Matthews said. "Every child is different, but Aubie does not rush to children. He uses his judgment."

400-aubieAt the stadium on gameday, Aubie is not like most mascots. He rarely even watches the game. He prefers to play with the crowd. Last Saturday, he was seen "birdwatching" the visiting Florida Atlantic Owls with oversized cardboard binoculars and a bright green bird watching book. He feigned the role of a pizza deliveryman, only to pop silly-string wielding paws out from under the box to squirt surprised fans hoping for a slice of pizza.

"Jordan-Hare Stadium is his house and you're just visiting," Matthews said. "Aubie feels like he is the main entertainment and there just happens to be a football game going on. That's what Aubie is all about on gameday."

Some fans may not know that the stadium really is Aubie's home. He has a one-bedroom house that was built in the summer of 2002. Former Friends of Aubie say that, in typical Aubie fashion, the home complete with a front porch and a pair of rocking chairs was built at night without any official permission.

Aubie's living room is not unlike most college students' apartments. The TV stays on as Friends of Aubie and volunteers craft cardboard props for the next home game. There's even a grill on the front porch, and Aubie's tricked-out, top-of-the-line Kawasaki Teryx is parked out front.

Aubie is not all fun and games, though. As one of the most recognizable faces of Auburn University, Aubie is requested to attend numerous events across campus, in the community, throughout the state, and across the country. Aubie made over 620 appearances in the past year, attending Auburn sporting and community events, Auburn club meetings and community service events.

"Everywhere he goes," West said, "he takes the Auburn Spirit with him. That's why people love Aubie."

Debbie Shaw, Auburn's Vice President of Alumni Affairs, has a keen appreciation for Aubie and what he means to Auburn. She was Aubie's advisor for 20 years.

"Aubie is without a doubt the best recruiting tool we have," Shaw said. "Children get introduced to Auburn at an early age because of Aubie. They will come to an Auburn game just to watch Aubie."

Shaw says Aubie is special because he elicits the same reaction--a wide-eyed smile--out of everyone he encounters.

"You can't look at Aubie and not smile and feel happy," Shaw said. "He just immediately brings that to wherever he is. He can get the same kind of reaction from a 94-year old person that he can from a small child."

West said working with Aubie has made her college experience better than she ever imagined.

"Being a part of the Aubie Program has been the most incredible chapter of my Auburn experience. Just seeing peoples' eyes light up when they see Aubie headed their way is one of my favorite moments. Knowing Aubie has made someone's day a bit brighter is why we all do what we do."



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