By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Jim McGinness and his fellow Saint Joseph’s University students had a problem in 1987. They were college football fans without a college football team.
With 21 NCAA Tournament appearances, St. Joe’s is well known for basketball. But fall Saturdays were quiet on the Philadelphia campus. Too quiet for Jim and his buddies.
The problem created an opportunity. The opportunity created a road trip. The road trip created 30 years of allegiance to Auburn.
“We needed a football team,” McGinness said. “We were already in Philly and Philly was cold. So we threw out some names. Went South. We put it through the paper, and there were some votes. Ultimately, we decided that it was Auburn that we wanted to do.”
The St. Joe’s students sent a letter to Auburn, asking if the University would be willing to host a group of students.
“I still remember the day when we got the letter back from Auburn,” McGinness said. “One of my buddies waited until we all got there. We opened it up, and it was a letter from Coach Dye saying, ‘Hey, we’re honored. If you come down, we’ll give you tickets and floor space.’ I’ll tell you what, we couldn’t have set up that trip any quicker.”
What began as a conversation among roommates quickly grew into a two-bus caravan of 100 students.
“Father Rashford, who was the president of St. Joe’s at the time, came on the bus and blessed us as we went,” McGinness recalls. “And away we went. I remember his last words were, ‘Remember, you’re representing St. Joe’s.’ I will say we were on good behavior, but we weren’t on the best of behaviors.”
The road trip began Friday after class. An all-night journey south. Coach Dye had promised breakfast would be waiting for the students, but trouble with one of the buses caused a delay. The students arrived shortly before Tiger Walk on Auburn’s Homecoming game against Mississippi State.
“On gameday, Coach Dye was still waiting for us to come in,” McGinness said. “I remember he shook our hands and said, ‘Okay, I’ve got to go.’ We still couldn’t believe that Coach Dye was sitting there waiting for us as we were running two hours late on gameday. It was just incredible.
“For a lot of people, it was their first SEC game, which to me still remains a very different experience than any of the other leagues out there.”
Auburn beat the Bulldogs, 38-7. The visitors from Pennsylvania celebrated their adopted team’s victory long into the evening. Some ended up sleeping on the court at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
“Others found refuge in some of the fraternities,” McGinness said. “Some people I know just didn’t even sleep that time.”
Three decades later, McGinness remains a fan.
“It was a good trip, and that’s where it all started,” he said. “Truthfully, the hospitality we got that weekend was just incredible. Right then and there, I dropped my former allegiance to other schools, and for football, Auburn was the school for me.”
The visit made such an impression, McGinness and a few friends shared Auburn season tickets for a few years after graduation. Auburn football still connects the former college roommates.
“Text them back and forth on Saturday nights during the game,” he said. “It’s just been one of those allegiances that nobody’s ever dropped.”
McGinness became an executive in supply chain management. His travels take him all over the world.
“I’ve given plenty of a ‘War Eagle’ over in Hong Kong, or Brussels or London, or even down in Panama,” he said. “You always see Auburn people throughout the U.S. but when you see them internationally, that’s when you start really remembering the experience.”
The relationship between Auburn and McGinness continued this fall, when Jim’s father reached out to the athletic department before his son’s 50th birthday.
“A box showed up from Auburn,” McGinness said. “It was a shocking surprise.”
Autographed pictures from head coaches. Team posters. An Auburn shirt.
“It was something that really made you feel special from Auburn,” he said.
Could one weekend on the Plains, nearly 30 years ago, really create a lifelong bond? “Without a doubt,” he said.
For proof, he offered the name of the McGinness family dog. “Aubie.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer