Since the end of May, my colleagues and I have been processing the news that SEC Country’s final day will be June 30. While I can’t speak for others, I’ve experienced a whirlwind of emotions and spent lots of time reflecting.
It was July 2016, and I’d been living in New York City — loving every minute — for a little over two years. There are people who romanticize the Big Apple. Then, there are lunatics who don’t mind (or admittedly, even like) getting stuck on a crowded subway during the morning rush because, well, it’s just so New York. I was the latter. For me, covering Auburn athletics was always the dream job, though. That’s to be expected, I suppose, when you grow up a fan.
Some already knew this. Many may have suspected. Sports journalists have a responsibility to be unbiased and to report facts and news. During my time as a team writer for SEC Country, I fought to remain neutral. I kept my personal feelings at bay, and let me tell you, it wasn’t always easy.
My dad’s godfather was former defensive coordinator Paul Davis. I grew up decked out in orange and blue all the way across the country in Southern California. Saturdays in my household meant my dad screaming at our TV so loudly that occasionally neighbors would come over to make sure everything was all right. For years, a picture of Bo Jackson going over the top of Alabama hung above the fireplace in our living room — I couldn’t make this up — before it eventually was replaced by family photos.
At a very young age, I was certain my dad was insane. His emotions during football season confused me, and if I’m honest, frightened me. And then in 2004, I went to my first game.
Auburn played LSU in what became known as the “Kick It Again” game. During the final moments of that game, Courtney Taylor caught a touchdown pass and the stadium erupted into complete chaos.
I turned to find my dad about 10 rows up hugging a stranger. At that point, I knew I’d be a member of the passionate, frenzied fan base forever. As my dad and I walked out of Jordan-Hare Stadium that day, 12-year-old me looked up and said, “Hey, maybe one day I’ll be a sportswriter and cover the team.”
After the win, I rolled Toomer’s Corner — my first roll still sits in a glass box in our family storage unit — and bought a No. 86 jersey. A few weeks later we came back for the Georgia game, and after that victory, Courtney Taylor signed a picture of his catch for me.
Tommy Tuberville’s team went 13-0 that season, and I was convinced Auburn was a magical place. All these years later, I believe I was right.
Some people go their whole lives without realizing their dreams. I’ve lived mine for over two years. I’ve stood on the field as the marching band started up and watched Spirit fly in awe. I’ve huddled behind trying to snag a selfie with Bo Jackson and Cam Newton — at the same time! Auburn has lost in heartbreaking fashion and celebrated with the swag surf. Again and again, I have paused — whether in the Jordan-Hare press box or Auburn Arena — and contemplated how lucky I have been.
To the Malzahns, thank you for sharing your program and your lives. I can’t imagine the triumph or struggles that you face each day. In the end, you bring so much joy to many.
To every former player, administrator, coach, parent or student-athlete who took the time to speak with me for stories, thank you for your time and honesty. To fans who approached me in person with compliments, I can’t tell you how much your kindness means. For those who followed, read or watched on Facebook Live, thank you from the bottom of my heart (an especially big thanks to those who watched my early days on Facebook, and for some reason kept watching).
Ben and Justin, I couldn’t have covered Auburn with any other duo. Thank you for being hardworking, outstanding co-workers. Most importantly, thanks for being such incredible people. I’m excited to watch your future success and remain close friends. Yeah, that’s right boys, you’re stuck with me.
There will be people who make jokes and call SEC Country a failure and maybe it was. In reality, it was a new company trying to survive in a brutal age where journalism is simply trying to breathe another breath. Perhaps our Auburn team wrote things you disagreed with or lacked in some areas of coverage. What I can say with confidence is that our team, and everyone in the company, worked tirelessly. We wrote and re-wrote drafts and tallied several all-nighters. We tried to provide something different and I think we did.
Hopefully our readers learned something, whether it was from Ferg’s Film Room or Ben’s recruiting scoops, and hopefully, you were forced to think. Through my own work, I hope some gained a better understanding of the student-athletes they cheer on. I’ve been there and worn the uniform. It’s one of the most wonderful yet challenging times in the life of a young person. College athletics allows kids to play a sport they love and grow into who they were meant to be — and you get to be a part of that.
I was meant to live in and cover Auburn, if only for a short time. While the town never really felt like home — I’m definitely a city woman through and through — the people did. I enjoyed the best of football, friendship, faith, family and so much more — and I’ll forever be changed because of it. I’ll return to NYC this fall, where I’ll reassume my role as a full-time fan.
On some weekends in the years to come, I’ll board a flight to Atlanta and play Sweet Home Alabama as I cross the state line. I’ll drink a Toomer’s lemonade and scream as my Tigers run out of the tunnel in a cloud of smoke. Maybe one day I’ll have the chance to brainwash my own child (thanks for that, dad) when I introduce them to Auburn and they’ll fall in love like I did. If I’m really lucky, I’ll parent a little girl with curly hair and an unshakeable love for football, too.
I can’t tell you exactly what’s to come just yet — for me or the industry — but no matter how many games Auburn wins or loses, no matter what happens or what the future holds, I know it will always be great to be an Auburn Tiger.
War Damn Eagle, y’all.