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Mike Marshall: Surprising stories

Let me tell you a couple of stories that surprised me.

Columnist Mike Marshall

Maybe they won’t surprise you, since some of you are probably in the thick of our state’s non-stop battle every day.

But they surprised me, just the same.

I was out of town the other day, and my host, a wonderful man, introduced me as “a big Auburn man.’’ Fine with me.

I’m 6-foot-3, and I’ve been following Auburn for most of my life. I guess that qualifies me as a big Auburn man.

By and by, one of the man’s friends said, “I’m sorry.’’

A few days later, I heard a story about a high school graduation ceremony, in which the Auburn-bound graduates were booed when their college choices were announced.

So this is where we’ve come to? Is it now accepted behavior to boo 18-year-olds because of an athletic rivalry?

Here’s where I’m at as an Auburn person:

I’m as proud of my alma mater as I’ve ever been, regardless of the outcome of the recent sports year. I’m not worried about Auburn’s future because of its football, basketball and baseball seasons.

Am I concerned that it happened? A little, mainly because I know the depth of Auburn’s resources - lots of money, large fan base, strong facilities.

Schools with Auburn’s resources aren’t supposed to finish so poorly in the three major sports.

But college athletics, like most things in life, can be repaired with money, and Auburn has enough to make improvements quickly. That’s what I expect to happen, starting with Gus Malzahn’s first season as head football coach.

I’m also a strong believer that college athletics in the Southeastern Conference goes in cycles.

Things are rarely as good as they seem, and things are rarely as bad as they seem. That adage has been proven time and again.

Here is something else that has held true for as long as I can remember: College sports fans in Alabama allow their favorites teams to be part of their identities.

That’s why college sports in Alabama is more toxic than almost any other state. That’s also why fans boo 18-year-olds who don’t choose their favorite school.

As for me, I’m a big Auburn man, sure. But is it part of my identity?

My identity is my faith, my family, my job. Am I taking care of my family? Am I raising my children right? Am I living my life the way I am supposed to?

Not always. I make mistakes - lots of them every day.

Here, though, is one mistake I am confident I will never make again. I will never allow the outcome of a game or a season to change the way I view the world.

There was a time when I did. But then I went to Auburn, where I was surrounded by nothing but Auburn people, and I was no longer as angered by another close loss or another losing season.

In that respect, anyway, I finally started to grow up.

Mike Marshall (no relation to Phillip), an Auburn graduate, was a journalist for 28 years and won more than 70 state and national awards. He won the Herby Kirby Award for the state’s top sports story three consecutive years. He also won two first-place awards from the Football Writers Association of America, a first-place award from the Associated Press Association for feature writing and the Associated Press Sweepstakes Award for the top newspaper story of any kind in Alabama. He was the Sportswriter of the Year in Alabama in 1994. He covered Auburn for The Montgomery Advertiser and covered Auburn and football recruiting for The Huntsville Times. He shares his thoughts in a column each Thursday.

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