When the Cardinals opened the 2001 football season against the Auburn Tigers, we here at the DAILY NEWS became enamored with the Auburn football program. This is a program with tradition, with stature -- a program that provides a glimpse of what life is like outside of the Mid-American Conference.
We learned about the "Tiger Walk" and "Rollin' Toomers' Corner," but one of the most intriguing aspects of Auburn's team is the pregame ceremony of the eagle swooping over and landing on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The term "War Eagle!" was used everywhere, their band even has a song about it. We wanted to know what this meant.
We all thumbed through the massive Auburn media guide and inside we found an article describing the story behind War Eagle.
We learned there are many versions of this college football ritual, but the one that caught our eye goes like this.
The legend begins with the Auburn vs. Georgia game in 1892 and centers on a spectator, who was a veteran of the Civil War. The old soldier was sitting in the stands with an eagle he had found on a battlefield during the war. According to legend it was his pet for almost 30 years and the eagle suddenly broke free and began majestically circling the playing field.
As the eagle soared over the game the Auburn Tigers marched down the field and scored the winning touchdown. After the game was over the eagle dove to the ground, crashed and died. With that, the Auburn faithful began chanting "War Eagle" whenever the Tigers play.
Well as I sat in the student section during Ball State's Homecoming game, I noticed a brown rabbit stuck between the cheerleaders and the fence that reminded me of this story. The Cardinals were on the field battling Toledo late in the fourth quarter, and the rabbit ran back and forth along the fence trying to find a way out. It caught the attention of many of us in the section. Adding to the concern for the rabbit we also noticed it had a broken hind leg.
As much as the rabbit tried to run forward, it ran sideways because of its fractured limb. Toledo had just kicked a field goal late in the fourth quarter to take the lead at 20-17 when somehow the rabbit ran free. The crowd cheered as the rabbit side-winded his way out of Ball State Stadium.
The very next play, Corey Parchman returned the kickoff 100 yards for the go ahead touchdown -- securing the upset for Ball State. The moral of the story: I think we have a new tradition here.
Kinda catchy, isn't it? Just how the eagle died on the field in Auburn, the crippled rabbit ran free as the Cardinals win!
Ten minutes before kickoff we should let a rabbit run around the field and the Pride of Mid-America should play something like "Here comes Peter Cottontail..."
So, how about it? We don't really have a football tradition we can call our own. Everyone shakes keys during kickoffs, and everyone does the gator chomp thing on third down. So make some shirts, make some signs and for the band it could be a catchy tune -- greet your fellow Cardinal with a hearty War Bunny!
Write to Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org