Lee Bryan considers himself as civic minded as anyone, but that summons for jury duty this week is an invitation he must respectfully decline.
The panel on which he will sit wears blue and orange, greets one another with a throaty “War Eagle!” and firmly believes Nick Saban to be guilty of (fill in the charge).
Bryan is among a legion of Auburn fans drawn this week to the desert — faraway Glendale, Ariz., to be precise — in the search of rare treasure. Many of them, like Bryan, began the journey in the Atlanta area, a huge repository for graduates of that school just across the Georgia line. Others are left behind here to share, as best they can, in the experience of the BCS national championship game against Oregon.
The Auburn players and coaches surely covet this title, which would be the first for the program since 1957. But, as their stories attest, the fans may want it even more.
They have shown they will pay almost anything, endure any indignity of travel, and even risk the displeasure of the court to partner up with this moment.
“I have to be there,” said Bryan, a 1980 Auburn grad, who will be making the pilgrimage with a sister and her family and a stepbrother. They all grew up with good Auburn parents and lived a good Auburn life.
“As soon as they won the SEC championship, we said we’ve all got to be at the game — no matter what.” Even if that should mean declining the call to jury duty.
There are, according to Kathleen Saal, president of the Atlanta Auburn Club, more than 22,000 Tiger alumni living in the area. And hundreds more of the area’s young march toward Toomer’s Corner each term.
Not all can get to Glendale. Daunted by the expense, the president herself is staying behind to watch from a distance. She opted to make a mortgage payment instead.
One of the big Auburn-watching bars in Atlanta — Buckhead’s Bucket Shop Cafe — had the second-biggest day in its more than 20 years of business during December’s SEC championship game, said owner Ward Gober. It follows business will be brisk again Monday night, not that the owner will be busing tables. He’ll be in Arizona.
Feeding this Auburn obsession has not been simple.
Some groveled before the enemy.
Searching the Internet for tickets — on faith, she already had booked the flight and the hotel — Lawrenceville’s Kelly Dickinson (Class of 2002) waded through the scammers and the counterfeiters until coming upon what felt like a legitimate offer. Turned out the seller was a fan of Auburn’s blood rival, Alabama, who had speculated early that his team would return to the title game. He was offering his two $350-face-value tickets for $975 each.
She bartered politely — two sworn adversaries finding common ground in commerce — and counter-offered $900 each. The seller’s wife ultimately decided it was a good idea to do business with a true fan, someone who would cherish the moment.
So, Dickinson and her husband, Michael, a former walk-on quarterback for the Tigers, met the seller and his family at Perimeter Mall and made a happy exchange. There was one thing, however, she would not do for the tickets: The Alabama man had half-jokingly made the sale conditional upon her wearing a Crimson Tide hat to the buy. “I didn’t think I could do that,” Kelly laughed.
Some broke promises to make this game.
“I probably should feel more guilty, but I don’t,” said Abbie Erhardt (Class of 2004), a DeKalb County elementary school teacher.
She didn’t tell her best friend — another Auburn grad — to schedule her induced labor for the morning after the big game.
When her friend got pregnant, Erhardt told her she would be there for the birth, come whatever. But how could she have foreseen the Cam Newton Effect, an unbeaten campaign and the opportunity to go to Arizona and enjoy a long weekend in a five-bedroom Scottsdale home rented by her boyfriend’s family?
“We can’t expect Cam to come back for us [for his senior year] and the last championship was in the ’50s. C’mon, this is one of those opportunities you’ve got to grab,” Erhardt said.
Mother-to-be fully understands, she added.
To get to the game, some went through the kind of logistical gymnastics that should be reserved for a moon landing.
His job in software development has lent Atlanta’s Chip Plesnarski (Class of 2000) certain problem-solving abilities that have come in handy recently. Deciding to double up on his fun, he decided to base himself in Las Vegas before and after the big game. Only Vegas was booked. He will have to bounce between three different casino hotels over five nights.
To get from Las Vegas to the game, he discovered that the Auburn Club there (who knew?) was chartering five buses for the five-hour trip. He got on one.
He has yet to account for the biggest expense — the ticket. Prices are going up, up, up. At midweek, the Atlanta Auburn Club president was getting reports of prime location seats going for $2,000.
To stockpile some funds for the trip, Plesnarski canceled his maid service for a few weeks, cleanliness being next to nothing when compared to a national championship.
If the game goes right, he’ll have everything paid for, plus perhaps a little profit. On a springtime trip to Las Vegas, Plesnarski put $70 on Auburn to win the national championship at 60-to-1 (a $4,200 payoff). He has set a limit on what he is willing to pay for a ticket. But, if he is swept away in the enthusiasm of the moment and if the poker tables are kind, Plesnarski said he doesn’t trust himself to hold firm.
If nothing else, he’ll still go the site without a ticket just to “soak in the atmosphere, do a little tailgating, be in the environment.”
The lure of a championship to a long-deprived fan base is irresistible.
Just ask Bryan, who on Wednesday mailed off a copy of his airline ticket and his game ticket to the clerk of Fulton County Superior Court as a way of explaining his absence from the jury pool.
Oddly enough, the Shepherd Center office manager said, “I’m dying to do jury duty; I’ve always wanted to serve and never got called.” But that desire ranks several notches below the one of a second-generation Auburn man to witness the miracle of a perfect season.
Surely, he reasons, a wise and merciful justice system has to understand the importance of this moment. If it doesn’t, if there are consequences, then Bryan declares, “It’ll be worth it; I don’t care.”
God help him if the judge is an Alabama man.
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Who: No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 2 Oregon
When; where: 8:30 p.m. Monday; Glendale, Ariz.
TV; radio: ESPN; 680, 93.7
WHERE AUBURN FANS CAN WATCH THE GAME
(From the Atlanta Auburn Club)
The Bucket Shop Cafe: 3475 Lenox Road, Atlanta. Phone: 404-261-9244.
Twisted Taco: 4629 Wieuca Road, Atlanta. Phone: 678-720-9732.
Diesel Filling Station: 870 North Highland Ave., Atlanta. Phone: 404-815-1820.
Hudson Grill: 865 N. Main St., Alpharetta. Phone: 770-777-4127.
Johnny’s Pizza: 3375 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville. Phone: 678-985-8288.