Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A big seven-finger so what

I've been asked a few times over the last 48 hours what I think about Tommy Tuberville's holding up seven fingers to celebrate a flag-football victory during his Middle East tour, and I say so what.

Look, I'm a journalist. I'd say cynical journalist, but then I'd have to correct myself for redundancy.

I've been in this business full time for 21 years as of Sunday. I've covered the Auburn beat for going on 12 years, so I've covered Tuberville throughout his nearly 10-year tenure as the school's head football coach.

Do I think it's beyond Tuberville to tweak Auburn's biggest rival? Absolutely not. I've seen it and heard it. I stood there during the team's 2004 SEC championship celebration and heard him sub his own name in for those hallowed names adorning Alabama's football stadium.

I also remember back in 1999, when he fired back at a columnist from his home state of Arkansas. Something about the two of them coming from roughly the same place and Tuberville bettering himself, as I recall.

Tuberville is a very smart and good man in my estimation, but he's not beyond pettiness. I know no one who is.

That said, he also has the savvy of a stout politician. I've often thought he could do well in that field, and I don't mean that negatively. He's a pragmatist. He knows his constituency, and his tweakings in relation to Auburn's six-game winning streak over Alabama are for Auburn fans, not Alabama fans.

And believe me, if you read Auburn message boards, you know it's working.

I say all of that to say this; I don't think Tuberville is beyond sincerity, either.

I'm willing to consider his explanation of his seven-finger salute in the Middle East ... that it was meant in fun for those there with him in the moment, not anyone back home in Alabama.

Please read me out.

Imagine you're the coach of a major college football team. You and a few colleagues have been given the chance to visit U.S. military personnel in a war zone.

You get there and see a lot of young faces, faces that look a lot like the ones you coach. Faces that look just a few years beyond those of your own children.

You sign autographs. You talk. You listen. You share.

They delight in your autographs. They talk, listen and share about their dangerous missions, their 110-degree environs, their folks back home, their beliefs about the war they fight for their country.

You see soldiers who follow the school you coach. You see soldiers who follow rival schools. They rib you at the same time they let you know they're glad to see you ... a celebrity who took time during your offseason to see them.

Then comes the flag-football game. You've been chosen to coach servicemen who consider themselves fans of myriad schools back home. Some played for school's back home.

The team you help to coach wins, and THEY lift you on THEIR shoulders. A camera is there to capture the moment and send a few seconds of film back home.

Fans back home get bent out of shape over it.

As much as some college football fans might like to demonize a rival school's coach, would YOU be so callous as to use a light moment with troops in a war zone to tweak a rival's fans ... or politic your own?

I find it hard to believe that the coach I've covered for 10 years ... or any coach I've covered in 21 years, including ones I didn't like ... would do such a thing.

And to the rivalry, the office water cooler, the streak, the thumb or any other digit, I say so what. Let the troops and coaches who were there have their moment.

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