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Orange sunset and blue sky

Some things you shouldn’t discuss at family reunions.

Politics and religion usually top the list although my family on my father’s side has never taken that advice. College football should probably be on the list as well.

The first three years Mary Lou and I were married we had a friendly wager with my in-laws, fiercely competitive Alabama fans. The winner was to take the losers to dinner. After just three years, we agreed not only to cease the bet but to not discuss the game at all. Good decision.

However, when a family reunion is held in the middle of football season you just have to include the banter as part of the experience. If the reunion is held at the Auburn-Georgia football game, well then all bets are off; football will be the centerpiece of the talk especially in a family that wears both the orange and blue and the red and black.

Some 110 years ago, the first member of our family graduated from Auburn, then called Alabama Polytechnic Institute. It is where my father and mother met. I enjoyed every minute of my four years there. Now a nephew attends, continuing a long line of Tigers.

My brother and sister weren’t the first of our family to graduate from Georgia. My grandmother lived just 20 miles from Athens and from early childhood days we roamed the rolling hills of Athens, especially loving the color of the fall in the beautiful old city.

Auburn has a similar feel, with hardwoods far outnumbering the pines and hills and creeks giving the landscape a totally different feel from here in southwest Georgia.

For years my brother, sister and I plus our families have tailgated during one of the South’s oldest rivalry. We yell, jab, needle and joke about the other team. Usually we are enjoying some good food.

It isn’t just family that has a good time with this football game. Friends, acquaintances and just football lovers all enjoy this rivalry. Twenty players on the Auburn team call Georgia home. Our coaches, students and alumni have intertwined relationships between the two schools that allow the game to be civil and fun, no matter who wins.

It has been a magical season for Auburn. When your expectations aren’t that high and then they are unexpectedly exceeded, the season becomes fun. Add in the dramatic play of Cam Newton, and it is really not like any season I have been a part of.

Georgia played well, leading by two touchdowns after the first quarter. As the sun began to set I pointed out to my grandson sitting next to me the beautiful colors in the sky. It was a brilliant orange sunset in an otherwise clear blue sky. God must be an Auburn fan, I told him, as the colors spread across the end of the stadium.

Henry was a trouper, once he got used to people yelling so loud. He shook his pompom just like everyone else, but wasn’t partial to standing up. “Sit down, Granddaddy” he would say pulling on my pants pocket.

Twenty of our family sat together, so there was always someone jumping up or sitting down. Big buckets of popcorn made it up and down the row. I would text Ernest since it was so loud he couldn’t hear me from 10 seats away.

We made our way to Toomer’s Corner after the game. Entrepreneurs were selling toilet tissues to roll the timeless old oaks and traffic signals. The next morning I took Henry by to see the aftermath. He wanted to know why there were so many “wipes” in the trees.

We had rented a house just a few blocks from campus where our extended family gathered before and after the game. Food, as always, was a big part of our get-together. Of special interest was this amazing cake with Cam Newton standing over a Georgia Bulldog player with his foot on his back. The name and number on the back of the Georgia player was “Ponder, #84” which was Ernest’s number during his playing days at Georgia.

An 8-foot tall Aubie stood guard at the front door with flags marking the entrance to the walkway. Georgia and Auburn flags, plates, cups and assorted other memorabilia cluttered every part of the house.

With the exception of Mary Lou, who stayed with her father due to his recent illness, every single cousin and in-law for four generations was crammed in that little house enjoying all the things that make an extended family so special.

Time will tell if the allegations swirling around Cam Newton have any basis in fact or not. However, for one brilliantly beautiful fall weekend, football and family combined to provide memories we’ll remember for a long, long time.