For anyone who sits in front of their television screen come Saturday afternoons in the fall, SEC football might look and sound like a cult thanks to their loyal fan bases that pack the stadiums hours before kickoff.
Down in SEC country, it’s not just a football game for those who have been bred in the culture, but rather a family reunion with your fellow fan bases.
As the keg is tapped and the shakers began to rattle into the orange and pink sunsets, the radio switch will flip as pregame festivities are officially underway. Some fans are so dedicated to hearing the action; they’ll keep an earphone plugged in all four quarters just to hear the sound of a potential legend call.
Ask any proud member of the SEC football family who has graced their Saturdays and names will enter left to right. Eli Gold fills the airwaves that echo inside the halls of Bryant-Denny Stadium late into the October nights. Mick Hubert has greeted the swamplands for Gator nation since 1989, seeing three national championships come in his direction. In addition, who could forget the legacy of good ole Uncle Verne Lundquist, a staple on CBS SEC Saturdays?
But of all the fine men and women who have donated their time to the SEC, few come close to matching the legacy of Rod Bramblett out on the plains.
The Man Behind the Microphone
They say only the good die young or one was taken too soon. That statement finally has cemented down south on Saturday evening. Rod Bramblett and his wife, Paula, died in a two-collision car accident in Auburn, Ala. The legendary “voice of the Auburn Tigers” over the past 16 seasons is now gone leaving the airwaves silent. All there now is an open wound torn across the SEC.
According to reports, Bramblett was sitting at a light waiting to turn when a 16-year-old plowed behind them. Paula was pronounced just a few hours after the incident. Rod, however, fought an unwinnable battle and eventually crossed the goal line towards the afterlife.
My only hope is that the young man whose life will forever change wasn’t texting while driving.
A few years back, my best friend was killed by an 18-wheel driver who was texting behind the wheel. In the end, he’s still driving around the country while Jaimie sleeps six feet deep just miles from our hometown.
The loss of Bramblett across the Auburn community could feel as if a death in the family occurred. His iconic voice blazed across the nation as students would listen to legendary calls inside of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
For the true SEC football fans, knowing we will never hear another iconic call from him is hard to bear. In addition, even the enemy across the state lays down their fingers across the Twitterverse today. The rivalry will pause for all of the state to pay their respect to the fallen tiger.
Behind the Enemy Lines
It only takes one Saturday afternoon filled with Yellow Hammers in Tuscaloosa or a late night at The Sky Bar in Auburn to understand the greatest rivalry in college football. Houses are divided, Thanksgivings become awkward, and friendships are seen coming to close. In other words, it’s the same story every year during the final game in the Heart of Dixie.
In the final Saturday of college football: The Iron Bowl molds hatred between the Crimson Tide and War Eagle faithful.
As a native Texan, I never fully understood the rivalry until I entered my freshman year at The Capstone. Sure, I had heard of the Iron Bowl before, but I grew up with another rivalry. One that involved the Longhorns spanking the butts of Texas A&M every Thanksgiving evening.
The rivalry between the two schools has ended, but my disdain for A&M still lingers. Still, the second I arrived on campus, a pledge brother told me the rules of how to be an Alabama fan.
“Stay for four, sing Dixieland Delight with proud and shout f*^k Auburn every game,” he muttered. So every Saturday afternoon, dressed in my pledge uniform, Bryant Denny would wait for the song to begin. The intensity would rise and after “Mason Dixon night,” students would blast their hatred for the school in West Georgia.
Even after my first Iron Bowl, I couldn’t find the hatred to scream at a school that never divided my family. With Auburn losing 55-0 in Gene Chizik’s final game, fans started leaving their seats and headed towards the bar. A buddy of mine had his friend from Auburn sitting with us in our section. As we left, I asked him if I could listen to the final quarter of the game on his radio.
A biased Auburn fan, he introduced me to Bramblett, and as a result the rest became history.
His cool, calm approach had you sitting on the back of your seat, waiting to hear the play. His rich background of the team was uncanny, and stats would begin to roll off his tongue. However, it was his iconic touchdown calls that made SEC fans either cheer with joy or slump with disappointment.
Whenever an Auburn game would play, I’d mute the television and listen to Bramblett call the game on my laptop. As an Alabama student, you were supposed to hate the enemy. However, thanks to Rod’s voice, I caught myself cheering for them at times over my four years there.
To this day, nearly three years after saying goodbye to Tuscaloosa, I still have even more disgust for the boys in College Station than Auburn. I attribute that to the memories Rod filling my airwaves come Saturday afternoons.
The Voice of the Tiger
Bramblett’s career tragically started the same way his replacement’s will; in death. Following the sudden passing of play-by-play man Jim Fyffe, Bramblett jumped on the mic, and the rest became history.
No, scratch that last sentence, Bramblett reinvented history. Greeted with criticism from fans who couldn’t believe Fyffe was gone, the Auburn fans couldn’t imagine Bramblett becoming “the guy” after that.
With so many iconic calls under this belt, that statement is now found buried at the bottom of the cold takes pile.
That said, from his first season, Bramblett implanted his name in the SEC history books. It began on the first play of his first Iron Bowl back in 2003. Fans from both parties will never forget the moment where Bramblett’s voice began to expand as Cadillac Williams burst towards the outside and headed for the end zone.
“To the 50! To the 40! To the 30! To the 20! To the 15! 10! Go Crazy Cadillac! Gooooooo Crazy! Touchdooooooooooown Auburn!”
From there, the legend of Tigers’ radio was born. Bramblett’s analysis would become a staple of the Iron Bowl for years to come. Some will remember him for the Cadillac call. Others, similarly won’t forget the joy that excited his voice as Philip Lutzenkirchen hauled in the game-winning touchdown to top off Cam Newton’s Heisman season.
I like to think that Lutz will be greeting him and Paula with a hug wherever they may be.
One call though will always stand out in SEC history. It’s the moment that solidified Bramblett as one of the best announcers the world of sports has ever seen. On a cold November evening out on the plains, Bramblett’s craft would become adored by everyone across the country.
In many ways, the “Kick six” is an iconic moment in Alabama history. No, not just the Crimson Tide’s or the Tigers’ books, but rather the state itself. “There goes Davis!” will be up there alongside the Selma to Montgomery march, the battle of Mobile Bay and the birth of the state in 1819.
No matter the side of the fence you sit, it’s hard to ignore the iconic call. Filled with the passion of a man who bled orange and blue, Bramblett’s journey on his way to his final call last April in Minneapolis will never be forgotten.
To me, his memory will always start and end with “Auburn’s going to win the football game”.
A Foe’s Final Thoughts
Bramblett loved Auburn, and the community likewise felt the same to him. Always seen smiling, even on road trips behind enemy lines, his smile could bring the best out of any defeat. He was a star at his craft, and even those in Tuscaloosa couldn’t help but agree. The three-time Alabama sportscaster of the year was a hit across the southeast nation.
That call in 2013 though made him a global star, having fans around the country turn the dial to hear him speak. The same year, Sports Illustrated named him Sports Broadcaster of the Year and because of that, never again would Bramblett go unnoticed.
Perhaps the biggest reason I consider Bramblett a legend in his own way is his compassion. Never having a bad thing to say to us in the press box, he would always wave and give the Alabama writers a smile whenever we entered Jordan-Hare. Although a Tiger, he never allowed his heart to attack the fans of the Crimson Tide.
Bramblett’s death is one that will take time to recover from. He was everyone’s sports-driven cousin who was proud of his fandom no matter the score. As I listen to some of his calls typing this, I can’t help but wonder what moments he will miss that could have joined his already Hall of Fame resume.
To me, the “Kick six” will be the greatest call ever to grace airwaves. Heartbroken by Chris Davis’ 109-yard return, I can’t help but go back and listen to the call that silenced half a state. It’s a moment that will forever be embedded inside my heart.
As we say goodbye to a legend, the rivalry will lay down their arms — for the time being. Gone are the days of hearing Bramblett’s voice ring on Saturday afternoons, only a soundtrack of his greatest hits remains.
To some, saying the enemy’s catchphrase is worse than cursing. Banned by the tribe, fans will certainly call you a traitor if you chant the war cry of the other program.
Therefore, it’s safe to say Bramblett’s the one exception for Alabama fans to say the most despicable phrase ever created.
War Eagle Rod.
Thank you for the memories.