Auburn University has a close association with two animals, but it only has one mascot. That’s a tiger — specifically, Aubie the Tiger. Here he is:
You could be forgiven for thinking Auburn has two mascots, though. The Tigers’ battle cry is “War Eagle,” sometimes modified informally to “War Damn Eagle.”
Auburn also has an eagle fly around Jordan-Hare Stadium at games:
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
It’s a big part of the team’s pregame.
The War Eagle is synonymous with Auburn, and it’s very much a part of the school’s game day experience. But it’s not considered a mascot. Auburn has never had an athletic team called the Eagles, and it doesn’t refer to the eagle as its mascot.
It’s weird that they have an animal on the field who’s not a mascot, yeah.
Georgia considers this a live mascot:
And LSU considers this a live mascot, though it doesn’t come to games anymore:
Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images
But Auburn does not consider the eagle that flies around the stadium before the game to be a mascot.
“‘War Eagle’ is Auburn’s battle cry, not a mascot or nickname,” the school says.
The dictionary definition of “mascot” is “a person or thing that is supposed to bring good luck or that is used to symbolize a particular event or organization.”
I’d argue that the eagle that flies around the stadium is definitely a symbol for Auburn, but if the school doesn’t want to recognize something as its mascot, who can force it? Deeming the eagle a mascot or not is subjective, but it’s Auburn’s call.
The first eagle that flew around Auburn games was named Tiger, in case you weren’t confused enough by this situation.
Here’s how War Eagle might have become a thing.
The school offers up a few possible origins here.
1. An eagle that escaped and then flew around the stadium and died
The most popular story about the battle cry dates back to the first time Auburn met Georgia on the football field in 1892 and centers around a spectator who was a veteran of the Civil War. In the stands with him that day was an eagle the old soldier had found on a battlefield during the war. He had kept it as a pet for almost 30 years.
According to witnesses, the eagle suddenly broke free and began majestically circling the playing field. As the eagle soared, Auburn began a steady march toward the Georgia end zone for a thrilling victory. Elated at their team’s play and taking the bird’s presence as an omen of success, Auburn students and fans began to yell “War Eagle” to spur on their team. At the game’s end, the eagle took a sudden dive, crashed into the ground, and died.
But the battle cry “War Eagle” lived on to become a symbol of the proud Auburn spirit.
Sad, but inspiring.
2. An opponent named “Bald Eagle,” which fans heard as “War Eagle”
The toughest player on the Carlisle Indian team in 1914 was named Bald Eagle. In an effort to tire him out, Auburn began to run play after play straight at him. Without huddling, the quarterback would simply yell out, “bald eagle” and the Tigers would attack. Spectators mistook “bald eagle” for “war eagle” and began shouting it every time the Tigers came to the line. When Lucy Hairston scored the game-winning touchdown for Auburn, he supposedly yelled “War Eagle,” and a new Auburn tradition was born.
Weird, but could be true.
3. An eagle patch that fell on the ground in 1913
During a Langdon Hall pep rally in the undefeated season of 1913, the head cheerleader said, “If we are going to win this game, we are going to have to go out there and fight, because this means war.” At that moment an eagle emblem fell off a students military hat. Asked what it was, he reportedly shouted, “It’s a War Eagle.” The next day it became the favorite student cheer when Auburn beat Georgia, 21-7, to win the SIAA championship.
4. The Saxon warrior theory
Some say that Auburn fans adopted the “War Eagle” phrase due to its connection with Saxon warriors who used the yell as their battle cry. When buzzards would circle the battlefields, settling among the dead, the Saxons began calling them “war eagles.”
Since the first War Eagle, there have been six other birds throughout Auburn’s history which have served as the school’s symbol and kept alive the legendary battle cry. War Eagle VII (Nova) currently entertains fans with her customary flight around Jordan-Hare Stadium prior to each home football game.
At any rate, War Eagle goes back a long way — to the 1910s at the latest.
But it’s never been Auburn’s mascot, always just a really cool battle cry.