Auburn University has been graced with much tradition around our mascots. To the outsider, this tradition may at first be confusing and to a naive rival, jokes such as “Why does Auburn have three mascots?” are not uncommon. But for new Auburn fans or for rivals wishing to educate themselves, we offer this clear explanation of our mascot and our other symbols of tradition.

Here’s a summary. Auburn’s mascot, and therefore our school nickname, is the "TIGERS". Auburn’s battle cry is "WAR EAGLE!". A descriptive term used for Auburn students is "PLAINSMEN". Through the years, these terms have often been used interchangeably and incorrectly by non-Auburn folks. There are even hats and T-shirts with the incorrect “Auburn War Eagles” printed on them. Additionally, the news media has been known to refer to an Auburn team as the War Eagles or to an Auburn player as a War Eagle. All incorrect.

Now, here’s why things are the way they are. Judge John J. Harper, who founded the city of Auburn in 1836, was inspired to name the city, “Auburn” because of a line from Oliver Goldsmith’s poem, “The Deserted Village,” published in May of 1770. The line, describing a fictitious town reads: “Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the Plain.” The nickname “Tigers” comes from another line in the poem: “where crouching tigers wait their hapless prey….”

The rest is Auburn history. From the beginning we have been the “Auburn Tigers”. Our sports teams are not the “Auburn War Eagles,” not the “Auburn Plainsmen,” nor even are Auburn’s women’s teams called the “Lady Tigers”, as is done at some institutions. We are all just “Auburn Tigers.”

“War Eagle!” is Auburn’s battle cry, used by fans in the same manner Alabama fans yell “Roll Tide!”. To refer to the University of Alabama as the “Alabama Roll Tides” would be just as incorrect as calling an Auburn team the “Auburn War Eagles”. The battle cry “War Eagle” should never have an “s” on the end of it.

Legend has it that football and "War Eagle" came to Auburn the same day, Feb. 20, 1892, when Auburn defeated Georgia 10-0 at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park in the first real college football game played in the South. According to the legend, an Auburn student, fighting at the Civil War’s Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia, was left for dead in no-man’s land, that stretch of earth between the two armies that belonged to neither friend nor foe. After the battle, all that was left alive there was the Auburn student and a baby eagle. With the eaglet in his pocket, the wounded soldier eventually made his way back home. He later returned to Auburn and resumed his education, nurturing the eagle back to health and maturity.

The man later joined Auburn’s faculty and when the train departed for Atlanta that fateful day, the instructor and the eagle, known to all Auburn people as "War Eagle" because of the circumstances which brought the man and eagle together, were on the train. As the game began, the eagle took to flight and began to circle the field. Looking skyward, the Auburn faithful began to call his name "War Eagle." As the eagle continued to fly up and down the field, he was seemingly watching over his Auburn Tiger team, and supporting their efforts in his only way possible. Soon the crowd began to chant and then shout his name in unison…"War Eagle!"

At the end of the game, the old eagle, now almost 30 years old, collapsed and died on the playing field. Having given his all for his team and boosting Auburn to victory in the process, the events of that day soon grew into legend and the name "War Eagle," as was voiced that day, has since been repeated as an inspirational battle cry whenever Auburn teams compete on the field of play. Auburn University and college football have never been the same since.

Today, in addition to being immortalized in Auburn’s fight song and cheered at all Auburn sporting events, the battle cry "War Eagle" has become a universal greeting for Auburn men and women. It is said that wherever “War Eagle!” is shouted around the world, another hearty “War Eagle!” will be heard in response as a friendly acknowledgment of the Spirit that binds all Auburn people together. Indeed, most Auburn fans can recall fond memories of just such events.

At any Auburn sporting event, our mascot the “Tigers,” will be represented by a mischievous costumed character named “Aubie”. The namesake of our battle cry “War Eagle” is represented by a live eagle named “Tiger”. “Tiger VI”, who currently holds the post, began a new tradition in the 2000 football season. At the beginning of every home football game, “Tiger” is released into free flight from the upper deck of Jordan-Hare Stadium. To a deafening roar of the cheer ‘Waaarrrrr Eagle’, “Tiger VI” circles the stadium just like “Tiger I” did over 110 years ago, and lands at center field in what is one of the most spectacular displays in all of college athletics.

And to wrap up the mascot explanation, we must mention the term “Plainsman”. Also originating in the same line of the Oliver Goldsmith poem that gave name to our city, Auburn was described as the “…loveliest village of the Plain.” And because the city of Auburn is geographically located on a plain, the description seemed particularly fitting and stuck. Since Auburn athletes were, in the early days, men from the Plains, it was only natural for newspaper headline writers to shorten that to “Plainsmen.” However, today as in days of old, the term “Plainsman” or “Plainswoman” always refers to Auburn students, never to a sports team or mascot. That is why you could refer to a student as a “Plainsman” or a group of students as “Plainsmen,” but it would be incorrect to refer to an Auburn sports team as the “Auburn Plainsmen”.