"War Eagle" is a battle cry and symbol of Auburn University. There are several stories about the battle cry, but the most popular myth was originally published in 1960 in the Auburn Plainsman and was conceived by then-Editor Jim Phillips. Phillips told the story of the first time Auburn met Georgia on the football field in 1892 and centered the story around a fictional spectator who was a veteran of the Civil War. In the stands with him that day was a golden 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 the story, 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 ("war eagle" was once the common term for golden eagles). At the game's end, the eagle took a sudden dive, crashed into the ground, and died, giving his spirit to the Auburn fans. The battle cry "War Eagle" lived on to become a symbol of the proud Auburn spirit. The 1914 contest with the Carlisle Indians provides another story. The toughest player on the Indians' team was a tackle named Bald Eagle. Trying to tire the big man, Auburn began to run play after play at his position. Without even huddling, the Auburn quarterback would yell "Bald Eagle," letting the rest of the team know that the play would be run at the imposing defensive man. Spectators, however, thought the quarterback was saying "War Eagle," and in unison, they began to chant the resounding cry. Another version of the War Eagle story comes from Indian lore. Legend says "War Eagle" was the name given to the large golden eagle by the Plains Indians because the eagle furnished feathers for use in their war bonnets. The rarest but most historically likely version of the origin of the "War Eagle" cry grew from a 1913 pep rally at Langdon Hall where students had gathered the day before the Georgia football game. Cheerleader Gus Graydon told the crowd, "If we are going to win this game, we'll have to get out there and fight, because this means war." During the frenzy, another student, E. T. Enslen, dressed in his military uniform, noticed something had dropped from his hat. Bending down, he saw it was the metal emblem of an eagle that had been loosened while he cheered. Someone asked him what he had found, and Enslen loudly replied, "It's a War Eagle!" History was made as the new cry echoed throughout the stadium the next day as Auburn battled Georgia.
Another version is that two students shouting at each other at a pep rally said something that was misinterpreted to be "War Eagle" thus the birth of the battle cry.
This legend was originally published in 1960 in the Auburn Plainsman and was conceived by then-Editor Jim Phillips. Though apocryphal, this tale has come to be regarded as the beginning of the association of "War Eagle" with Auburn.
Auburn's second eagle, War Eagle II, is well documented. In November 1930 a golden eagle swooped down on a flock of turkeys in Bee Hive, Alabama, southwest of Auburn, and became entangled in a mass of pea vines. Fourteen individuals and businesses scraped together $10 - a lot of money during the depression - and purchased the eagle from the farmer who owned the pea patch. Cheerleaders DeWit Stier and Harry "Happy" Davis, later executive secretary of the Alumni Association, helped care for the new bird. It was put in a strong wire cage and taken to the Auburn football game against the University of South Carolina in Columbus, Georgia on Thanksgiving Day.
Auburn, having not won a Southern Conference game in four seasons, was anticipated to lose. However, the Plainsman as they were then known surprised everyone with a 25-7 victory over the Gamecocks. The student body could only conclude that the eagle's presence on the sidelines was responsible for the victory that day. The eagle was kept in a cage behind Alumni Hall (which would later be renamed Ingram Hall) and cared for by members of the "A" Club.
No one is certain what became of the bird. Some say it died or was carried away by students of a rival school. Others say it was given to a zoo due to the high cost of upkeep; there is even a rumor that it was stuffed and put in the John Bell Lovelace Athletic Museum.
Originally known simply as "War Eagle" this bird was retroactively named "War Eagle II" with the arrival of War Eagle III.
Jon Bowden, a fraternity brother who had previously worked with hawks in Colorado and Missouri, volunteered to serve as the bird's trainer. Formally named War Eagle III, Jon nicknamed the bird "Tiger." In April of 1961, Jon and Tiger made their first appearance as trainer and mascot on the baseball diamond. Auburn was playing the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and was trailing 10-13 in the eighth inning, but rallied in the ninth and scored 4 runs to win the game.
The students were receptive to the new mascot and expressed a concern for a larger cage to house War Eagle III. In 1964, on the morning of the football game against Tennessee, War Eagle III was seen by her trainer, A. Elwyn Hamer Jr., sitting on the ground next to his perch. He had sprung the clip on his leash and escaped. After several days of searching, the bird was found shot to death in a wooded area near Birmingham, Alabama, where the game was being played.
Throughout the years, the fraternity provided care and training for the mascot. On the morning of the 1980 Iron Bowl against Alabama in Birmingham, she was found dead by her trainers, having died of natural causes at age 22, after having served as Auburn's mascot for 16 years. A marker in memory of War Eagle IV is located on the Auburn University campus near the site of the Aviary.
The bird was under the stewardship of the U.S. Government under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act and was on loan to the Auburn University Veterinary School. She was officially named War Eagle V, and nicknamed "Tiger" as was tradition. She was approximately two years old at her arrival and was very active on campus. She attended many university functions, Alumni meetings, schools, hospitals, the 1985 Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree, and the 1986 Order of the Arrow National Conference.
On September 4, 1986, Tiger died of a ruptured spleen at the age of 8 and a half years old. Tiger was taken to the Veterinary School the night before by her trainer, Jim McAlarney, who noticed that Tiger was not behaving normally. Jim spent the night at the Vet School while veterinarians made a futile effort to save Tiger's life.
During the 2000 football season, Tiger began a new Auburn tradition by performing a free flight before a home football game. Tiger, and later other eagles in the Southeast Raptor Rehabilitation Center, fly around the stadium before landing on the field as the crowd chants.
In 2000, day-to-day care of War Eagle VI was turned over to the Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center, ending the 40 year program of care by A Phi O. Shortly thereafter, she was moved from her traditional home in the Hamer Aviary to the Southeasten Raptor Rehabilitation center. The Aviary was torn down in the summer of 2003. Perhaps the finest moment for War Eagle VI and for the Auburn University Eagle program came on February 8, 2002, when she flew before the entire world as part of the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tiger was featured the next day on NBC's Today Show.
In the summer of 2003, allegations of improper care of the birds by the Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center were leveled by the university administration and by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Many of the birds were suffering from diseases and malnourishment. Fortunately, after all investigations were concluded, War Eagle was allowed to fly again prior to Auburn home games. Currently, the Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center uses three birds, Spirit, a bald eagle, Nova a golden eagle, and the aforementioned Tiger.
War Eagle's presence continues to be used as a wildlife educational tool.
On November 11th, 2006, War Eagle VI was officially retired in a pregame ceremony before the Georgia game. During halftime of the same game, her successor, Nova, was named War Eagle VII. In her final game as War Eagle VI, Auburn defeated Arkansas State 27-0, finalizing the team's record under War Eagle VI at 174-69-4. She saw two undefeated Auburn seasons, four SEC titles, and six SEC Western Division crowns.
Nova, Auburn's six year old Golden Eagle, was officially named War Eagle VII on November 11, 2006. He was born in the Montgomery Zoo in 1999 and moved to Auburn at only six months of age. Prior to being named War Eagle VII, Nova had already participated in pre-game flights and conservation exhibits throughout the southeast.
War Eagle was named the #4 mascot in a poll by Foxsports.
War Eagle was written in 1954 and 1955 by New York songwriters Robert Allen and Al Stillman. The Auburn Victory March had been the fight song for decades. Auburn University Marching Band director Burton R. Leidner introduced the song during the 1955 season opener versus Chattanooga.
Auburn University currently does not hold ownership of the copyright for War Eagle. The university did not renew it (by mistake) and the copyright is currently held by the estate of Robert Allen. Therefore, companies selling products with War Eagle being played must acquire licensing from the estate as well as Auburn University. There is a movement within the university to regain the ownership of the song.
In the late 1990s, syndicated radio talk host Jim Rome and his producer, Travis Rodgers, stayed in a hotel that was populated by Auburn alumni and other faithful. Rome mentioned on the air how he saw people greeting each other with "War Eagle". Within minutes, callers to Rome's show began signing off their calls with "War Eagle", presumably because it sounded iconoclastic in the parts of the country that are unfamiliar with SEC football.
Since then, callers have taken to substituting the "Eagle" in the phrase with whatever contemporary topic happens to be at hand, e.g. "War A-Rod", "War the fat twins on mopeds from the Guinness book", "War Bethany Hamilton's surfboard", etc.