War Eagle at Auburn University

Why Fans of the Auburn Tigers Chant 'War Eagle'

War Eagle
Auburn's War Eagle is one of the most iconic symbols in all of college football. Chris Graythen/Getty Images

One of the most iconic moments in college football is a capacity crowd of nearly 90,000 in Alabama's Jordan-Hare Stadium standing and cheering as a live eagle soars over the field and the fight song “War Eagle” is hammered out by the Auburn University Marching Band.

The “War Eagle” cry, the song and the eagle’s dramatic pregame flight are part of a unique tradition, arguably one of the most electric moments in all of college football.

But for newcomers to the college football world, the "War Eagle" may also be confusing. The Auburn mascot is Aubie the tiger, the official symbol of Tiger athletics. The "War Eagle" is a legend, turned tradition for the university.  The university's official response to the confusion between the Tigers mascot and the War Eagle battle cry is, "We are the Tigers who say 'War Eagle.'"

Popular Legend

Like many college football traditions, details about the origins of “War Eagle” are questionable. There are as many as five different stories about the origin story of the “War Eagle.” 

The most popular story dates back to the first-ever Georgia-Auburn game in 1892.

An aging Civil War vet was a spectator that day. The soldier brought his pet eagle to the game; it was a bird he had found on a battlefield during the war, nursed back to health and eventually adopted as his own. During the game, the eagle leaped from the soldier’s arm and soared high above the field.

While the eagle hovered overhead, Auburn took the lead with a dramatic touchdown drive, and students began chanting “War Eagle!” Auburn won the game, but the poor eagle did not have as good a day. Legend has it that at game's end, the eagle took a nosedive onto the field and died. 

This legend was originally published in the March 27, 1959, edition of the Auburn Plainsman.

Other Possible Origin Stories

According to a 1998 article in the Auburn Plainsman, in the undefeated season of 1913, a 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 student's military hat, to which the student shouted, "It's a War Eagle." The next day it became the favorite student cheer when Auburn beat Georgia, 21-7, to win the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship.

According to Auburn University another possible origin story may date back to 1914. While playing the opposing Carlisle Indians, the toughest player of the day was named Bald Eagle. Without huddling, to tire out the player, 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 the game-winning touchdown for Auburn was scored, the player supposedly yelled "War Eagle" and a new Auburn tradition was born. 

Some say the "War Eagle" was adopted by Auburn with an even further lineage and grizzly meaning in mind. Ancient Saxon warriors used the yell as their battle cry.

When buzzards would circle the battlefields, settling among the dead, the Saxons began calling them "war eagles."Saxon warriors used the yell as their battle cry. When buzzards would circle the battlefields, settling among the dead, the Saxons began calling them "war eagles."

The Birds

Since the first Civil War-era "War Eagle," there have been several eagles throughout Auburn's history that have served as the school's symbol and performed the pregame stadium flyover.

"War Eagle VII," a golden eagle named Nova, was born in Montgomery Alabama Zoo in 1999 and is the latest to entertain fans with her customary flight. She is sometimes joined by bald eagle, Spirit. 

The Fight Song

“War Eagle” is the official fight song of Auburn University, which replaced the "Auburn Victory March" in September 1955.

The song was written New York songwriters Robert Allen and Al Stillman.

War Eagle, fly down the field,
Ever to conquer, never to yield.
War Eagle, fearless and true.
Fight on you orange and blue.
Go! Go! Go!
On to vict'ry, strike up the band.
Give 'em hell, give 'em hell,
Stand up and yell, hey!
War Eagle, win for Auburn,
Power of Dixieland!