Why Is War Eagle Auburn University's Battle Cry?

"War Eagle" is a phrase that has deep significance to Alabama's Auburn University students, faculty, and alumni. Legend has it that the battle cry first originated during the Auburn Univerisity vs. the University of Georgia football game in 1892. A Civil War veteran, a Confederate who was an Auburn alumnus, was watching from the stands, and he had brought along his pet eagle. The veteran had reportedly found the eagle during a wartime battle, when the bird was young and wounded. He healed the bird and kept it as a pet for the next three decades, naming it Anvre, according to Auburn University History of War Eagles.

After he returned from military service, the veteran taught as a professor at Auburn University, and often brought Anvre along with him. And so at the university's first-ever football game in 1892, the professor and his eagle joined fans to cheer on the team. As the game went on, the eagle broke free and began to soar in circles around the football field, according to Auburn University.

Competing origin stories

Auburn University took the lead in the game as the eagle flew. Excited fans began chanting "War Eagle!" while Auburn University continued to score, according to Garden and Gun. Fans took the bird to be a sign of victory.

Auburn won the game. After the match, legend has it that Anvre suddenly dived towards the ground, crashing into the earth and dying. Fans were enamored with the eagle, and the "War Eagle" cry lived on. Even 130 years later, it is still Auburn fans' favorite chant. However, the origin story of the War Eagle chant isn't quite that simple. There are other versions of this tall tale, as Strange History reports.  

In one version of the story, a cheerleader named Gus Graydon was actually the one who began chanting "War Eagle!" at a 1913 football game (via Strange History). This game was also an Auburn University vs. Georgia match in which Auburn dominated, winning 21-7. According to this story, Graydon came up with the chant the day before the game, and when he began chanting it during the November 22, 1913 game, it stuck. That season was notably good for the team — they were undefeated.

A special tradition takes flight

The other alternative War Eagle myths developed during the 1914 football season, with two theories hailing from the same football game. The game was the Pennsylvanian Carlisle Indian Industrial School vs. Auburn University, and reportedly, the most intimidating player from Carlisle was a man named Bald Eagle. The Auburn quarterback would direct his teammates to try to tire out their main opponent, shouting "Bald Eagle!" Auburn fans in the stands thought he was yelling "War Eagle!" and took it up as a chant.

Or, if you believe the other version of the story from this November 25, 1914 game, a different person inspired the chant. Legare Hairston was an Auburn star football player — he later became a major baseball star, too. Reportedly, Hairston shouted "War Eagle!" when he made the only touchdown of the game, bringing Auburn University to a 7-0 win. Of course, as Strange History notes, every single one of the theories is conjecture.   

Since the very first War Eagle, Anvre, there have been seven more eagles to hold the prestigious title. Auburn University retired War Eagle VII, a 20-year-old golden eagle named Nova, in 2019, due to health concerns. A new bird, 5-year-old Aurea, was then named War Eagle VIII. She currently flies around the field to begin games. According to Auburn University, a special halftime show was held to introduce her to fans during a football game in November 2019. As for Auburn athletics, the football team is actually known as the Tigers.