Wayne and Cindy Mitchell: Living in a divided house

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 16, 2001

Features Editor

In Alabama, there are no gray areas when it comes to football.

You’re either an Alabama fan or an Auburn fan and you never, ever pull for the other team – no matter what. And, if you switch teams, you’re branded a Benedict Arnold and are never really trusted in the other camp.

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Every year, at this time, the two football teams square off and their fans square up for the war in the Iron Bowl. When they do, it’s a fact that you can throw away the record books because it’s anybody’s game.

And when the dust settles in the bowl,

some folks are glad and some folks are mad and they’ll stay that way for a whole year.

Over the years, fans have come to blows; friendships have been dissolved, families have feuded and even a few marriages have ended over the intense rivalry between the two universities.

Wayne and Cindy Mitchell have survived 19 years of marriage with one screaming "Roll Tide" and the other "War Eagle."

Just how they have managed to keep a divided house together is a puzzle, even to them

They both laughingly admitted that had they been together on "Punt, Bama, Punt" day, their marriage might have been in serious trouble. But, they weren’t and their marriage has survived some last gasp heroics by each team, leaving one partner to gloat and one to growl for 364 consecutive days.

But to survive, the couple has taken the advice of Kenny Rodgers. "Know when to walk away and know when to run," and they added, "know when to shut up."

"We don’t rib each other too much," Cindy said, laughing. ‘Just enough to ruffle a few feathers."

Both agreed that their marriage is much too important to let something like a football game come between them. But, just to make sure they are playing on a level field, Wayne has their son, Britton, on his side and Cindy has their daughter, Blakely, wearing the orange-and-blue.

But, she got a jump on him.

"I grew up in a family of Alabama football fans, except for my grandmothers," Cindy said. "I guess they are the reasons I love Auburn football."

Cindy said she and her dad, the late Joe Strother, enjoyed being rivals and they would listen to or watch the Iron Bowl together, sometimes from floor level.

"Daddy always said when a game got serious

it was time to get down on the floor," she said "I liked to see him down on the floor because that meant Alabama was going down."

Because her family was Tided together, she often infiltrated the other camp and would go off into "enemy" territory with Frank Dykes and his daughter, Karen, who bleed orange and blue.

"One time after Auburn beat Alabama, I called home collect and daddy wouldn’t accept my call," Cindy said., laughing.

Having grown up a-feudin’ football, Cindy hid her avid Auburn side from her "intended."

"I didn’t know how big an Auburn football fan she was until after we married," Wayne said.

Of course, he didn’t reveal himself by wearing crimson and white at the ceremony either.

However, when that first football season rolled around, they were blissfully busted. He exposed himself crimson and white and she stood there orange and blue.

They revisited their wedding vows and nowhere had they murmured "in winning or losing." So, they were each free to root for their team and rub it in on the loser.

"To keep from overdoing it, we decided to apologize before each Auburn-Alabama game for anything we might say or do," Cindy said. "Because after the game, one of us is never happy."

Wayne had grown up in a Crimson and White household, but what had really got him filled with "Tide" pride was a game he played while in elementary school.

"Coca-Cola had a game you could play," he said. "You matched pro football players’ names that were inside the bottle caps with those on a sheet of paper and you could win prizes. I won and I picked an Alabama cap. And, it just did something to me. I’ve been an Alabama fan since the day I put on that cap."

The Mitchells had fun on opposite sides of the football fence, but when Blakely was born, mama got her off in a corner and taught her "War Eagle" before daddy knew what was happening.

Wayne didn’t like being outnumbered. He might could live with one Tiger, but two?

So, when Britton was born, Wayne taught his baby boy to "roll" before his little eyes were open good.

So, the Mitchell house was divided equally once again. And, oh, how interesting it is.

"We just have a lot of fun," Wayne said. "We don’t get mad and we don’t try to rib each other so much that we make them mad."

Cindy said being rivals makes the games more fun. However, Wayne said she probably didn’t feel that way when Bama was rolling over the plains, year in and year out.

"In recent years, Auburn has had the upper hand and she really lets me know it," he said, laughing.

What probably grinds on Wayne’s good sportsmanship the most is Cindy’s colorful disposition.

"I do overdo it sometimes," she said laughing. "I really get decked out in orange-and blue, not just for Alabama, but for every game."

But maybe, just maybe, she does style and profile a little more for the Iron Bowl?

"Well, it is the Iron Bowl and that’s the biggest game of the year."

Bigger than an SEC championship game? Bigger than a bowl game? Bigger than a national championship?

"Bigger than anything!"

Wayne and Cindy both agree Alabama-Auburn, Auburn-Alabama, either way you say it, is the biggest game of any year.

The winner goes home with bragging rights and the loser – "goes home."

Last year, the Mitchells attended the Iron Bowl as a family for the first time. They sat together.

This year, Cindy and Blakely will sit together on one side of the stadium and Wayne and Britton will sit together "in the end zone."

The girls will yell, "War Eagle." The boys will counter with "Roll Tide!"

When the game is over, they’ll ride home together.

And the happiness and sadness will be evenly divided.