Fort Worth

Auburn, Oregon fans descend on Fort Worth for College GameDay; Texans revel in spotlight

Nick George left his Lincoln, Alabama, home around 9:30 p.m. Friday to drive halfway across the country in the name of Auburn University football.

George, who was traveling with two of his cousins, arrived in Fort Worth in the early morning hours Saturday, before rowdy and sign-wielding crowds descended onto Sundance Square for ESPN’s “College GameDay” show. His Auburn Tigers were set to play the University of Oregon Ducks at 6:30 p.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. And George wanted to represent his school — no matter how long the drive.

The 42-year-old wasn’t alone, as die-hard fans of Auburn (ranked 16th in the nation) and Oregon (ranked 11th) came from all over to enjoy what was essentially an away game for both teams. George stood in Sundance Square when the show kicked off, proudly sporting an Auburn shirt and rubbing shoulders with the green-and-yellow Ducks fans.

He wasn’t sleepy, despite driving through the night, he said.

The energy between the rivaling fans kept him awake.

“It’s all competition, always,” said George, whose cousin, K.J. Brit, is an inside linebacker for Auburn. “Even being a fan is a competition.”

Meanwhile, a Texan in the crowd, Melissa Stewart, of Killeen, hoisted a sign reading, “Auburn Vs. Oregon. Who Cares? I live in Texas.”

“It should be a Texas team that they’re here to represent — they’re not,” the 40-year-old said with a smile. “So I want to remind them that Texas is more important.”

With Fort Worth in the national spotlight Saturday, Sundance Square was filled with a hodgepodge of thousands of different college football fans, from those who traveled great distances for the Auburn-Oregon game to local residents who were more interested in other matchups.

Some of those local residents held up signs for their alma maters, which were also starting their college football seasons Saturday. Many people donned their TCU purple. The Frogs were scheduled to host the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions on Saturday.

There were also a pair of celebrities on hand, as Apple CEO Tim Cook and legendary two-sport athlete Bo Jackson participated in the show.

But the focus was on the Auburn-Oregon game. And when Lee Corso, one of the GameDay hosts, held up an Oregon helmet and then an Auburn helmet to the crowd — asking them to cheer for their team — the Oregon cheers were far louder.

John Free, 68, and Karna Jo Free, 57, of Roseburg Oregon, traveled to Texas this week to support the Ducks. And, on Saturday, they were awake at 4 a.m. to get ready because of their elaborate wardrobes.

The couple — who have garnered a reputation as the “Grateful Ducks,” a play on the band the Grateful Dead — were covered head-to-toe in green-and-yellow fur, as well as touches of hippie culture.

Karna wore green sunglasses, green mesh gloves and a long and fluffy green hood. John, on the other hand, wore a green-and-yellow tie-dye shirt and lime-green contact lenses. His long beard had been dyed bright green and yellow.

“My wife is the artist,” John said. “I’m the canvas.”

Fans like the Frees were ultimately trying to one up each other Saturday morning, seeing who could cheer the loudest, or who had the best sign.

Adam Zeek, a 29-year-old TCU fan, wanted to get the better of the Oregon fans with his sign. It mentioned the 2016 Alamo Bowl, in which TCU came back from a 31-0 deficit at halftime to beat the Ducks in triple overtime.

The sign read, “Remember the Alamo (Bowl)?”

“It was crazy, just the entire comeback,” said Zeek, who was with his wife. “It was something that we thought would be fun and witty to put on for GameDay.”

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Jack Howland is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. Before coming to the Star-Telegram in May 2019, he worked for two and a half years as a breaking news reporter at the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York. He’s a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.