Every Friday morning, around 7, some of Auburn’s most recognizable faces gather around a long table in the back of Chappy’s Deli. They pass around newspapers and talk Auburn University football history. The waitress knows each order by heart.
“I never thought of us as a group,” Former Auburn University Athletic Director David Housel said. “Just some guys getting together for breakfast. … There are morning groups all over the country. It’s a worldwide tradition.”
No one can remember exactly when the group first had breakfast together on a Friday morning, somewhere between the late 1970s and early ’80s, and stories vary on what exactly prompted the men to first come together over waffles and sausage biscuits.
Most accounts center on Neil Davis, the publisher of the Auburn Bulletin, who gained national recognition for his editorials during the civil rights era.
“It was first formed by some guys, mostly in journalism, to give Neil Davis something to do,” explained Dr. Wayne McLaughlin, a longtime Auburn-area dentist who wrote a book titled “Blue Springs” about his hometown. “I was their dentist. They knew I’d hurt them if they didn’t come.”
Housel disagreed, arguing Davis was an addition to the group, not a charter member.
“It gave him a chance to sit and be a part of his community,” Housel said. “And it gave us a chance to learn. … Neil Davis is a hero of journalism.”
For years, the group met at the Auburn Grille next to the barber shop downtown. When the restaurant closed, breakfast was moved to Chappy’s.
“There were only about six of us,” remembered Jack Simms, a longtime newspaperman and a key player in developing Auburn University’s Journalism Department who has been with the breakfast group since the beginning.
The group has grown over the years. Legendary Auburn University Head Athletic Trainer Kenny Howard said when he first joined, the breakfast group was an exclusive one.
“For me to come, it was invitation only,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones remembered one breakfast when Housel brought along ESPN sportscaster Ron Franklin.
“During the football season, a lot of times when Mr. Housel was athletic director, … he’d bring folks to the breakfast that were connected,” Jones, who has been with the group since the late ’90s, said.
Now, the group is a mix of former journalists, university professionals, military heroes and elected officials.
“I think folks just kind of wander up,” said Alabama State Senator Tom Whatley. “You’ve got a lot of history here. One of the great things about coming on a Friday is hearing the history. … The knowledge is encyclopedic of Auburn.”
Jones agreed, looking down the table to former Auburn Mayor James Haygood Jr. and military veterans Husky Kirkwood and Bennie Adkins. Adkins was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his service during the Vietnam War, which is being reconsidered for the Medal of Honor.
“It’s just about hearing all of these interesting and fascinating stories,” Jones said. “I just sit back and listen.”