Chris Rushing saw the light at the end of Auburn’s tunnel.
After sitting through a difficult-to-stomach winless season in the SEC, the 30-year-old sports writer fought valiantly to stay neutral from a reporting aspect, though his personal ties wouldn’t allow him to waver away from Jordan-Hare. He believed the future was bright under new head coach Gus Malzahn and Auburn would transform quickly into an SEC West contender in 2013.
Unfortunately, following his untimely death on Christmas Day inside his parents’ home, Rushing must watch next season from a perch high above his usual spot along press row. First reported by WarBlogle.com, Rushing’s celebration of life last week included hymns and the university’s alma mater. Pallbearers donned Auburn sideline apparel and signature visors. The funeral ended with a touching ode to a Toomer’s Corner tradition on the Plains — rolling a tree. Family and friends toilet-papered a tree on Rushing’s behalf, a ritual he loved taking part in after a big win.
“I know it sounds cliche, but he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” said Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report’s lead SEC writer in an interview with Saturday Down South prior to Wednesday’s Sugar Bowl. Sallee has known Rushing for more than a decade. “I’d catch him at several SEC stadiums across the southeast and every time we’d speak, it was genuine. He was an all-around great guy.”
Rushing graduated from Auburn in 2005 with a degree in journalism and throughout his undergraduate career, established friendships with several sports information and media members inside the War Eagles’ media relations office. His hospitality has been felt throughout the SEC and beyond. At the time of his death, Rushing worked as a staff writer for The City Wire, a newspaper in Fort Smith, AR.
“I have never met a bigger Auburn fan in my life than Chris Rushing – and this is coming from a guy that graduated from Alabama,” said Todd Anderson, a longtime colleague and the current Media Relations Director at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. “The thing is, he never let my ties to ‘the enemy’ affect our friendship. He always put others before himself. Always. He was one of the most generous people I have ever come in contact with.”
Anderson attended graduate school at Mississippi State while working in MSU’s media relations office and crossed paths with Rushing routinely during his time in Starkville. Rushing always offered a helping hand according to Anderson and despite being usually swamped with credential requests and game preparation, had a smile that rarely ceased.
Rushing was infatuated with writing — along with the Tigers.
“Chris got me a job as an ACC columnist for Collegiate Sports Matchups (CSM) a couple years ago,” Anderson said. “Although he was not the founder of the website, I have never seen somebody put more passion into something succeeding than he did. When the website eventually folded, Chris would always text me and want to start a website just to keep writing about college football. He loved the game, but especially loved the Southeastern Conference.”
Auburn’s unbeaten run to a national title in 2010 that featured a scintillating season from Heisman winner Cam Newton had to be Rushing’s shining achievement as a fan says Anderson. An onslaught of status updates from Rushing’s Facebook page ensued soon after Newton put the finishing touches on the Tigers’ close win in the desert.
“I still remember how excited he was and I still remember following his trip to Arizona through Facebook photos,” Anderson said. “He lived for Auburn football and just seeing them play in the national championship was one of the biggest highlights of his life. When the Tigers beat Oregon to take home the trophy, I am sure there was nobody on this Earth more elated than Chris.”
Rushing’s death was felt almost instantaneously on Twitter as several followers and daily readers expressed their condolences through status updates to @rushicw. Sallee says he’ll miss the weekend run-ins and long hours with Rushing — especially at multi-game days at the SEC basketball tournament — and various pre-game events for a variety of sports in different SEC cities.
“He just always seemed to be around, willing to help,” Sallee said.
Photo Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports