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Monday, Dec 11, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

The story behind The Jungle's grandmother, Granny Tiger

<p>Devan Cambrige shoots a three against LSU in an overtime victory in Auburn Arena.&nbsp;</p>

Devan Cambrige shoots a three against LSU in an overtime victory in Auburn Arena. 

Editor's note:  This story was inspired and assisted by Bobby Barkley of the College and Mag staff. Bobby’s story can be found here: 

The title Granny Tiger didn’t come from nowhere. In fact, Janie Little has been attending Auburn games for much longer than she’s been known by the nickname. 

It all began in 2020, pre-pandemic, in a February game against LSU. Auburn was hosting the Bayou Bengals and the game was anything but boring. 

In what was ultimately a 91-90 win for the home Tigers, then-freshman Devan Cambridge starred. In 29 minutes, he scored 21 points and went 7-for-10 from three. That night, Granny Tiger was born. 

Former Auburn Athletics photographer Shanna Lockwood was positioned in a way to create a star. She photographed Cambridge in front of Auburn’s student section The Jungle. Hot off jumping to hit a three, Cambridge seems to be levitating. His tongue is stuck out. He lofts a three up with his right hand. 

The image is a chaotic sea of orange and blue, showcasing a broad scope of students behind the shooter. Shakers and arms are flying in the air. It oozes the energy of the game. 

There are two focal points of the photo: Cambridge, in his stark all-white uniform, but then a small woman standing just to his side. Maybe two steps away, one to his right and one back, is Janie Little. In a long-sleeved orange button down and centered directly in Lockwood’s viewfinder, she seems to be the focus of the image.

“We’d go ahead, then LSU would go ahead. We’d go ahead. I don’t know how many times it went back and forth,” Little said. “It just happened that the young lady got the picture of it.”

Little’s mouth is open in a yell, with both arms up and her phone is clutched tight in the arm above her head. Her navy phone case has an Auburn logo on it, because of course it does. She seems to be more excited about the shot than Cambridge.

Off to a dinner following the game for her godson Will Sahlie and his now wife Kaite, Little noticed some glances from the young crowd that night. Eventually, he was pressured into coming over to explain what was going on. 

Lockwood’s picture was blowing up on social media and Little was becoming a sensation. Without an Instagram or Twitter account to look at, she had no idea until someone pulled up the photo on their phone.

“(They) said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but this picture has been on ESPN and the SEC Network.’ And they showed me the picture and I said, ‘No it’s not’,” Little said. “I didn’t know what Twitter or Instagram was.”

The solution that night was to make an Instagram account, but to do that, there had to be a username. Everyone brainstormed some ideas, but “Granny Tiger” was the one they settled on. To this day, Little’s account maintains that username. 

“They threw out, I think ‘Jungle Grandma’ and ‘Granny Tiger’ and I’ve forgotten all the others,” Little said. “They set up the Instagram that night and…I immediately started getting things. It was really funny.”

Little’s time at Auburn, though, started long before Devan Cambridge was splashing threes to win SEC games. 

Little was unable to attend Auburn University as a student in favor of staying home to care for her parents, but that was not stopping her developing connection to the school. Living in Montgomery, just east of Auburn, Little was close enough to attend sporting events as she grew up.

“I could go to all the games, starting when I was in high school,” Little said. “I had a cousin that played a year of football for Auburn…for Shug (Jordan)…I’ve just always been an Auburn fan for as long as I can remember.”

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She can list the coaches she watched in her time at Auburn, finding a love for basketball when the program was under head coach Sonny Smith. She has been around for Smith, Tommy Joe Eagles, Cliff Ellis, Jeff Lebo and Tony Barbee, but Smith’s style of coaching is what pulled her into the team.

Little’s love for Auburn also found itself manifest in her relationship with the player who made her famous in the first place. Cambridge had two more years at Auburn following the 2020 game that connected him with Little and in that time, they formed a bond unlike any other. 

“Later, after the picture, he comes over and he says ‘Hey, Granny Tiger.’ Well, what can you say? So I just hugged him,” Little said. “I just loved watching him play. He just got to where he would come over there every game and he would have to hold my hand…If I went to tournaments, he’d always see me and he’d come up and hug me.”

Cambridge announced in March 2022 that he intended to transfer from Auburn. Ultimately landing at Arizona State alongside brother Desmond, Devan has not lost his friendship with the woman who may be one of his biggest fans.

“We still communicate,” Little said. “I’m going to watch him this year. I hope he gets to play, and I know he wanted to be with his brother, but I really miss him.”

With Cambridge being states away, Little misses his presence but has a hope that a current Auburn player will find her in this upcoming season and share the friendship she has had in the past two years. 

“I guess somebody else is going to have to adopt me. It really blessed me when he would come over every game,” Little said. “It really did, that he would take the time to come over there.”

Sticking with basketball through that many head coaches, Little has found her same initial love of the game in Bruce Pearl. His coaching style, attitude, values and approach have won her over long-term. 

“We’ve just got a treasure in him. I just hope he stays healthy and wants to coach until he’s 94. He passes that on to the team,” Little said. “That’s what I’ve enjoyed watching with the players: they play as a team.”

A regular attendee of many different sporting events at Auburn, Little can see and feel the impact Pearl is having beyond the basketball court. She believes it says a lot about the team’s culture that they are seen supporting their peers off the court. 

“You go and at every sport, you’ll see some, if not all, of them,” Little said. “I’ve never really noticed that before. Other sports would go to football. That was the thing…but not a lot of the other players would go to girls’ softball or girls’ basketball.”

Pearl is often seen on social media and video boards at games, promoting either Auburn athletics events or health related causes, like organ donation and cancer screenings. Little sees great value in a coach who promotes his school, not just his team. 

“He is such a motivator and just the best PR person that we could have,” Little said. “But what I like, too, is that if you watch him…he promotes Auburn all the time, but he promotes not just outside, but within. He goes to all the other games.”

She also says the students are near to her heart. Sitting courtside and facing the Auburn bench, Little is directly in front of The Jungle, notorious for being rowdy and disruptive when opposing teams come to town. 

She respects them for their intensity and holds an affection for the students like any grandmother would for her own grandchildren. The nickname makes sense with the way Little speaks about the student section. 

“I just love those kids and love their enthusiasm and how they come into games and get in line so early,” Little said. “There’s just a magnetism about Auburn but then the realness. It’s real people, real fans. It’s really something else.”

Callie Stanford | Sports Editor

Callie Stanford, junior in communications, is the sports editor at the Auburn Plainsman. Currently a junior, she has been with The Plainsman since January 2021.

Twitter: @Stanford1Callie

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