Rivalry reaches new low in Auburn

Published 8:19 am Friday, February 18, 2011

National sports media are calling the poisoning of the hisoric Toomer’s Corner oaks in Auburn a new low in rivalries.

Here in Alabama, we just say it’s a new low for our state … no matter which side of the Alabama/Auburn debate you favor.

The rivalry between Alabama and Auburn is one of the deepest and most vitrolic in sports. And with back-to-back national championships between the two schools, it’s risen to a new intensity in recent months.

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After all, Auburn won the Iron Bowl 28-27 and fans promptly put a Cam Newton jersey on the statue of Bear Bryant that stands on the Alabama campus. And then someone etched 28-27 in the grass outstide Bryant-Denny Stadium, a visual reminder of the sting of that loss.

But the news this week that someone – a self-proclaimed Alabama fan – poisoned the historic oaks at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn takes the rivalry to a new low.

The national sports media is aghast, as well it should be, that the rivalry has reached this level. And now, jokes are being made at the expense of our state, profiling fans of both schools as rabid and beyond the pale.

We all know rivalries can be healthy, fun and productive. A little competition, even good-natured ribbing, goes a long way. And pride in your school, or your school of choice, is an admirable trait.

But taking that pride to the level of destructive behavior – such as intentionally poisoning symbolic trees – is disturbing.

Harvey Almor Updyke Jr., a 62-year-old from Dadeville, faces first-degree criminal mischief charges and a $50,000 fine if convicted. If, as it appears, he is the man who called Paul Finebaum’s radio show to brag about poisoning the trees, a fine and jail time seem a small pittance of consequence for someone who seems to have shown pride rather than remorse.

The damage is done to the trees, but we have a chance to salvage our state’s reputation.

We can only hope that our “house divided” will unite in outrage against the baseless and destructive twist this rivalry.