Somewhere in the middle of Linn Park in Birmingham, Alabama, a 65-year-old hatchet lies buried. In 1948, the SGA presidents from Alabama and Auburn got together, dug a hole and symbolically buried a hatchet. It was meant to end the hatred between two bitter rivals. The intent was noble; the outcome has been anything but. Each year the rivalry has grown and mutated until it’s become something that doesn’t resemble a rivalry at all. Along the way, there have been fights, scandals and plenty of mudslinging, but nothing could prepare either fanbase for what happened in December of 2010.
There’s no need to rehash the specifics of the story. There isn’t an Alabama or Auburn fan alive who hasn’t heard of Harvey Updyke or what he did to the oaks at Toomer’s Corner. It doesn’t matter what team you pull for, the majority of both fanbases are ready for the saga to end. What Updyke did went so far beyond the rivalry that the colors crimson, orange, white and blue shouldn’t matter.
There are some who want the world to believe Updyke is worshiped by Alabama fans as a folk hero, and Saban himself is ready to erect a statue of the man directly in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium. They want you to believe Alabama fans everywhere can’t wait to get pregnant and name their newborns Harvey, Updyke or even Harvdyke regardless of gender. Not only is this incorrect, it’s a gross misrepresentation of the Alabama fanbase. Do fans like this exist? Absolutely. But they’re far from the norm. Everyone is guilty of painting with broad brushes these days, and the national media is no exception. Nothing drives a story more than being divisive.
Tornadoes are indiscriminate when it comes to the neighborhoods they ravage. They can tear through a three-story mansion as quickly as they can tear through a low-income apartment complex. But, judging from the people major national news outlets throw in front of their cameras immediately following a disaster, tornadoes only hit trailer parks.
Unsurprisingly, these same tactics are used when covering the Iron Bowl rivalry. For as often as we have political correctness shoved down our throats, it goes largely ignored whenever someone reports a story originating from the south. We’re all taught not to paint with broad brushes, but any time a story south of the Mason-Dixon Line is covered, the majority of America doesn’t seem to mind what size the brush is. The truth isn’t as nearly as unbelievable or sensational. But the truth doesn’t get page clicks, so it’s typically ignored.
The truth is, what Updyke did was a criminal act, and it had nothing to do with the trees. I have no idea what the trees mean to Auburn fans, so it’s not my place (or any Alabama fan’s place) to mock their traditions. This also applies to anything outside the realm of football. You wouldn’t mock an indigenous Amazonian tribes burial ritual, so why would anyone care how another team’s fanbase celebrates a win?
Feel free to burn couches, roll a few trees, or even run naked through the streets. Whatever it is your school does, I hope you do it with reckless abandon. Don’t let anyone take it from you. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and I don’t mean that disparagingly. Someone else might see my 1961 Roger Maris baseball card as a tool to scrape gum off the bottom of their shoe, but to me, it’s a relic from my father’s childhood. It shouldn’t matter to Alabama fans how much the Auburn fanbase cares about Toomer’s Oaks.
Alabama and Auburn fans alike have a hard time looking past the trees. As soon as Updyke made his transgressions public, the most vocal members of each fanbase drew a line in the sand. If anyone crossed that line, they were considered a scab or a traitor.
Try and look past the trees if only for a moment. Updyke put a known poison in the ground; a known poison with a warning label that states:
“It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with it’s labeling.”
“If on Skin or Clothing: Take off contaminated clothing. Rinse skin immediately with plenty of water for 15-20 minutes. Call a Poison Control Center or doctor for treatment.
“Ground Water Advisory: This product is known to leach through soil into ground water under certain conditions as a result of registered (rangeland and non-crop) uses. Use of this product in areas where soils have rapid to very rapid permeability, particularly where the water table is shallow, may result in water contamination. “ (click here to view full label)
Spike 80DF isn’t Roundup. The words Federal law immediately inform you this isn’t your garden variety weed killer. It is a highly toxic and very dangerous poison.
When Updyke poisoned Toomer’s Oaks, his intent wasn’t terroristic, but his act was. Sure, he meant to enrage the Auburn fanbase, but that’s not covered under the Patriot Act. Purposefully putting a known poison into the ground so close to groundwater is a terroristic act.
There are more than a few Alabama fans who believe Harvey’s six-month sentence, and subsequent three-year probation, is too harsh a punishment. I’d argue the opposite. Less threatening acts have gotten others sent to Guantanamo Bay. Society doesn’t need people like Mr. Updyke walking the streets. Society deserves better.
This isn’t about Alabama or Auburn Football. This isn’t about the traditions anyone may or may not hold dear to their hearts. This isn’t about “killing a plant.” The Iron Bowl rivalry has blinded us from seeing what a truly scary act looks like. In the wake of what Harvey Updyke has done, Alabama and Auburn fans alike literally can’t see the forest for the trees.