April 26, 2013

While Traditions May Change, the Memories Will Never Fade Away

By - Keith Smith

Traditions are what separate college football from every other sport and make it what it is -- fun.

From Texas A&M's Midnight Yell, to Colorado's running of Ralphie the Buffalo, to Wisconsin's "Jump Around," the traditions of college football were implemented for the fans to enjoy.

That's why it was sad and more than a little disturbing to watch one of the more unique traditions come to an end, at least temporarily, earlier this week at Auburn University.

The famous Toomer's Oaks, at the corner of College Street and Magnolia Avenue, were rolled for the last time after Auburn's spring football game on Saturday. Then early Tuesday morning, chainsaws were taken to the trees, dismantling them to be hauled away to their final resting place.

Photo by: Getty Images
The trees will be temporarily replaced this fall by fake metal trees so that some semblance of the tradition can continue. Eventually, when the soil quality returns (experts say it could take several years for the level of poison to dissipate), new oaks will be planted and the tradition will live on.

This feels eerily similar to my childhood, when one year my dad brought home a silver artificial aluminum tree for Christmas. We celebrated the holiday, and there was still love in the house, but it just felt different.

By now you've surely heard the story of what led to all of this. After Auburn's unbelievable comeback victory over arch-rival Alabama in the 2010 Iron Bowl, a disgruntled Tide fan, Harvey Updyke, Jr., took it upon himself to try and end the act that for decades had symbolized victory for Tiger fans. He drove deadly poison spikes into the soil surrounding the oaks, effectively sealing the tree's fate.

While he succeeded at killing the trees, Updyke failed at his ultimate goal.

I can't believe simply stopping Auburn fans from that method of celebration was his only mission as he lurked around in the shadows in the middle of the night. I think he was hoping to kill more than trees. He was hoping to kill Auburn fan's spirit as well.

But if you saw the images from Saturday's final rolling, you know that he did just the opposite.

The 83,401 people who were in attendance at the game joined several of their closest friends (including my wife and daughter) afterwards to throw Lord-only-knows how many rolls of toilet paper into the sickly skeletons that were left of those once-beautiful trees.

They laughed. They cheered. They celebrated memories of days gone by. This paying of final respects was much like a New Orleans-style funeral; one big party.

In trying to hurt them, Updyke effectively may have brought the Auburn family closer. He wasn't able to touch the school's spirit.

Ironically, he may have affected the Alabama fan base more negatively with his actions than he did Auburn's.

The majority of Crimson Tide fans were appalled by Updyke's actions. There was a small faction, however, who celebrated his quest, heralding him as a hero, taking photos with him at games, laughing and back-slapping. While those folks were in the minority, that caused a divide at how to react to Updyke's idiocy.

In the end, the actions of a single lunatic collectively harmed the reputation of one of the strongest fan bases in college football. People around the country don't take time to separate one fan's actions from another. They lump all fans from a school together and tend to brand them. The heinous act of one individual has reflected negatively on Alabama's entire fan base, even as the majority continue to abhor what he did.

Updyke pleaded guilty to his crimes, and is currently serving a three-year prison sentence, followed by five years of supervised probation. He's prohibited from attending any college sporting events, or setting foot on Auburn's campus (which probably wouldn't be good for his health, anyway).

Auburn will spend those years waiting. Waiting for the soil to clear up, and the new trees to be planted, to bloom and to grow. And while the tradition may look and feel a little bit different during that time, the memories of those original oaks will never fade away.


  1. Love all the tradition of college football. That's what makes it my favorite sport. Nice post.