Taking Down Toomer's Trees Only Latest Insanity in Alabama-Auburn Rivalry
Army-Navy. Yankees-Red-Sox. Packers-Bears. Celtics-Lakers. U.S-C.C.C.P. Nicklaus-Palmer/Trevino/Floyd/Player/Watson.
None of those, thankfully, involved the killing of trees. Until now, anyway.
In one of the strangest twists to what has already been a historic rivalry, Auburn University announced Wednesday that the centuries-old live oaks at Toomer's Corner -- which have been a focal point for years of celebrations by happy Auburn fans armed with toilet paper rolls -- have been poisoned and are likely to die.
Yes, someone -- and the list of possible suspects is both long and can be narrowed to anyone who primarily wears crimson -- spiked the dirt around Auburn's two prized trees with a pesticide known as Spike 80DF.
This is like a Yankee fanatic burning down the Citgo sign after a big Red Sox win. Or Army sinking a destroyer because Navy's wishbone went nuts on the Black Knights. Or toppling a Communist nation to rub in the fact you upset them on the Winter Olympic hockey ice.
Why, you ask, am I pointing the finger squarely at a fan/some fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide? Well, there is good reason for that ...
On Jan. 27, a caller to the nationally syndicated Paul Finebaum Radio Network who called himself "Al From Dadeville" admitted to it.
"OK, let me tell you what I did the weekend after the Iron Bowl," 'Al from Dadeville' told Finebaum on air. "I went to Auburn, Alabama, because I live 30 miles away and I poisoned the two Toomer's trees. I put Spike80DF in 'em. ... They're not dead yet, but they definitely will die."
The thought of Dendrophobia, which is the fear of trees, aside, the reaction from both sides of the issue was intense in the wake of Auburn's announcement. Some Alabama fans, still stinging over the alleged rolling of the Toomer's Corner trees the day legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant died 28 years ago, saw the only injustice of the entire spectacle is that neither a fire nor toilet-paper overload had done the oaks in.
Most Auburn fans, naturally, saw a grave injustice -- much more of a travesty than when an erstwhile Tigers fan cleverly used rye grass a few weeks back to etch "28-27" (this year's Iron Bowl score) semi-permanently in the grass in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium's Walk of Champions. Or when a Tigers fan stuck a Cam Newton jersey to the front of the bronze statue of Bryant the week of the game.
Auburn and Alabama have never liked each other, no matter whether it involves football or tiddlywinks. The two schools participate in a "Beat Auburn/Alabama, Beat Hunger" food drive that culminates the week of the Iron Bowl has annually garnered tons of canned-goods donations simply because fans of the schools don't want to see the other one win.
The massive football rivalry isn't the only fuel. Alabama hates Auburn in basketball (where the football game's winning school is awarded the James E. Foy, V-ODK Sportsmanship Trophy at halftime of a home game between the two schools. Auburn detests Alabama in gymnastics (where the Tide holds a remarkable, Harlem Globetrotter-esque 101-meet winning streak).
Suffice to say, if Alabama and Auburn played each other in sandlot tiddlywinks, a full house would show up and extra security would need to be employed.
Here in recent years, however, the invective has only gotten nastier. Perhaps the explosion of social media has given every fan a voice, but now you can hate on Alabama or Auburn 24/7/365.
And hate, they do. It has affected football recruiting (with Auburn smelling a rat after Alabama swiped two high-profile football players on National Signing Day), and now, it has spilled over to horticulture.
Rolling Toomer's Corner -- which is named after Toomer's Drugs at the corner of Magnolia and College streets in Auburn and marks the transition from downtown to Auburn's campus -- became a tradition in the 1950s and almost exclusively was in celebration of athletic accomplishment. In recent years, it has become a method to celebrate anything good relating to Auburn.
Of all the charming college athletics celebrations, there is something unique and quaint about Toomer's Corner. And soon, with the injection of a massive dose of Spike 80DF, the Toomer's trees will be reduced to some of the most prized firewood in existence.
The City of Auburn Police Division is investigating the situation and the application of this herbicide, which is also governed by state agricultural laws and the Environmental Protection Agency and is typically used to kill trees along fence lines.
"We will take every step we can to save the Toomer's oaks, which have been the home of countless celebrations and a symbol of the Auburn spirit for generations of Auburn students, fans, alumni and the community," said University President Jay Gogue.
"It is understandable to feel outrage in reaction to a malicious act of vandalism," Gogue said. "However, we should live up to the example we set in becoming national champions and the beliefs expressed in our Auburn Creed. Individuals act alone, not on behalf of anyone or any place, and all universities are vulnerable to and condemn such reprehensible acts."
Whether you see the Great Auburn Tree-A-Cide as "vandalism gone amok" or simply as "well played, sir ... we contemplate our rebuttal," Wednesday's latest turn in the Alabama-Auburn uber-rivalry will undoubtedly go into the record books as one of the most audacious acts of fandom in recorded sports history.
And when that book is written, well, we know where to locate some top-grade pulpwood.
David Wasson was executive sports editor at The Tuscaloosa News from 2002-2008