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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 02/18/2011 1:45 PM

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The Week That Was
By Tony Gerdeman

All I can say is that I hope in your life you've loved at least one tree, and, hopefully, remained splinter free in the process.

*** ***

The big story of the week is the fact that word came out that an enraged Alabama fan—or, “typical Alabama fan” (that's a cheap shot, but not un-deserved), poisoned the beloved oak trees at Auburn's Toomer's Corner.

The Arboreal Doctor Death, aka “Al from Dadeville”, aka Harvey Almorn Updyke (what's the saying about never trusting somebody with three first names?), first came to a small portion of the nation's awareness when he called the Paul Finebaum radio show on January 27th and admitted to poisoning the trees.

Auburn police, along with other law enforcement and agricultural agencies investigated the claim, and found the soil around the trees to be poisoned with the same toxins that Updyke admitted to using.

There is eco-terrorism, bio-terrorism, and ol' fashioned regular terror-terrorism, but Updyke may have committed the first act of sports terrorism on U.S. soil—literally.

If you're not familiar with the tradition surrounding the trees at Toomer's Corner, after each win by the Auburn football team, fans descend upon the trees and cover them in toilet paper. It is known as “Rolling Toomer's Corner”. The tradition started over 50 years ago, and used to be relegated to only road wins. Of late, however, Toomer's Corner will get rolled for virtually any positive happening involving Auburn University.

One such “positive” was one of the factors in forcing Updyke's hand.  During his January 27th phone call, he cited seeing a story recently in an Auburn newspaper that Tiger fans rolled Toomer's Corner when famed Alabama coach Bear Bryant died.

While that story upset him, it wasn't the straw that broke the camel's back.  That straw was apparently this Cameron Newton jersey placed on Bear Bryant's statue.

The unmitigated gall to desecrate such a shrine could not go unpunished according to Jack Ke-bark-ian.

"This year I was at the Iron Bowl," explained Updyke on Finebaum's show. "And I saw where they put a 'Scam Newton' jersey on Bear Bryant’s statue. Well lemme tell you what I did. The weekend after the Iron Bowl, I went to Auburn, Alabama, because I live 30 miles away, and I poisoned the two Toomer’s trees."

Justice, consider yourself served.

If you listen to the call, you can hear the hate and disgust in his voice. It's good to have those things when discussing your rival, but it's bad when it fuels actions commensurate with your emotional state.

It's okay to talk a good game. It's another entirely to act on it.

When asked if he thought it was against the law to poison a tree, Updyke gave the response we would all expect:  "Do you think I care?"

Now that he's been arrested, and is likely facing jail time, I wonder if he regrets what he did.  A large portion of me thinks he doesn't.  Ultimately, he will have made a lasting change to the landscape of this rivalry.  He took something dear from the Auburn family, and as an Alabamo-Fascist, it's hard to imagine regret being one of his key emotions right now.

While his actions were done alone, he has not been without his supporters. You can be one as well, if you like. Perhaps a portion of the proceeds--which will likely be in the hundreds of millions of dollars--could go to paying Updyke's legal fees, considering his public defender wants off of the case, citing conflicts of interest, including personal ties to Auburn such as being a part-time professor there.

This, however, confuses me. Public defenders have to defend all levels of people, even murderers. Has anybody ever filed a motion to be removed from a murder case because of a conflict of interest in that they have personal ties to other human beings?

I'm going to assume that that doesn't happen very often, so if a public defender can emotionally remove themselves from the fact that the person they are defending committed murder and still do their job, why can't an Auburn fan emotionally remove himself from the fact that the person he is defending poisoned two oak trees?

Let's do the rational thing here and assume the defender is asking to be removed for his client's sake, so that there would be no obvious reason for appeal following conviction. Besides, I'm sure he'll get a completely fair trial down there. I've read a John Grisham book or two in my day.

There is, however, a certain irony surrounding the impending death of these trees, and the outpouring of support and sympathy to the Auburn populace.

You see, in order to remove the toilet paper from the trees, the old oaks are power washed. The amount of power washing done over the years has stripped bark, branches, leaves, seeds, etc. Basically, the toilet-papering and subsequent power washing were slowly killing the trees anyway.

Recent changes have been made to the velocity of the power washing, in order to be less harmful to the trees, but much of the damage had already been done. Dr. Death simply sped up the process.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that Auburn fans mourned the future loss of their beloved trees by future-killing more trees with their toilet paper barrages.

Imagine mourning the loss of a loved one by killing a step-cousin that nobody really likes. “Hey cousin Ricky, this is for Grandma!" [stab-stab-stab]

*** ***

The other big news of the week also took place in the SEC, and that was South Carolina landing the services of the nation's top prep player, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

It wasn't much of a surprise, considering I was told he was going to choose South Carolina back in September.  Apparently even though at least two of us knew where he was headed, Clowney did not. did an extensive piece on Clowney, detailing the recruiting process over the months and the decision-making process involved therein.

Clowney offered two pieces of interesting insight. The first is that every campus has supremely friendly co-eds; and the second is that Nick Saban is boring.

“Nick Saban’s going to take over and talk,” Clowney said.

“He talked the whole time he was there. I was dozing off. He can talk. A lot. He talked for a whole straight hour.”

Clowney's account of Saban reminds me an awful lot of Seantrel Henderson's visit with Jim Tressel, where Henderson said similar things about the Buckeye head coach.

I only mention this because it's the first time ever that a stark similarity has been drawn between the way Nick Saban deals with recruits, and the way Jim Tressel deals with recruits.

It's history. We should erect a statue to mark the occasion.

Of course, then some Auburn fan would put a Cameron Newton jersey on it, and I'd have no choice but to retaliate herbicidally.

But if it's a war they want...

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