The rivalry between the University of Alabama and Auburn has spread off the field to beneath two trees, with the confirmation this week that an Alabama fan poured lethal doses of herbicide on the revered oaks at Toomer's Corner near the Auburn campus. For generations, the 130-year-old trees have served as a post-game gathering place for fans after Auburn victories. Revelers cover the trees in toilet paper - a tradition known as "rolling."
On Thursday, police arrested 62-year-old Harvey Almorn Updyke and charged him with first-degree criminal mischief. On Jan. 27, a radio show caller identifying himself as "Al from Dadeville" admitted to poisoning the trees a week after the 2010 Iron Bowl. The vandalism was apparently carried out in retaliation of a 1983 incident in which Auburn fans rolled Toomer's Corner the day Alabama coaching legend Paul "Bear" Bryant died. Updyke said he had recently seen a newspaper clipping of the incident. He ended his call by saying "Roll Damn Tide."
According to Fox affiliate WBRC in Birmingham, Auburn Police received investigative help from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service, the State of Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (Pesticide Management Section), the Tallapoosa County Sheriff's Office, the Dadeville Police Department and Auburn University. Auburn officials tested the trees Jan. 28, and the university announced Wednesday that herbicide had in fact been applied and that the trees would not likely survive. The herbicide identified, Spike 80DF, can remain in soil up to five years. "I always want to hold out hope," said an emotional Stephen Enloe, an assistant professor of agronomy and soils at Auburn. "We're going to get the experts together and look at the ideas that have been proposed."
On the day of Updyke's arrest, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley urged Auburn and Alabama fans to remain calm and resist any urge to further retaliate. "Toomer's Corner means a lot to people at Auburn," said Bentley, an Alabama alum. "This is like someone coming down and destroying Coach Bryant's statute at the stadium.
"I want people to be very controlled in their response to this. We all need to realize people do things they shouldn't do."