At just about every college you can think of, there is a tradition uniquely identified with the football team. Some of them are historic while others are almost hysterical.
Erk Russell, who was the first coach of the Georgia Southern Eagles, turned a nearby drainage ditch into a creek with magical waters. He dubbed the water path Beautiful Eagle Creek and took a gallon of the water to sprinkle on an opponent’s field. The Eagles won and the creek has become a rallying point for the Eagle faithful.
Frank Howard, the famed coach of Clemson, brought in a giant boulder and players began touching the rock before running down a steep hill to the field. Howard’s Rock has achieved legendary status.
For years, Georgia Tech has used a Model A Ford as the Rambling Wreck of Georgia Tech. Fans cheer wildly when the antique car takes a spin on the football field.
For the Bulldog Nation, the sound of the chapel bell means Georgia has won a game. One can hear the bell without seeing a single play of the game and know the Dogs have chalked one up in the win column.
For Auburn fans, the stately oaks at Toomer’s Corner were as much a symbol of Auburn as the Tiger or the rallying cry of War Eagle.
A man named Harvey Updyke has brought that tradition of rolling the Toomer’s Corner oaks to an end. Updyke is a fan of the University of Alabama, albeit a misguided one.
Last week, as men in bucket trucks armed with chain saws slowly sliced down the now dead trees, Updyke was serving a 180-day sentence in the Lee County Jail. He was found guilty of poisoning the beloved trees in 2010. Trees began dying and with them a rich Auburn tradition.
Also in the past few days, somebody spray-painted “Go Tigers” on the campus of the University of South Carolina. While it was wrong, spray paint can be removed. Tree poison is forever.
A few years ago, someone chiseled a piece out of Howard’s Rock. The Clemson Nation became enraged, but the rock survived.
I’m not an Auburn fan, but I have several friends who are. I have given them some good-natured ribbing about Auburn’s dismal season of 2012. We weren’t laughing when they had a quarterback named Cam Newton, whose football skills resulted in a lot of toilet paper flying skyward toward the outstretched limbs of the Toomer’s oaks.
I once lived in a town that had a quite a mix of college fans. I remember when folks would buy a cheap plastic funeral wreath and erect it in a neighbor’s yard when his team lost. It was good-natured fun, the kind of thing friends bantered about at the Rotary Club. Everybody laughed and it was all in the spirit of sport.
What Harvey Updyke did was just plain mean. The judge ruled he can’t go to another college football game and can never set foot on Auburn property.
But I hope that like many jails today, Lee County uses orange jumpsuits. I hope they make him wear it home when he gets out of jail.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.