Less than a month from now the iconic trees at Toomer’s Corner will be rolled for the last time. Destroyed by ignorance, malice and envy the century-old trees will be removed from the corner where they stood watch over decade upon decade of Auburn history. Current plans call for the wood from those trees to be carved into souvenirs.
The man charged with poisoning the oaks plead guilty on Friday finally putting to rest a disgraceful two year spectacle.
Rabid Alabama fan Harvey Updyke first confessed to pouring poison on the oaks on the airwaves, bragging of his deed on the Paul Finebaum radio show. After a two-year circus that featured Updyke receiving far too much airtime on the ESPN special “Roll Tide/War Eagle”, ridiculous stories of being attacked, a variety of confessions and denials, and multiple stops and starts by the legal system, Updyke finally agreed to a plea bargain. He changed his plea from not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to guilty and accepted a three-year prison sentence with an additional five years of supervised probation.
As part of the agreement Updyke must serve six months of his three-year sentence. Given credit for 104 days of jail time he will serve only 76 more.
Under probation, Updyke is forbidden from attending any collegiate sports event, has a 7 p.m. curfew, cannot talk with the media, and is banned from any Auburn property.
It hardly seems enough.
During his sentencing hearing Updyke apologized to the court, his family and the State of Alabama. Once again, in his last opportunity to do so, Updyke failed to apologize to Auburn or Auburn fans. In his black and crimson heart Updyke has no remorse for what he did, only regret that he got caught and distress that he failed to find the groundswell of outward public support he no doubt expected.
In his mind he was Alabama’s Marcus Crassus. He struck a bold blow to avenge his beloved Tide after the rebel Auburn army led by Cam Spartacus Newton had the audacity to make a mockery of the gladiatorial games in the Bama Coliseum. He expected the Tide legions to rally to his cause and was dumbfounded when that public support did not materialize and he was not given his own statue at the Walk of Champions.
Private support, however, was another matter. Updyke was celebrated by the worst of the worst. He was lauded on message boards and disgraceful Alabama fan blogs as a hero. The “charity” fund to support his court costs and bail money was happily donated to by a legion of devoted fans. He was treated like a celebrity as he wandered the streets of New Orleans prior to the 2011 national championship game.
After watching Updyke bumble and stumble through the legal process and make a buffoon of himself on more than one occasion, it’s virtually impossible to believe he was cunning enough to devise and execute the plan to destroy the Toomer’s Oaks on his own. There were likely accomplices, instigators and aides who helped Updyke craft and carry out his attack on Auburn. But we’ll never know. Updyke fell on his sword and will take those secrets to the grave.
Meanwhile the trees Updkye destroyed will have their last hurrah on April 20. Tiger fans will roll them for the final time after the Auburn A-Day spring scrimmage.
At 5 p.m. that day Auburn administration will unveil plans for the renovation of Toomer’s Corner.
On April 23 the removal of the trees that meant so much to all of us will begin.
City of Auburn planners say a temporary structure to allow the corner to continue to be rolled will be erected for the short term. New trees will be installed at some point within the next four years according to Auburn vice president of alumni affairs Debbie Shaw.
There are no winners in this sad saga. Cherished landmarks have been destroyed and generations of current and future Auburn fans will be denied the simple joy of meeting and celebrating together under the same trees that stood when their parents and grandparents had done the same.
A bitter, deluded and pathetic old man is branded a felon and sentenced to prison for his role in the destruction of those trees.
An already rancorous rivalry grew a few degrees bitterer.
Much was lost in that wanton act of destruction.
What those trees represented can never be destroyed. The Auburn spirit is alive and well. We will say goodbye to the oaks on April 20, but the love they embodied will live on forever.