Sports Rivalries: How Far Is Too Far?

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Posted on Oct 16 2012 - 2:45pm by Dave

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Rivalry in sports is nothing new, it doesn’t matter what the sport there will always be rivalry between teams, players and fans. Rivalry, usually dependent on two teams within a close proximity of each other, is no more prevalent than in American College Football.

College football rivalry in some instances goes back well over 100 hundred years. It is so big that rivalry games have their own name and a trophy for the winner.

The Georgia versus Florida rivalry was, until recently known as ‘The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party’ because fans would hold tailgate parties outside the stadium for the entire week before the game.

‘Beating Florida means everything; it’s a great year if you win or a year of pure hell if you lose’

Ryan Thomas, 21, current Georgia student.

Most rivalry games also involve pranks that are deemed harmless, such as putting team colours on an opposing team statue or monument or altering road signs so opposing fans would get lost on route to the stadium.

As well as rivalry, college football is steeped in tradition. Toomer’s Corner, the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and College Street is where downtown ends and the Auburn university campus begins. This is the home of two huge, 130 year old Oak trees. When Auburn wins, fans gather and traditionally throw rolls of toilet paper into the trees; this tradition is known as ‘Rolling the Trees’.

The Alabama and Auburn University rivalry game, known as ‘The Iron Bowl’ originated back in 1893 but in 2010 one fan took this particular rivalry to another level with some serious consequences.

November 26th, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama, venue of the 2010 Iron Bowl attended by over 100,000 football fans. The Auburn Tigers come from 24-0 down to defeat Alabama Crimson Tide 28-27. It is, and always will be one of the finest moments in Auburn Football history, and one of the worst in Alabama’s. It would be all too much for one die hard Alabama football fan Harvey Updyke to take.

One week after the Iron Bowl, Updyke would allegedly travel to Toomer’s Corner armed with Spike 80DF herbicide and poison the two 130 year old Oak Trees. This act of pure hatred would go undiscovered for two months. On January the 10th 2011, the Auburn Tigers would win the National Championship, fifteen days later the celebrations were halted somewhat when a man, going by the name of Al from Dadeville, Alabama, rang a popular sports talk radio show to announce live on air that he had poisoned the trees at Toomer’s Corner using a herbicide. On January 28th 2011, experts confirmed the worst, the trees had been poisoned.

We would later learn that Al from Dadeville was Harvey Updyke, a 63 year old former Texas State Trooper and although he admitted to calling the radio show he denied poisoning the trees. It seemed he just couldn’t cope withAlabama’s biggest rival winning college footballs biggest prize. But what if they hadn’t what if Auburn had lost that Championship game, the crime had already been committed but would the apparent confession have ever arrived?

Really, ask yourself, how far would I go for the love of my sports team?

Burning effigies, opposing team jerseys or perhaps even vandalising property belonging to an opposing team, these are all in themselves a step to far, don’t require too much thought and are usually fuelled through alcohol. On reflection, poisoning two 130 year old Oak trees takes some serious thought and is not the sort of act that is performed on a whim.

Updyke faces four felony charges, two counts of first degree criminal mischief and two counts of unlawful damage or vandalism. He pleaded not guilty for reasons of mental disease or defect. Under Alabama law, if convicted he could face up to 10 years in prison for each felony charge.

This, in theory means Updyke could spend the rest of his life in prison, why? Because his beloved Alabama lost a football game to its rival and apparently he just couldn’t live with it.

Earlier this year, Updyke turned down a plea offer from the prosecutors that would have required him to spend 13 years in prison and never attend an Alabama Crimson Tide sporting event for the rest of his life.

The first trial for Updyke, in June this year ended abruptly when the Auburn University newspaper claimed that Updyke had admitted to a reporter that he did in fact poison the trees, a claim that Updyke denied through his lawyer. A second trial was due to begin in early October (2012), but has been delayed because Updyke is to now undergo psychiatric testing to support or deny the plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease. In addition, Updyke’s current lawyer, his fourth on this matter is trying to move the case away from Auburn due to excessive publicity. The case has been delayed indefinitely.

There are plenty of other examples of College football rivalries perhaps over stepping the mark. It seems that they are quite common and seem to be readily accepted. For example, Texas A&M fans stealing the Texas Longhorn and branding it with the score of a game in which of course Texas A&M beat their rival. Bill the goat, a mascot of The Navy football team was kidnapped and dyed pink by rival students from Army. The goat was returned unharmed, but I think you get the picture.

Regardless of all the nonsense, College football needs rivalry. Why? Because despite the isolated incidents of idiocy, rivalry games are highly anticipated, intense affairs that fans and players look forward to all year long. Rivalry games can be enjoyed and embraced by any team, not just the successful teams or the teams who are chasing a championship. The two worst teams in any conference of college football could have a rivalry and despite everything else, when they play each other the stadium will be full and the game, no matter how good or bad will be witnessed by two sets of fans that, for those few hours, nothing else in the world will matter.

For the record Harvey Updyke says he didn’t do it, he admits to making the phone call but states that it was the guy sitting next to him at the Iron Bowl in 2010 that poisoned the trees. This would mean that the act had been committed before the game had taken place. Updyke gave the police his seat number that day in order for them to trace, a thirty something year old man wearing an Alabama pullover. On the other hand Updyke is quoted as saying that he (Updyke) was going to get what he deserves and his reasoning for the whole thing, he just had ‘Too much Bama in me’.

‘In Alabama, the Crimson Tide means everything, it’s a way of life, perhaps to some people, me included, it means a little too much’

Jim Tanner, 61, life long Alabama Crimson Tide football fan.

The fact remains, two 130 year old Oak trees will likely die because Auburn beat Alabama in a football game. This is without doubt taking the rivalry too far.

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About the Author

I am a huge NFL and Atlanta Falcons fan from the UK. The majoirty of my articles are related to the NFL but occasionally I'll write about Film or TV. I have a diploma in Freelance Journalism. Follow me on twitter @davefalcon90

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