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Draft King Analysis

February 20, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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People all across America were disgusted by the recent news about the poisoning of oak trees at Auburn's fabled Toomer's Corner. The trees are located in an area where Auburn fans typically gather to celebrate a win, and it was saddening to hear that one deranged fan intentionally ruined a beautiful part of the Auburn campus. Even Alabama fans were horrified by the news.

Mike Shula
Mike Shula spent four years as Alabama's head coach. (Icon SMI)
If you've never spent much time in Alabama, you probably can't appreciate how intense the Alabama/Auburn rivalry is. I was born in Florence, Alabama, but my family moved to Tennessee when I was young. But I lived just south of Birmingham for 13 months from 2006-2007, and in my time there I came to understand just how vicious the rivalry can be.

Birmingham may technically be a neutral site, but in my experience the city leans toward Alabama. There's a reason that there's a statue of Bear Bryant outside of Legion Field in Birmingham -- it was never a truly neutral location for the many Bama/Auburn games that took place there. I have friends who still live in the area who are Auburn fans, so don't misunderstand it as being a complete Crimson Tide city, but the majority of my interactions came with Alabama fans.

How much do people get into it? One example: I had a semi-blind first date at a Birmingham restaurant in 2006 with a woman who seemed normal enough. But, during the course of the meal, she informed me that she was a major Crimson Tide fan, so much so that she had written letters to then-coach Mike Shula. Apparently she had some suggestions for him. I love sports as much as nearly anyone, but even that was a bit too much for me. There was no second date.

I vividly recall seeing video on the local news of Nick Saban arriving in Birmingham after taking the Alabama job -- memorable since Saban, before then the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, had denied just two weeks before that he was going to take the Alabama gig. "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach," Saban said on 12/21/2006; by the first week of January 2007 he had taken the Alabama job. People showed up at the airport to meet him, and there were shots in the TV coverage of an uncomfortable-looking Saban being hugged by Alabama fans there to welcome him.

Saban was very familiar with both Alabama and Auburn from his time coaching at LSU, but I imagine that even he didn't truly appreciate the enthusiasm held by Alabama fans. It didn't take long for Saban, a master recruit, to return Alabama to national prominence. You might think that with Alabama winning the BCS Championship in 2009, the BCS title captured by Auburn in 2010 wouldn't have burned Crimson Tide fans as much. But you'd think wrong on that.

My hope is that the tree poisoning is an isolated incident and that it will be taken as a sign not of fan loyalty but instead of mental illness. Destroying something beautiful in the name of rivalry, no matter what the circumstances, is a bad thing. Hopefully the individual (or individuals) responsible for the Toomer's Corner poisoning will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.


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