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College Rivalries, How Far is Too Far?

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Auburn University is no stranger to the media this past year. Stemming from player allegations and the Heisman Trophy to the BCS National Championship.  Nor is it a stranger to its biggest in-state rival, the University of Alabama. Auburn, known for having one of the best agricultural research facilities in the United States, was devastated to hear that the 130+ year old oak trees at Toomer’s Corner had been poisoned. A Bama fan, bitter after attending the Iron Bowl where unbeaten Auburn (#2 in AP at the time) came back from a 24–0 second quarter deficit over 9–2 Alabama (#9, AP) to beat the Tide in Tuscaloosa, 28–27. It was both the largest comeback in the history of Auburn football and the largest comeback ever allowed in Alabama football history.

This fan took it personally… intentionally using Spike 80DF on the trees, a herbicide that attacks through the roots and works it way up, destroying a true War Eagle tradition. Luckily, it isn’t something that is harmful to humans or toxic to animals unless ingested or exposed to in heavy doses. The main ingredient, tubuthiuron, poses a heavy and lasting threat to the trees that could stay in the soil for years. For more information on Spike 80DF go here. So, was there an alterior motive to what this Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr. guy was thinking? Not sure, but 18 years as a former Texas State Trooper, he definitely knew what he was doing and showed no remorse. The oak trees, located at the corners of Magnolia Avenue and College Street on AU’s campus, represent the spirit and pride of any Auburn celebration.

via (

I have unfortunately, but fortunately witnessed this when I was on a road trip down to Auburn for a Tennessee football game. Its an unbelievable sight to see. But, throwing countless rolls of toilet paper and turning it into a TP wonderland? One might argue that its an ironic waste of trees, but the tradition has been going on for decades and the War Eagle’s take pride in it. The University has already starting working on efforts to save the trees. You can find out more here.

So this brings me to my topic of discussion. College rivalries…or really any sports rivalry:  how far is too far? Where is the little guy on our shoulders that says to us, “hey, we should probably back off…”

Ranging from high school to professional sports, from in-state to out of state, and throughout the world,  rivalries are all around us. Yankees-Red Sox, Ohio State-Michigan, Mavericks-Spurs, Lakers-Celtics, Army-Navy, and Oklahoma-Texas, just to name a few off the top of my head. Don’t get me wrong, I have been involved with rivalries starting as a die-hard Georgetown fan at a very young age. I would never dream of rooting for the Orange of Syracuse University. Even living in Maryland, about 30 minutes away from College Park, it was clear to everyone that Duke was the enemy. As I moved on to my college career at the University of Tennessee, sorry Gators, Gainesville is on the list, too. I didn’t really take anything seriously, though, or rather, realized the seriousness of what it means to have two schools rival with one another, until I started college. I witnessed some pretty wild stuff. As a student on campus of a university that gets emotionally invested (too much? no way!!) in the value of football and basketball, it turned me into having an ongoing love/hate relationship with people at these universities. I took a walk on the wild side a couple times, having dated two Florida Gators…boy was that interesting…but back to the point…how about some examples:

If any of you remember when Facebook (or, TheFacebook) was only open to colleges and when student athletes started to join, it would be in our best interests, as fans, to psyche out the competition, without crossing the line. A QB out of the SEC East signed up for Facebook and us Vols fans decided it would be hilarious (and it kind of was), to not add this guy as a friend, but simply “poke” him. Having to X out each one was not harmful, just really really annoying. Especially when you get thousands of pokes all at once. I remember hearing stories about other fans that had access to university fax lines where they would send full pages of black ink to the universities the morning of National Signing Day in record numbers to use up the toner. Crossing the line yet?

At Tennessee, The Rock is just as sacred as Toomer’s Corner. Used to express whatever students felt like, though, if offensive, it was often painted over with a happy birthday wish or a sorority promoting their philanthropy. I decided to go through my archive of old camera phone pictures, yep, still took them before the age of Android, and yep, still have the picture.

One Friday before game day, a certain message showed up on the rock that simply said this: The number was real, folks. Not sure how or who got a hold of it, but they posted it for all to see. To my surprise, it was left up, for days…Although the number was disconnected within a few short hours, this might have been an example of something that goes a little too far, especially when the threat of personal safety is involved. This is an argument that has gone on for centuries, citing no harm done….yet, just simple harassment.  Sadly, there are plenty of opportunities for taking a step past appropriate, including the destruction of university property. Taking it a step further and actually attacking the people themselves is something I fear could happen far too easily in today’s society. The constant harassment is harmless, or is it? On a serious note, if taken further than just verbal abuse, could not only endanger athletes and coaches, but their families as well. What would it prove, anyway?

As a fan, we need to realize that from a business and marketing perspective, these rivalry games can mean big revenue and a major increase in merchandise sales, not to mention sway highschoolers to apply to these schools and give money to the University. (and yes, I’ve seen where admissions have gone WAY up when you win championships, check the stat books).

We all want to be a part of something special and proud to don our colors no matter how obnoxious it can be (Tennessee Orange?) We hope that it can continue on for years to come without the threat of harm to anyone. I feel that it is important to surround myself with people who can positively support their team.  Sure, add in some heavy cursing from time to time, crude posters, and even “hulk out” during games when something goes wrong. (Lets not talk about the Vols and the LSU/UNC games this year. *Sigh*)

My point is this: Regardless of hatred, or love, or loyalties, there is NO reason, or right, to destroy university or personal property nor intentionally attack someone with verbal threats, physical harm, or anything of a serious nature. Period. Bring back the friendly(ish), entertaining aspect of what a rivalry is. Bring back face paint. Bring back sleeping outside 10 hours before a big game and getting really really sick after, but knowing it was worth it. Take more pictures. Cherish these moments with your friends and families.

(via Hoya Blue)

(via All Metro Sports)

and most importantly, show the support of your team, whoever it may be, the right way. Oh, if you’re going to talk smack to an opponent, know your stats and at least Google some information to talk about.

Go Hoyas. Go Vols. Tradition doesn’t graduate.



  1. Keith says:

    Recently, Texas A&M published Jordan Hamilton’s (G/F at Texas) cell number on the night before the Horns were to play the Aggies in College Station.

    Jordan answered the the “call” and lit up the Aggies for 20 points the following night.

    He then proceeded to send the Aggies a message: — Call me!
    Gotta love it.

  2. Phillip Widell says:

    i agree to a point about going too far…but rivalries are not something that just spring up quickly, they develop over years and over painful losses. while what happened at auburn is a horrific act by an individual, it still shows how important this rivalry is in the state of alabama. i’ve been to toomers corner and i know some alabama fans. football there is king. always will be. i don’t think we should be truly surprised that something like this happened. with that said, i truly believe auburn/alabama is the most heated rivalry in american sports. situations like this fuel a rivalry. it makes it stronger. the networks love it. rivalries become “must see TV.” and don’t think for one minute major networks aren’t going to run with this when the season starts, with gameday on the plains for this matchup on thanksgiving weekend. the iron bowl next year might generate the highest ratings for a college football game. why? because of the rivalry and the history it has generated.

  3. The dude who poisoned the tree at Auburn should be jailed for an eternity, that’s just the worst. Great read mama 🙂

  4. Evan says:

    There’s being a fan, there’s being a fanatic, and there’s being a lunatic.

    Robin Ficker is the perfect example of borderline fanatic/lunatic in the DMV. I have fond memories of him holding up a rubber chicken and an artichoke yelling “CHOKE! CHOKE!” at the top of his lungs. Teams moved their huddles onto the court because of his tirades. He was a nut, but you didn’t see him tossing Molotov cocktails at the team bus as it left the arena. When you cause physical and/or mental anguish outside of the sporting environment, you cross the line into lunacy and should expect to face the ethical and legal consequences.

  5. Rob Y. says:

    I hear ya… A little known fact is that I also grew up rooting for Georgetown (and Maryland). But once I stepped foot in the Carrier Dome, it didn’t take me long to switch allegiances. That being said, I tried rooting for the Hoyas as a SU freshman, but it didn’t last. I bleed Orange and Blue, and root against Georgetown as much as possible. (But I won’t hold it personally against you, since you’re really a nice person otherwise.)

  6. After attending a game in Knoxville, I have to say the sea of Orange and the amount of noise they can generate are impressive. Went down there to them play Cal a few years ago, sat in the Cal section with my cousin, a Cal grad, and I couldn’t help but get swept up in the energy. The only obnoxious part of the experience was after the game having to deal w/ drunk UT fans wondering why Cal had the audacity to score a touch down in the final minute of the game.

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