By Jackrabbit http://jackrabbit-blog.blogspot.com/
The tree-killer, who called himself “Al from Dadeville” on a call-in radio show when he bragged about the deed, thinks he is a die-hard fan of the Alabama Crimson Tide, and that attacking Auburn’s most important landmark was all a part of the rivalry heating up between the two schools since he was a child. “Al” has lived this rivalry; he named his children after the team name and their most famous coach, Bear Bryant. He did the deed after the Iron Bowl, the game in which Alabama and Auburn play each other, and his team lost. Maybe he felt vindicated for years of pranks and harassment from Auburn fans against Alabama’s team. Instead, “Al” has found himself a pariah in a state that normally turns a blind eye to extremism in the name of rivalry. The last report I heard was that, after he went through four lawyers in three days and made bail, he was sleeping in his car near a creek. Alabama fans, in the meantime, are close to reaching $50,000 of donations to help undo what “Al” had done in their name.
To a person who comes from a state university without a single nationally-ranked major sport and a fairly healthy and mostly non-violent rivalry, I don’t really understand the extent to which so many people in the South have incorporated their sports fandom into their personal and community identities. My only real firsthand experience when I used to play for Wyoming’s pep band and some drunk fans were screaming and spitting on us. And so, I have been thinking through the nature of this rivalry from an outsider's perspective (outsider to the South, to football, largely, and to the SEC fandom), trying to figure out if there is any lesson we can learn from this about how fans should treat each other and respect each other's memory.
The whole point of a sport rivalry is to have a relationship, I always figured. Rivalries foster relationships with others in the spirit of competition, for bragging rights and glory. You need a tradition or common history to do that, and in each side's playful demonizing of the other there is still underneath a mutual, grudging respect for each— to have their glory, their own history of their region. The sides of the rivalry therefore affirm each other and give them respect as a worthy opponent.
What "Al from Dadeville" did to Toomer's Corner didn't have anything to do with rivalry. He wanted to wipe Auburn out by killing the place that holds their own memories, even a small (though significant) part of who they are. The Toomer's oaks are fading, and in this time, I'm praying that with this comes a reconsideration of what a rivalry is, and what it means. Rivalries don't need to be destroyed, but they need to be recognized for what they are. And those within those rivalries need to recognize the consequences of how they act.
For one, it would be a good idea to understand what has been lost. I've been reading a lot of Crimson Tide fans commenting on the situation, and I have to say it’s been interesting. A lot of them have been pretty classy as well as (understandably) defensive about it. But, those in between on this have complained that "it's just a couple of trees." That's where I (and a lot of other Alabama fans, apparently) have to respectfully differ. "Al's" attack on those trees was an attack on Auburn's entire tradition and an attempt to annihilate a part of it. That's why this is such a touchy issue, because it has nothing to do with the true spirit of rivalry at all. Poisoning the Toomer's Oaks would be a lot like the following:
• Digging up Bear Bryant's grave in Elmwood Cemetery, Birmingham, AL and stealing his body
• Chopping down the Grove in Oxford, MS and filling it with broken glass
• Blowing up The Rock in Knoxville, TN or Howard's Rock in Clemson, SC, two important university landmarks
You could call each of these "vandalism" in the name of rivalry if you want, but they're not; it's more like Boniface wiping out Thor's tree and singing amongst the wreckage. Each of them would actually be an attempt to erase a bit of the school's heritage and deny them the chance to pass on that tradition to others. You can TP the trees on any corner in Tuscaloosa, but it will never be the same trees their grandparents had done that to. And, their grandchildren may never know what "rolling the oaks" was ever about.
So, on Auburn's side, they're pretty pissed, and with absolute right. They have been denied a part of their school heritage which (whether you think it's dumb or not) has been something very important to their shared identity as Auburn fans. Even so, however, I would caution the Auburn contingent to see this as a dangerous new "trend" in their rivalry and fly off the handle at Alabama fans for being felons. Rather, perhaps it's better not to even think of the poisoning as part of the rivalry at all. "Al from Dadeville" doesn't represent the rivalry because he has no respect for it.
To understand and respect a rivalry is to, at the end of the day, realize that your mutual competition and name-calling really comes down to recognizing your opponent's worth. If you mock them, it's because you know you couldn't really live without them. If someone does something this hateful to another team's common traditions and history, they're not acting from the rivalry anymore. And when they step outside the rivalry to pursue something to destroy their rivals, they act alone.
In any case, I'm hoping that, since the outrage at Toomer's Corner has sent such massive shock waves through the entire Southeastern Conference and the rest of the nation, maybe all our fan bases should stop and take stock of what it means to have a rivalry, and what it means to prank each other. We need to know that Alabama doesn't "hate" Auburn, and neither does Auburn “hate” them. If Auburn ceased to exist, there would be no tradition of rivalry, and Alabama would be the poorer for it. The same would be true for Tennessee and Florida. This is a lesson that should be true of any sport, whether it involves the NCAA trophy or the World Cup. And so, every time we talk smack about the other team's fans or coaches, we need to recognize that that is actually a badge of respect for each other. Just maybe, if we all make that act of respect conscious, perhaps the death of the Toomer's oaks can mean something far more important than just one town's tragedy. Now that the trees are fading and the accused tree-killer is arrested, we need to aim for planting new seeds.