The rivalry between Auburn and Alabama has always been known for its passion and intensity.
The relative proximity of the two schools, the close familial relationships of the two fanbases and the history of success that each can boast is part of what makes the rivalry rise above all others.
But there’s bad blood, and then there’s malicious ignorance. The lunatic who poisoned the hallowed trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn strayed beyond the borders of even malicious ignorance and set up residence in criminal spite.
The act itself is a sickening display from a psychotic fan who in all likelihood didn’t even attend the University of Alabama. It is the act of a man whose entire existence revolves around a football team—someone who has no self-worth beyond the glory he can extract from wins and losses over which he has no control.
What’s even more disgusting today, however, is the reaction of far too many of his brethren.
Here’s a sample of three fairly common responses.
It’s what y'all deserved since you rolled those trees on the day Bear Bryant died.
You can plant new ones. By the time you win another national championship, they’ll be grown enough to roll, heh, heh, heh.
What’s the big deal? They’re trees. Do you know how many trees are killed every year to make paper?
Rolling those trees after an Auburn win is a cherished tradition. It’s an integral part of the game-day experience and a source of many fond memories for Tiger fans.
It’s understandable that an Alabama fan wouldn’t comprehend the significance of the trees. Rolling Toomer’s Corner is a tradition, and for all its boasts, Alabama simply has no tradition.
You hear that rattling noise? It’s the Alabama fanbase getting up in arms. They’ll tell you they have tradition out the wazoo, but the fact is they simply don’t.
Ask an Alabama fan about their tradition. The first thing they will say, and this is guaranteed, is, “Thirteen national championships.”
That’s not tradition. That’s a number. It’s a statistic—and it’s a fraudulent statistic at that. The only people in the universe who accept 13 as a legitimate number are those who wear crimson. To the rest of the college football universe it’s a joke.
When Bama fans proudly wear shirts or hats with 13 on them, they do so unaware that everyone else is laughing at them. If college football were the movie Dinner for Schmucks, Bama fans wearing 13 gear would be the unwitting schmucks.
Well, what about Bear Bryant, they’d say? Not a tradition. A man. A man is not a tradition no matter how you much you deify him.
For the record, the trees at Toomer's Corner were not rolled on the day Bryant died. The fable that the trees were rolled was fabricated, much like the 13 national championships Bama fans claim. In fact, Bryant’s passing was met with sadness and support from most Auburn fans. We hated Bryant and what he represented, but we had enough class to respect what he meant to college football and commiserate with our crimson brothers at his loss.
Okay, but we got Denny Chimes, the Bama fan would protest. Sorry. Denny Chimes is not a tradition. It’s a building. More specifically a clock tower—an ugly and useless one at that. A drab tower of bricks is not a tradition.
Fine, but we got Big Al, the typical Tide fan would sputter. Sorry, wrong again. Big Al is not a tradition; it’s a mascot. Interestingly enough, Big Al came into existence after Auburn debuted its mascot Aubie and after Bama fans mocked it, saying they didn’t need a costume roaming the sidelines. Funny how that works.
Angry now, the typical Alabama fan will bring up the Walk of Champions. Now we’re getting somewhere. The Tide football team walks through a gathering of fans on its way into the stadium for home games. That qualifies. It also qualifies as a complete and total imitation of what Auburn pioneered with its historic Tiger Walk. Is it really tradition when you first mock and then sheepishly and shamelessly copy a tradition that belongs to your chief rival?
Well, we are winners, the average Tide fan would claim smugly. That’s our tradition. Nothing but winners. Winning in and of itself cannot be a tradition, but suppose you consider it such. Really? Since 2000, Alabama is 43rd in the country in winning percentage. The Tide ranks behind Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU in the SEC—and behind Southern Miss. Guess those Golden Eagles are nothing but winners too.
Take it back 30 years, and Alabama ranks 18th in winning percentage. Supposed “little brother” Auburn? The Tigers are 11th. Auburn’s won eight of the last 11 meetings against the Tide. Who’s the little brother? Nothing but winners? Only in your minds.
That’s really the difference between the two fanbases. Alabama fans are wrapped up in numbers and statistics (even bogus ones) and the deification of historical figures. For most, the football team is the cornerstone of their existence and the source of their self-worth.
For Auburn fans, it’s much bigger than that. No doubt football is important, but it’s not the alpha and omega of the love for the school. Auburn fans love the spirit of Auburn and what it represents.
At Auburn, traditions are important. The Tiger Walk, the eagle circling the field during pre-game and rolling Toomer's Corner are each in their own way just as important as the games themselves.
The slavish devotion of Tide fans to Alabama football is also why the rivalry between Auburn and Alabama is considered bad almost exclusively when Auburn is winning. Historically, when the rivalry ramps up to hysterical levels, you can bank on Auburn being ahead of Alabama in some way: ahead in the rankings, winning the head-to-head meetings, achieving more.
Tide fans covet what they cannot have and despise Auburn for taking what they ignorantly believe is theirs and theirs alone. The bitterness and hate in this rivalry is particularly one-sided, and it's based purely on envy. You'd never get a Bama fan to admit it, but the most basic emotions they feel are jealousy and fear. Jealous of anything Auburn accomplishes and fear that what they know deep down—there aren't 13 and winning is a farce—will be exposed for the world to see, thus invalidating their entire lives.
To the Bama fans who celebrate the poisoning of the trees at Toomer’s Corner, you may be right. Saplings may have time to mature to mighty oaks before Auburn wins another football national championship. But as you sit there in your ridiculous “Got 13” shirt and your silly houndstooth baseball cap, know this: Every single day of that span and for every day thereafter, the Auburn spirit is alive and well. It's greater than you or your team can ever hope to be.