There has been a lot going on in the wide world of sports over the past week. Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, and I received two fantasy baseball invites. It must mean spring really is near. And with spring, comes good, old-fashioned Spring Fever. Its catching on early this year.
Every time you turn on SportsCenter, you are faced with the latest development in the Melo Drama where will Carmelo Anthony land? Will he be a Knick, Nugget, or Net? The Drama was heightened this weekend as NBA All-Star Weekend landed in LA. The high-flying rookie sensation Blake Griffin stole much of the show, winning the Dunk Contest, as well as dazzling in the Rookie-Sophomore game and the All-Star game proper. Kobe and LeBron had a few things to say about Griffin taking over the limelight though: Kobe dropped 37 and took home the MVP while all LeBron did was record the second triple-double in All-Star history.
March Madness is heating up. As much as I love bowl season and defended it earlier this year my favorite sporting event of the season is far and away March Madness. So many games on each day plus the excitement of Cinderellas and the real possibility of an upset at any moment make the NCAA Tournament the most exciting time in sports, start-to-finish. Just this week the top four teams in the country all lost, allowing Duke to jump from No. 5 to No. 1 in just one week.
A little closer to home, the Alabama mens basketball team is quietly having a really solid and impressive season under second year head coach Anthony Grant, running away with the SEC West. And UAB sits just as quietly on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament, currently second in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardis First Four Out. UAB is third in Conference USA with a record of 19-7 (9-4 in conference play).
Unfortunately all the madness was not positive and jocular. The poisoning of the Toomers Oaks was not fan frenzy. No, it was just good, old-fashioned Off-Your-Rocker Crazy. This is not a lighthearted prank by a couple of teenagers that takes a few days or weeks to clean up. This is not a Saved By the Bell-esque rivalry where you dress up a statue or steal a mascot. This was a calculated, malicious move executed by an adult that far exceeded any sort of sane level of school spirit or fandom. It was pathetic and signifies all that is wrong with the rivalry, rather than showcase the good. It would have almost been more reasonable to tear down Jordan-Hare Stadium than attack the trees.
Before you call me a fanatic, all I mean is that Jordan-Hare can be rebuilt. While it is the home of Auburn football, Auburn football can be played elsewhere. Would it be impractical? Sure, it would be absurdly expensive. Would it be an attack on Auburn tradition? Of course. But the difference is, it would not take 130 years to rebuild. No matter how hard the people at Auburn try, or how much money the trustees can muster, it will be decades before the trees can be replaced. That is to not even mention the emotional impact.
Rolling the trees at Toomers Corner after a victory has been a tradition at Auburn for about 50 years. The Trees themselves have become a symbol of the Auburn spirit and countless memories for the fans, alumni, and students. It one of those things that makes collegiate sports great. It is traditions such as this that make the college game so special and stand out from professional sports the pageantry, the traditions, the pride.
Being a fan of college sports is supposed to be about pride in ones school, ones team, and ones self. It is supposed to be about more than just wins and losses. If you asked most Alabama fans what makes Alabama so great, wins and championships would certainly be there. But it would be more than that. You would get answers like the tradition, Denny Chimes, pride, we do things the right way, class, passion, etc. How do we lose sight of that? How does this intentionally malicious act exemplify that?
It is precisely that pride and tradition and passion that makes college football, the SEC, and Alabama and Auburn specifically, so great. There exists a personal connection and pride you can take from pulling for a team since you were old enough to know it (and usually before) and pulling for the school that you attended.
How do we let it get to this point where killing trees is the only answer for losing a game? I understand that this is a small, isolated incident by one man, who is likely less-than-stable, but it is a product of the fanaticism that precludes the rivalry. It is born out of this attitude that all that matters is winning. Look, Im the first to admit that I have a really terrible day when my team loses, but this is another extreme all together. I think it is crucial to remember that, ultimately, college football is just a game. It is a game played by 18-22 year old kids. And interestingly enough, it is never any of them that end up on the new for doing this like this. If the kids that actually play the game can understand that it is just a game, not the end of the world, and tomorrow is another day, why cant we?
My plea and hope is that Auburn fans will not try to retaliate, but rather will focus their attentions on saving the trees, as slight as the hope is, and how to move forward. Even though it does not seem like it now, this could be an opportunity for a new tradition. Either way, Auburn will continue on. Football will be played every fall. And the spirit of the Auburn family will persevere.