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Harvey Updyke wears Alabama colors every day. Last year he had a favorite T-shirt for game days. On the front, Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes pees on the Auburn logo. On the back it says, IF YOU SEE ME IN A TURBAN & SANDALS AU IS PLAYING IRAQ!!
"I saw that on a bumper sticker and told him about it," says Wayne Barnes, an old high school friend of Updyke's. "He went on the Internet and found somebody to make it into a shirt. I think he bought two."
Harvey Updyke didn't always hate Auburn, but for half a century he has loved Alabama. He was born in 1948 and grew up in Milton, Fla., in the panhandle near Pensacola. A drunk driver killed his dad when Harvey was three. When he was 10, he was watching a TV station out of Mobile one Sunday afternoon when The Bear Bryant Show came on. Bryant had arrived in Tuscaloosa from Texas A&M. Here was a strong man with a deep voice who announced to the world, "I ain't nothing but a winner." Harvey latched on.
He played offensive line at Milton High. One year he went to watch the Senior Bowl in Mobile, and the story he later told friends was that he walked right up to the Bear and declared, "I'm going to play for you." The coach supposedly replied, "I hope so, son." But Updyke didn't. After graduating from Milton in 1967, he went to junior college, then headed for Texas believing there were better job opportunities for him there. He went to his first Crimson Tide game in 1970, when Alabama played Oklahoma in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston. He ran onto the field in the third quarter, carrying two rolls of toilet paper on a broom handle and a box of Tide detergent. Roll Tide.
In 1976 he got a job as a Texas state trooper. He got married and had a daughter he named Crimson Tyde. He remarried and had two more children; he named his son Bear Bryant. (His second daughter is named Jennifer Lynn.) He married a third time, to his current wife, Elva. He pushed to call their daughter Ally Bama. His wife pushed back. They named her Megan instead.
Updyke hurt his neck in a crash that occurred as he was rushing to help another officer, and things got tough after that. He retired in 1988 on disability. In 1996 he was arrested in Texas and charged with criminal mischief. (Updyke says it was a family quarrel; he spent three days in jail, and the case was eventually dismissed.) He was also charged twice for theft, in 2003 and '06, for passing hot checks. (Both charges were dismissed after he paid the money back.) He had two bulging disks in his neck as a result of the crash and money problems. He and Wayne Barnes had drifted apart after high school but renewed their friendship after a high school class reunion in 1997. Updyke knew Barnes had a house in Alabama, a little cinder-block place on Lake Martin near Dadeville. Barnes offered to rent it to him for $300 a month. Harvey and Elva moved into the lake house in the winter of 2009. He lived just 130 miles from Tuscaloosa and the Alabama campus. He also lived just 30 miles from Auburn.
To understand the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, think of those Russian nesting dolls. College football has the most intense fans of any American sport. The SEC has the most intense fans in college football. The Auburn-Alabama rivalry has the most intense fans in the SEC. And the teams' annual game—the Iron Bowl—is the most intense three hours of the sports calendar. It's the hard, hot ember of a feud that burns all year long.
Michigan--Ohio State, Oklahoma-Texas: Those fans live across borders. Alabama people and Auburn people grow up together, go to church together, shop at the same malls, eat at the same catfish joints. They share one state with no pro teams and not a square foot of neutral ground.
The rivalry flows deep into the class divide among Southern whites. Alabama used to be where the children of doctors and lawyers went to school. Auburn was for the sons and daughters of farmers and factory workers. Auburn people saw Alabama people as phonies. Bryant himself dismissed Auburn as a "cow college." As the state modernized and the campuses integrated, the differences leveled off. But troll an Alabama or Auburn message board and it won't take long to find somebody calling a Tigers fan Jethro, or somebody referring to a Tide fan as Forrest Gump. The old resentments itch like a phantom limb.
"Everybody searches for some kind of group identity," says Wayne Flynt, a professor emeritus in history at Auburn. "In a [state] like Alabama, which was so poor and so looked down upon for so long ... all year long you can put on the jersey and belong to something. And part of that identity is who you are not."