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Something Went Very Wrong At Toomer's Corner
Tommy Tomlinson
August 15, 2011
A die-hard Alabama fan is about to be tried for allegedly poisoning Auburn's beloved oak trees. To understand why someone would do this, you have to look at the fan's roots
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August 15, 2011

Something Went Very Wrong At Toomer's Corner

A die-hard Alabama fan is about to be tried for allegedly poisoning Auburn's beloved oak trees. To understand why someone would do this, you have to look at the fan's roots

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"I swear on a Bible, all that is true," he says.

This is how, Updyke explains, he knew enough to call the Finebaum show and describe exactly what happened to the trees. Barnes, who was sitting on the other side of Updyke, says he never saw or heard that conversation. But, he says, he and Updyke didn't pay much attention to each other. They both had headphones on so they could follow the game on the radio.

Updyke is not thrilled with the mental defect plea. He says Threatt and his other lawyer believe it's the best chance at keeping him out of prison. He's 62 years old, and his neurosurgeon says he needs neck surgery to fix his bulging disks and lower-back problems. He's worried that prison would kill him.

"But if we stay [for the trial] in Lee County [Ala.], I would bet the farm that they're gonna put me in jail," he says. "Auburn wants me to pay for it."

He has lost 24 pounds and now weighs 209. He grew a beard, shaved it off and then grew a mustache. But people still recognize him. On June 10, driving back through Alabama after another pretrial hearing, he stopped at a sporting goods store to get one more Alabama decal for his car. A Crimson Tide fan pestered him until Updyke agreed to let him take a picture. He told the guy not to post it on the Internet. He expects to see it there any day now.

His lawyer got the judge to approve his move to Louisiana so he could be close to his youngest daughter and her six-month-old girl, Updyke's 18th grandchild.

He loves Alabama football as much as ever. The only thing different is that he knows he can't go back for home games; he'd be too much of a distraction. But the Tide plays at Ole Miss on Oct. 15. That game's not too far from his house in Louisiana. Updyke plans to be there. He wants the court date to hurry up and arrive. He hates what he has brought upon his family. Crimson, he says, is a wreck. Everybody else is worried too. He talks on the phone with Bear a lot. After all these months, Bear still doesn't understand why his father might go to prison over this.

"He keeps telling me, 'These people are acting like this is a tragedy,'" Updyke says. "And I just say, Well, yeah, it is."

Bear Bryant Updyke says other kids never made fun of his name. He grew up in Texas, and just went by Bear Updyke, and nobody made the connection. Sometimes a kid would growl at him, but that was about it.

Bear's 30 now and just got out of the Air Force. He tries to explain his dad. Harvey loves to talk trash, but he gets annoyed if you trash-talk him. He plays a lot of cards and haunts the Tider Insider message board. He once let a woman and her daughter stay at their house in Texas one night because the woman was driving drunk. He gave his son a clock inscribed with a Bear Bryant quote, and Bear can recite it from memory: IF YOU BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND HAVE DEDICATION AND PRIDE—AND NEVER QUIT, YOU'LL BE A WINNER. THE PRICE OF VICTORY IS HIGH BUT SO ARE THE REWARDS.

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