Bear reads all the stories, absorbs all the Facebook comments, tangles online with an Auburn fan who wishes the whole Updyke family would die. He understands the meaning of Toomer's Oaks. He respects tradition. But still.
"I've been in the military," Bear says. "I've seen people die. If the trees die, I will feel bad, yes, but I'm gonna get sleep. If he is rightly convicted in a court of law ... punishment fits the crime, that's all I'm asking for."
Greg Britt was a first-grader at the tail end of the 1960s. His dad was getting his Ph.D. at Auburn, and his grandmother was the house mom for a fraternity. It was safer to leave kids alone back then. The oaks were Greg's playground. He romped around on the trees while his dad studied and his grandmother worked. Britt lives in Mexico City now. On football Saturdays he put the Auburn game on the TV and a Toomer's Corner webcam on his computer, and when the Tigers won, he watched fans roll the oaks from 1,200 miles away.
Kristi and Dennis Barker stopped by Toomer's Corner after their wedding in 1994. They hadn't planned the visit, but the oaks were on the way to the reception, and a friend had left them a spare roll of TP after decorating their car. So the Auburn grads rolled the oaks on their wedding day.
In 2002 Auburn's forestry department started culling acorns from the oaks and growing them as seedlings. Now children of the oaks grow all over the country. In May, Dennis Ross, an Auburn grad who's now a Florida congressman, planted a sapling on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. By the next day, somebody had rolled it.
The trees won't die: They live in their descendants and in the stories.
The trees will die: Spike 80DF has nearly made its cruel climb into the last of the leaves.
We should be used to this dual existence. Sports, so often, make two out of one.
Put a broken-down trooper far from his childhood and he's harmless. Set him near the team he's always loved—and even nearer to the team he hates—and he becomes a villain.
What hurts Updyke most is that Alabama turned on him. Tide coach Nick Saban said whoever poisoned the trees "does not represent our institution, our program, or our fans in any way." Alabama fans raised $50,000 to help save the oaks. Auburn fans later raised money for April's tornado victims in Tuscaloosa. The feuding families have found a bit of common ground.