The Auburn-Alabama rivalry dates back decades. It is one of the most notorious and intense rivalries in the United States. Every year, fans of each team get fired up for the Iron Bowl to see who will hold bragging rights for the next 364 days.
In February of 2011, a strike was made against Auburn fans that crossed a line that has been danced upon for ages. An Alabama fan named Harvey Updyke Jr. committed not only a heartless act, but a felony when he poisoned the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner.
The trees are more than 130 years old and are a long-standing symbol of tradition in the souls of Auburn fans. For example, rolling the trees with toilet paper is a way to celebrate Auburn’s victories after sports events.
Dr. Michael Fuhlhage, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Auburn University, moved to Auburn in the fall of 2010 and is a recent addition to the Auburn family. He says he knew of the intrastate rivalry before coming to Auburn but did not realize the fierceness of it all.
“The negativity has been disturbing,” Fuhlhage says of the scandal and some of the feedback from Alabama fans.
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Fuhlhage, a Kansas native, grew up knowing the value of a healthy rivalry. He attended the University of Kansas for his undergraduate degree and learned the meaning of school spirit at basketball games against their rival, Kansas State. Kansas State is famous for burning their winning scores in the grass of University of Kansas’ campus, while Fuhlhage’s team often “waves the wheat” when they near the end of a victorious game.
Fuhlhage earned his master’s degree from University of Missouri. There, he watched their Missouri Tigers as they played against their main rivals and his alma mater, the University of Kansas, in what is known as the “Border War.” However, Fuhlhage says the rivalries he knows have never gotten as hateful as the uproar between Auburn and Alabama.
“There’s something unhealthy about putting up signs before your rival goes to nationals rooting them to lose,” says Fuhlhage in reference to Alabama fans actions in January as Auburn traveled to Arizona to play in the National Championship game.
Fuhlhage explains that University of Kansas fans would stand behind another team from their conference, even if they did not make it as far. Maybe the Southeastern Conference could take a few notes from the Jayhawks and display a more supportive attitude for their peers.