AUBURN, Ala. -- Just before the revelry began and a tree was planted at Auburn's historic Toomer's Corner Saturday morning, fans took a brief moment to reflect on the reason they all swarmed the intersection of College Street and Magnolia Avenue on a brisk Valentine's Day morning.
Harvey Updyke Jr.
The Crimson Tide pariah brought the Auburn community together -- both ceremoniously and unceremoniously -- with an act of evil when he poisoned the beloved and iconic oak trees at Toomer's Corner during the Tigers' 2010 national championship season. The angry Alabama fan poured pesticide around the 80-year-old trees and then later boasted about it as "Al from Dadeville" on The Paul Finebaum Show in February of 2011. Auburn scientists were unable to save the original oaks.
Auburn fans weaved through a disgusting act to come out stronger with a joyous occasion that will help rebuild a time-honored SEC tradition of rolling the oaks at Toomer's Corner after wins.
So do Auburn fans forgive Updyke, who eventually pleaded guilty in March 2013 to one count of unlawful damage of an animal or crop facility? Were his 76 days served in jail and the $800,000 of restitution he owes the school enough to warrant some sort of reprieve?
It just isn't that easy for Auburn fans. They were more for forgetting than forgiving Saturday.
"I don't think it's really up to us to forgive him," said Libby Zanthos, a retired police officer from Alabaster, Alabama. "I know an Auburn fan would never do such a thing. I don't think he's sorry. I think if he had a chance he'd do it to these."
While Updyke has appeared remorseful for his actions, Auburn fans weren't exactly lining up to send him a Valentine Saturday. One fan even joked about burying Updyke with one of the new 35-foot oaks transported in from Ehrhardt, South Carolina.
"Harvey Updyke needs to be in the hole before we put the tree down," said Tommy "Pink" Pinkard, a first-year student at Auburn. "That's how I personally feel. Anybody who does something as childish, stupid and ignorant as that ... but, you know, you got them kind of people.
"I wouldn't go to Alabama and desecrate Bear Bryant's statue or anything in Tuscaloosa."
Pinkard, who is a 59-year-old retiree, said Saturday's ceremony was about rebirth and renewal. Updyke's actions brought them to Toomer's Corner, but they also paved way for a new start in Auburn's history.
Justine Spear, a junior at Auburn, laughed and let out a long sigh mixed with giggles and inaudible words when asked if she had forgiven Updyke. Her friends around her laughed and backed away from the question, although they did think that planting him in the ground with one of the new trees was a little extreme.
Jim Hartley, who traveled eight hours with his wife, Peggie Jo, from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, called Updyke "misguided." Lifetime Alabama fan Robin Rudolph, whose Valentine's Day present to her Auburn fan husband was a six-hour drive through the night to witness Saturday's tree planting, was embarrassed by Updyke's actions and almost apologized for his wrongdoing.
As Saturday progressed, joy washed away hints of bitterness. The arrival of two new oaks turned that anger toward Updyke into more pity than anything.
"I try not to think too much about it because every time you think about it it's upsetting," 27-year-old Auburn fan Joel Stanton said.
Sometimes, that's all you can really do.