CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Shudder to think how far poisonous Alabama rivalry will go

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The recent escalation of Iron Bowl hostilities has to result in death, doesn't it? And not just trees this time.

No one is wishing it, but those of us who claim to have some sort of handle on the Alabama-Auburn history of hate have to consider the obvious: We wouldn't be totally surprised at mortal consequences following the poisoning of those Toomer's Corner trees, apparently by an Alabama fan. Sadly, violence seems to be the next logical evolution of the rivalry, mostly because it has happened in the past.

Auburn mourns the loss of those historic trees. Let's hope no one is mourning over people in the near future. (AP)  
Auburn mourns the loss of those historic trees. Let's hope no one is mourning over people in the near future. (AP)  
In 1974, a woman shot and killed a man in Chattanooga, Tenn. following an argument over an Iron Bowl field goal. In 2005, a cage fighter with Alabama leanings rolled by an Auburn frat the night before the Iron Bowl and yelled "Roll Tide." The episode ended only slightly less deadly. The Mobile Press-Register reported that the family of the alleged perpetrator in the tree poisoning may already be getting death threats.

There may be other examples. It doesn't matter now that dread is back in the air. This is part of your history, Auburn-Alabama. "Treeson" won't go unanswered. We all know it no matter how much money is donated to Tide for Toomer's. The question now is what form the retaliatory strike will take. In the immediate aftermath of the vandalism there were cops guarding Bear Bryant's grave. There were surveillance cameras trained on 'Bama's "Walk of Champions".

Let's go ahead and assume there will be extra security at each school's spring game. The same goes for the Iron Bowl, which this year will be played at Auburn. Will some Tiger-striped knucklehead have gotten "revenge" by then?

We can only hope that the only thing deadly about this story is the herbicide. What was discovered last week has the chance of turning bar arguments into fist fights and fist fights into, well, fill in the blank. Then shudder. However and whenever payback comes it will be played out in public. This is a national story now, giving life to any sort of damaging, insensitive Deep South stereotypes that stick to it.

Stereotypes aside, at some lower level there is an underlying aspect to consider. We hear terrorism stories on a daily basis, and while "Treeson" doesn't fit that bill, this act of extreme vandalism bears a common thread: hatred. Hatred defines the Alabama-Auburn rivalry. Consequently, retaliation seems a certainty. History tells us that the rivalry's waves of animosity ebb and flow -- but never die.

You've probably heard much of the lore about this rivalry over the years. It ranges from amusing to menacing. It all became clear again last week when a Montgomery, Ala. radio guy asked me on the air how "we" look to the outside. "We", being the Bammers and the Barners. It doesn't look good, the same way starlets getting out of cars sans underwear doesn't look good. It's embarrassing. It's shameful. It's inexplicable. It leaves us asking, "How can rational people do that?"

Hint: Not all of them are rational.

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We'd love to believe that "Treeson" was the act of a lone nut job. We are within one heinous counterstrike of knowing it's not. Those who believe that the act will pass without a response are as disillusioned as the perpetrator. University of Alabama shrubbery should be shaking in its roots.

Typically, school officials and politicians line up to decry this kind of stuff. An Alabama spokesman said, "The individual who was arrested has never attended the University of Alabama and has never been a season ticket-holder." As if that makes any difference at all. Apparently, the spokesman doesn't realize that a large part of the school's fan base did not attend Alabama or ever buy a season ticket.

A university doesn't distinguish between alums and outsiders when it takes their money for seats, souvenirs or donations. It doesn't want only grads watching its games on TV. In college sports, there is that unique emotional attachment that, arguably, even the NFL can't match. It is 'Bama's winning history and broad appeal that make it so desirable to sponsors, networks and some of the best fans in country. It only takes one crazoid to go off the reservation. But that crazoid is still identified, degree or not, as part of a bitter rivalry.

Now comes the inevitable fallout. It is almost guaranteed to be ugly and vindictive -- and endless. You wonder what kind of world is going to be left for Jordan Hare. The Saginaw, Mich. basketball prospect is listed on Rivals.com as being offered by Alabama. Does a kid with the same name as Auburn's stadium (Jordan-Hare) want to jump into the middle of this and play for Alabama?

The poison that leeched into the soil at the corner of Magnolia and College didn't just kill trees. It gave life to more animosity. What form will it take?


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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