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Tragedy brings out the better angels among us


ATLANTA -- Doesn't it all seem so silly now?

Huge portions of the South, including Tuscaloosa, Ala., are in ruins today. Hundreds of lives have been lost. Hundreds of others are not accounted for yet and may never be. Homes filled with so many lifetimes of memories have been scattered, never to be recovered. Most will rebuild and carry on but others will not or cannot.

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Isn't it so silly that:

Before the storm, people were arguing about a clearly troubled soul like Harvey Updyke. Mr. Updyke, who is a fan but not an alumnus of the University of Alabama, went on statewide radio and claimed to have poisoned the trees at Toomer's Corner, which are nothing less than a shrine to his school's biggest rival (Auburn). He became Exhibit A in the case that college football's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: That the fans care TOO much.

Before the storm there was the worst kind of vitriol pointed in the direction of Cameron Newton, the Heisman Trophy quarterback who led Auburn to the BCS national championship. It was ugly. It was beyond ugly, in fact. People said Auburn's national championship was tainted because Newton and his father cheated. The excessive passion and the pure hatred of that debate seem silly now, doesn't it?

Before the storm we had the HBO Four, a group of former Auburn players who went on RealSports and said they got cash to play for the Tigers. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't. If they did, proving it will be difficult, if not impossible. But the argument seems silly now.

Before the storm, a good man, ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, was forced to move his family from Columbus, Ohio, a place he loved. Why? Because of a small, but clearly demented segment of the Ohio State fan base. Herbstreit, a former Buckeyes quarterback, had the audacity to be an objective reporter about his alma mater which, as we now know, has some issues. Herbie is a big boy and he can certainly take the heat, but some yahoos crossed the line. His kids were getting hassled at school. It was time to go.

Before the storm another good man, Bruce Hooley, was forced out of his radio job in Columbus, Ohio, for daring to suggest on the air that Jim Tressel had been less than truthful about his knowledge of Buckeyes players committing NCAA violations. OK, Hooley used stronger language than that. All I know is that about a month later the NCAA sent Ohio State a letter and accused Tressel of exactly the same thing.

Before the storm Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins was headed to an All-America season and a sure-fire selection in the first round of the NFL Draft. But Jenkins got busted for marijuana possession for the second time since January. It was his third arrest since becoming a Gator. New head coach Will Muschamp, who warned everybody up front that a new sheriff was in town, announced the two parties would part ways by mutual agreement. Coaches do that when they are trying not to embarrass the kid.

Of course, Jenkins said publicly that Muschamp had kicked him off the team.

"He washed his hands of me," Jenkins told the Orlando Sentinel.

So Janoris, let me see if I have this straight. You WANTED folks to know that you got kicked off the team?

Auburn alumnus Charles Barkley helps provide relief to the victims in Alabama. (AP)  
Auburn alumnus Charles Barkley helps provide relief to the victims in Alabama. (AP)  
Sheer lunacy.

So instead of focusing on the knuckle heads that poison college football with their idiocy, let's take a minute or two today to think about people like Carson Tinker. He is the long snapper for the University of Alabama football team. Tinker and his girlfriend, Ashley Harrison, were together when the storm hit Tuscaloosa on Wednesday. Both were thrown out of the house. Tinker survived with a concussion. Ashley Harrison was killed instantly. Harrison's parents flew from Dallas to Tuscaloosa not knowing the fate of their daughter. As the father of a daughter, I cannot imagine having to make that trip.

Let's think about 700 people who are being housed in the Belk Activity Center in Tuscaloosa because their homes are gone. Let's think about the visit from Alabama coach Nick Saban, his wife Terry and other Alabama staffers. They distributed Alabama clothing and Saban autographed every item that he could. The next time you want to rip into Saban, think about that.

Let's think about the Auburn people who put aside their differences to go to Tuscaloosa and help with the cleanup and to lend a hand to neighbors trying to put their lives back together. When the trees at Toomer's Corner were poisoned, Alabama folks stepped up and contributed over $50,000 in an effort to save them.

Let's think about the people here in Atlanta who, upon hearing of the devastation 90 minutes north in Ringgold, began loading up trucks with bottled water, food, and chain saws and heading up I-75. One of my two best friends in the world, Tom McMillen, lives in Ringgold and his home was spared. But he spent Saturday and Sunday cutting up trees and helping people who weren't as fortunate.

Tuscaloosa is one of the great venues in all of college football. Ringgold is a great Georgia Bulldog community despite having to exist with all of those Volunteers right on the Tennessee border. Folks in these two great college football towns and throughout the South are hurting today and they need our help. On Sunday, I went to and made a donation. I hope you'll consider doing the same.

The good news this morning is that as much as a handful of bad people try to screw up college football on a daily basis, the decent people who love the sport ultimately prevail. Here is hoping that does not change.

Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.

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