In order to arc that perfectly unwinding roll of toilet paper it takes a certain technique. You unroll a couple feet worth of two-ply and put your hand underneath the tail and let one fly–straight over the top–while snapping the wrist, spinning the roll and leaving a trail of TP that matches its flight.
It’s a technique that’s been mastered in Auburn, Alabama. Generations of fathers teach their sons, and on Saturdays in the fall the fruits of their wisdom leave one of the most beautiful sights in college football when Toomer’s Oaks are blanketed in white.
On Saturday, the Auburn Tigers hosted their annual spring game, known lovingly as A-Day, but not to be confused with the one that took place 160 miles to Auburn’s west. And in one final tribute to that treasured landmark on the corner of College and Magnolia that so many Auburn faithful hold so dear, 83,000 fans showed up at Jordan-Hare Stadium to welcome new head coach Gus Malzahn and to say goodbye to Toomer’s Oaks.
Everywhere else in the country, the idea of thousands of people toilet papering a pair of twin oaks in the middle of town would seem juvenile, but it’s served as a unifying experience for the Auburn community for quite some time and the trees themselves have cast a shadow on that corner for 80+ years. On Tuesday, they’ll be removed.
By now you’re aware of the story of Harvey Almorn Updyke, Jr., who hatefully poisoned the trees with Spike 80DF after an Auburn fan adorned Bear Bryant’s statue with a Cam Newton jersey outside Bryant-Denny Stadium following Auburn’s 2010 victory in the Iron Bowl on their way to a BCS national title. Updyke will spend a minimum of six months in jail after pleading guilty to criminal damage of an agricultural facility.
However, on Saturday, SBNation college football editor Jason Kirk reported almost no traces of the anger you’d expect from a community that’s had one of its symbols ripped from its clutches. Instead, Auburn bid their beloved oaks a fond farewell.
And with so much going on externally for the Auburn football program (Auburn’s athletic department issued a press-release on Monday in regards to the Roopstigo allegations), the overriding theme from the day still seemed to be celebration and rebirth. Tomorrow morning, Toomer’s Oaks will be uprooted, but they’ll be replaced by a new pair of oaks that are expected to allow College and Magnolia to maintain its historic character.
On the field, Auburn showcased a new yet familiar product in new head coach Gus Malzahn’s first spring at the reins. Malzahn was viewed by many as the brains behind Auburn’s success in 2010 (with Newton ultimately serving as the braun).
Coming off of a winless season in the SEC, Auburn’s growth as a football program will closely resemble that of the new trees on Toomer’s Corner. They’ll be young, and the newest machinations of both Auburn football and Toomer’s Oaks will pale in comparison to when we last saw them standing tall and proud in 2010.
After 2010, Malzahn’s system was reined in and the spread-to-run guru ultimately left after the 2011 season to take the head coaching job at Arkansas State. Meanwhile, Toomer’s Oaks began to whither despite numerous efforts to save them.
Now Gus Malzahn has the chance to build something similarly great but new, just as they will on College and Magnolia. And while there’s something to be said for tradition, particularly as it pertains to football in the South, there’s also something refreshing about starting over.
Auburn has that chance now, and it’s a chance they’ll have to embrace if they hope to catch up with rival Alabama in the SEC West. Tomorrow, something new starts at Auburn.
However, if you hurry, there’s still enough time to toss one more perfectly arcing roll for old time’s sake.