I certainly don't intend to imply that any college football fan in the south could allow himself to go to the great lengths that Harvey Updyke did to "defend" his team. But in reading this very, very sad account of Updyke's life, I hope a lot of fans take stock of their own fandom.
ESPNs Wright Thompson portrays his interviewee as a split personality, not in the DSM-IVR sense but in the average guy who also becomes a different person on the subject of Alabama football.
As the tale of Updyke and the interview itself unfold, I'm easily reminded of how people become different versions of themselves on Saturdays in the Fall. And while I would never resort to defending my team's honor by castrating an alligator (can gators even be castrated...??), I'm also certain that there are people in my day to day life that would not recognize me as readily on gamedays.
I just stare across the table at this polite 62-year-old man, his hair neatly combed, his face covered by a beard he hopes will allow him a measure of anonymity. Well, I stare at two different people, both of whom have made an appearance in the first two minutes.
There is Harvey Updyke, a remorseful grandfather who claims he didn't poison those trees and wishes he'd never called a radio show to take credit for it.
And there's Al from Dadeville -- Updyke's radio nom de guerre -- who loves Alabama football, and, if he's being totally honest, doesn't understand why everybody's so damn mad.
Following our teams as passionately as we do here in the South allows us to experience a broad range of emotions just like Updyke:
But I'm glad I can safely store my obsessive insanity neatly underneath my seat in Sanford Stadium.
The football gods, it seemed, were rewarding him for seasons of loyal fanaticism. The Crimson Tide were going to the national championship game. When he heard a small block of tickets were being sold to Pasadena, he had everyone he knew call to try to get a pair. That didn't work, but, from an old high school friend with corporate connections, a miracle. Updyke was going to see Alabama play for the national title at the Rose Bowl. He found his seats and took in the crisp California air, the football team on the field, the tense countdown until kickoff.
Harvey started crying.
When he got home, he framed his ticket stub and looked forward to 2010. Season 2 brought hopes of a repeat. Imagine, to be a fan from afar for your entire life and then walk into this. Last year, he went to more Alabama games -- eight -- than he'd ever made it to before in a single season. He was at the Iron Bowl, when Alabama ran out to a 24-0 lead, and he was there when Auburn scored 28 points to win. That night, he and a friend had a hotel reservation in Tuscaloosa. They didn't bother, pointing the car south, toward home.
"We just drove straight back to Dadeville," he says, "seriously, I bet we didn't say 10 words."
Hope the Opelika pokey gets ESPN.
Al from Dadeville seems like he expected to be greeted as a conquering hero. Maybe it was as simple as confusing the angry mob on Finebaum with the fan base as a whole, or maybe it was something deeper, but he figured his side would have his back. After all, he'd struck a blow against the enemy. He was surprised to find the opposite was true, with Tide for Toomer's raising money on Facebook, with former Alabama players calling him horrible names, with Saban writing a check to help try to save the trees.
"It hurt my feelings," he says.