During his January 27th call to the Paul Finebaum Show, “Al from Dadeville,” now thought to have been Harvey Updyke, claimed that while living in ignorance of the intensity of the Iron Bowl rivalry in Texas in 1983, a “good friend from Birmingham” sent him a newspaper clipping of an article “showing” Auburn students rolling Toomer’s Corner upon learning of Bear Bryant’s death on Jan. 26, 1983.
To his credit, Finebaum immediately rejected the suggestion that Auburn students would publicly celebrate an old man’s death. The back and forth over the veracity of Updyke’s claim actually nearly overshadowed his purpose in calling the show: bragging about poisoning the Toomer’s oaks as retribution for (1) Auburn fans taping a Cam Newton jersey to the statue of Bear Bryant outside Bryant-Denny Stadium for a Facebook photo op before the Iron Bowl, and (2) for Auburn students supposedly ding-donging that the wicked Bear was dead 28 years ago (something NBC’s Nightly News made no effort to verify in its report on the Toomer’s case Thursday evening).
But did they? And is there an article from a newspaper put out during what is surely the most scrapbook’ed week of Alabama journalism ever (but that somehow can’t be produced and scanned into a message board) that proves it?
Not that I can find, at least after a midnight run up to Auburn’s Ralph Brown Draughon Library last night*. Nothing in the Birmingham News, at least through January 30, or the Opelika-Auburn News, or the Auburn Plainsman. (Couldn’t check the Birmingham Post-Herald — for whatever reason, the Post-Herald microfiche was available only through 1972.)
Other than a quote of condolence from Pete Turnham, the state representative from Auburn’s House district, here’s the first reference to Auburn we could find in the Birmingham News coverage of Bryant’s death, from Jan. 27, 1983 (click to enlarge):
Here’s the January 27 front page, and Auburn-reaction stories from the sports section of the OA-News:
Coming out the morning after Bryant died, The Plainsman had little time to do anything other than jam a picture of Bryant onto the front page of it’s January 27 issue:
But nothing in the next week’s issue, or the next’s mentions anything about students— or even just a single student— rolling Toomer’s Corner after Bryant died. Related stories were instead filled with praise for Bryant…a little too much for my taste, but whatever:
The lack of anything in The Plainsman is the most telling.
Letters to the editor regarding rules and codes of conduct for Auburn students during this era were fantastically nitpicky. Alumni and townsfolk regularly took students to task for the tiniest offense to civility and class: too much cussing at games, not cheering loudly enough at games, poor behavior at concerts, you name it. It seems straight up impossible for Bryant’s death to have inspired an event at Toomer’s Corner significant enough to draw the attention of a major Birmingham newspaper yet escape the ire of Auburn alumni, as well as the opinion section of the Opelika-Auburn News.
So unless the Birmingham Post-Herald was just scooping the hell out of the competition with what “Al from Dadeville” implies is an actual photo of Auburn students celebrating Bryant’s death—and other paper’s just didn’t think that was a big enough deal to follow up on— we say go ahead and add a little snarl in your denials to the Bama fans in your life. It didn’t happen.
* If your name is Garrett Jackson, you dropped your wallet. It’s at the front circulation desk.
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More on Toomer’s Corner: Auburn grad attorney had no qualms defending Updyke / Toomer’s Oaks souvenirs will be branded ‘Auburn Oaks’ / Woodturned item made from Toomer’s Oaks will be on permanent display in Auburn art museum / Toomer’s Corner rollings didn’t start with Punt, Bama, Punt, says History / Did Auburn students celebrate Bear Bryant’s death by rolling Toomer’s Corner?