The poisoning of the Toomer’s Oaks has given us an urgent excuse to trace the tradition of rolling Toomer’s Corner back to its real that-makes-sense roots. Because these days, when it comes to explaining this “uniquely Auburn” tradition, the university’s left hand typically doesn’t know what its right hand is tweeting.
Camp War Eagle counselors spin a story about the rollings being a modern interpretation of an ancient custom of hanging telegrams containing the scores of away games on the Toomer’s Oaks (which hadn’t even been planted yet) as a way to broadcast football victories to the townsfolk.
After saying “Nobody quite remembers when it began,” a video about rolling Toomer’s Corner uploaded last week to Auburn Athletics’ YouTube account says “…but around 1962 a roll of toilet tissue was thrown over the nearest tree to celebrate the latest Auburn Tigers win.” Where that date came from is anyone’s guess, but its the latest, vividly imagined — “It was quickly followed by many more rolls until the trees, buildings and everything in sight were festooned like a winter’s blizzard” — theory that presupposes the tradition began with a sort of Roll Seen ‘Round the Auburn World that was immediately perceived as such.
Auburn historian extraordinaire David Housel says it was launched after the punts were blocked. It wasn’t. (Attempting to kinda-sorta date the tradition, Auburn’s Office of Communications and Marketing linked to The War Eagle Reader’s photos of Toomer’s being rolled before the punts were blocked.)
However, there is that whole thing about how Toomer’s was once only rolled for away game victories. It wasn’t a rule—there were no rules. It’s just the way it was. Of course, you just kind of take for granted that they mean after away game victories. As in, not before Auburn won. As in, not before the game. As in, not the night before the game.
But once you relax your eyes to the truth discernible in the wacky, folklore stereogram that is Toomer’s Corner history, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that they didn’t make such petty distinctions back in the day — back in the day of The Pep Rally.
What did they call the gathering of folks (maybe including some crazy kids with some toilet paper they stole out of Biggin Hall) trying to rah-rah-rev the team up for a win? A pep rally. What did they call that thing you do after an away game win, like the wilding and graffiti and TP’ing and Greyhound bus terrorizing that went down after Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy against Georgia in 1971? A pep rally. What did they call that thing you did even after a loss back in the Let’s War Eagle Foy-Ever ’50s? A pep rally. (Auburn Spirit is beyond your timid win / loss morality.)
Let’s listen to what the Glomerata said about the pep-nomenon back in 1980 (around the same time both it and the Plainsman were describing the tradition of rolling Toomer’s Corner — as opposed to gathering at Toomer’s Corner — as “relatively new”):
Every Thursday before Auburn’s games, fans gathered in Graves Amphitheater for a huge pep rally. Clad in sorority and fraternity jerseys or bright Auburn t-shirts, enthusiastic fans yelled for victory.
No pep rally was held before the Wake Forest game. Instead, fans were invited to a send-off for the team at Sewell Hall.
Football players were given last minute encouragement as they left for Winston-Salem. Also there was a change in the place for the Finish Florida pep rally. It was held on a Friday night at Toomer’s Corner. This change stirred a big crowd and proved effective as Auburn trounced the Gators the next day.
What if we lost? Who cares — the Barfield era apparently just didn’t sweat the small stuff, like tempting fate even against Bama. Because yes, there was a huge Beat Bama pep rally at Toomer’s the Thursday night before the 1979 Iron Bowl. And how do we know the corner was rolled? BECAUSE IT WAS BILLED AS A BRING YOUR OWN TOILET PAPER (B.Y.O.T.) RALLY, emcee’d by no less a Toomer’s authority than David Housel. (And because, according to the Glom, “Toomer’s turned into one big roll…” and presumably stayed that way through Bama’s eventual win two days later.)
It’s even more evidence that once upon a time, and not so long ago, Rolling Toomer’s (TM) was just rolling Toomer’s, the spontaneous offspring of buck wild Auburn Spirit, group psychology, and toilet paper — not a symbolic renewal of an apocryphal ritual to honor victory’s ancestors.
Because if it was, we were doing it wrong…
More on the the Toomer’s oaks: Here’s what the type of tree that might replace Toomer’s Corner looks like / Wire system being considered as temporary solution for rolling Toomer’s / On the feasibility of a Toomer’s Corner transplant / 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