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Cole: Auburn's fallen oaks remain special

Sports and traditions go hand-and-hand, especially in college football. One of the biggest and well-known traditions celebrated its last ever occurrence this weekend, and Saturday, thanks to the support of some quite amazing co-workers, I managed to make it down to Auburn in time for the final rolling of the Toomer's oaks.

I have been launching toilet paper into those trees since before I can remember, and some of my favorite memories growing up are the many trips made down to the Plains.

Rolling the famed trees has been going on for generations and is legendary among fans and players. Heritage's own assistant football coach Jason Miska was one of those players, suiting up for the Tigers as linebacker on the unbeaten 12-0 1993 team.

He only got to see the rolling of the trees once, following a huge win over Alabama in 1993, but it doesn't mean the legend and tradition didn't effect him.

"First of all, I hate to see it go down like that," Miska said. "It's a living thing with beautiful blooms and it's in a great place where everyone can see it. I hate the fact those are gone."

While Miska hates the fact the trees came down Tuesday, it's nothing close to my feelings, which began long before I stepped into Opelika, Ala.

When it came time to choose a school, I only applied to Auburn. It wasn't a choice; I was already part of the family.

Everyone takes certain things for granted in life, and in my mind, the trees would always be at the corner stretching their arms up in a triumphant victory stance. I always imagined taking my children to Auburn games, my daughter in her cheerleader outfit and my son playing catch on Samford lawn.

That scene always ended with an Auburn win and the usual mass exodus to Toomer's. As I write this, I am watching the trees being cut down on a webcam and I can't help but get emotional.

The trees weren't just the rally point after a win. They provided a meeting place on crowded game days to reunite with old friends. They were the spot of many proposals and weddings. I'll never forget the smile I would get Fridays during football season as I walked past the corner at noon and the Samford clock tower proudly played the fight song that echoed through downtown.

When I was too sick to board a plane to the 2010 national championship game in Glendale, Ariz., the only thing comforting me was knowing I would get to roll the trees when we won. As I sprinted to the corner, I remember hearing a train horn blasting and thinking it was cheering us on, too.

Saturday could have been a somber occasion, a day of mourning and anger at having to put the trees to rest too early. Instead, it was a celebration of what the trees meant to the Auburn family and all the memories they have provided us over the years.

The oaks, all but dead in their place, welcomed the thousands of rolls of toilet paper thrown with loving arms, a needed respite to all the concerned stares from passersby and bitter realization of their fate.

People cheered and sang, and ear-to-ear smiles could be seen on every face you passed. Dads hoisted their children up on their shoulders so the little Tigers had a chance to get their rolls into the trees. Life-long fans flew down or drove for hours to be part of the send-off.

Even Aubie, our beloved mascot, made an appearance to say goodbye to a fellow symbol of the Auburn spirit.

Harvey Updyke, the man who had "too much Bama in me," may have succeeded in killing the trees, but like most malicious acts, he failed in his bigger goal. He didn't crush our spirit; he didn't weaken our resolve. If anything, he may have made us hate Bama more, but the Auburn spirit is about more than trees.

It's the lump that rises in your throat when the eagle flies in pregame ceremonies; it's feeling at home when you're hundreds of miles away and a stranger yells a "War Eagle!" It's what brought more than 83,000 people to a spring scrimmage game.

I'll miss looking to the corner on my way into town and seeing the original oaks, a warm beacon greeting all who pass by. I'll miss rolling actual trees for a while; the soil remains too poisonous to plant anything new.

The oaks may be gone, but their legacy will live on forever in our memories. We will endure this, we will overcome this and we will come back even better because of this. That's what makes Auburn the Loveliest Village on the Plains. That's why I believe in Auburn and love it.

I'll see you at the corner. War Eagle.


Crystal Cole is the Design Editor for the Rockdale News and Covington News. She can be reached at