Thursday, April 21, 2011

Harvey Updyke alleges assault. Has the rivalry gone too far?

IronBowl Yesterday, after a scheduled court appearance in a Lee County Courthouse, Harvey Updyke—the man accused of attempted herbicide in the infamous Toomer’s Corner Tree Massacre—claimed that he had been assaulted at a gas station. Updyke says he stopped to get gas and a drink and suddenly “went black” as he stepped out of his vehicle, possibly losing consciousness. He was later treated and released from the East Alabama Medical Center for minor cuts and bruises on his face.

No suspects have been identified but the smart money is on a perp that wears orange and blue.

The story first came to light when Updyke’s court appointed lawyer, Glennon Threatt, spoke on the air to Paul Finebaum during the regularly scheduled broadcast of the Paul Finebaum Radio Network.

Twitter and teh innerwebs promptly blew up.

The next step was completely predictable—indie bloggers and network sportswriters from everywhere outside the state of Alabama wagged their heads, shook their fingers and tsk’ed tsk’ed over the “shocking” new development and the ferocity of the Iron Bowl Rivalry.

Ladies and gentlemen, please get over yourselves.

The latest freak turn in the Iron Bowl rivalry is just the most recent installment in a Hatfield-McCoy squabble that’s been going on in this state for decades. Do you honestly think this is the first time an avowed Alabama fan was assaulted while in “enemy territory?” Do you honestly think the reverse hasn’t happened? Trust me, it has. It happens a lot.

Here’s the real shocker—it’s not unique to the state of Alabama, and it’s not even unique to sports rivalries in the United States. The savagery in the Giants-Dodgers rivalry isn’t new, either. Giants fan Marc Antenorcruz was shot and killed by Dodger fan Pete Marron on September 19, 2003, and in 2009, a man stabbed his friend in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. In fact, none of what’s transpired here over the last few months even comes close to what’s happened out west and across the pond. The Celtic – Rangers rivalry even includes a religious sectarian twist. Good luck ever getting rid of the bad blood there.

Remember Malice in the Palace, when a Detroit Pistons fan threw a half-full beer at Ron Artest, who promptly led a charge of players into the stands for a brawl against the fans? Remember Dodger Reggie Smith charging into the stands to beat a fan that had thrown something at him? At least the Iron Bowl keeps the players on the field.

There are other intense rivalries in college sports, and I’m sure if you were willing to do the research, you’d find instances of vandalism and violence in long-running rivalries like Michigan – Ohio State, West Virginia – Pitt, Florida – Florida State, Duke – North Carolina and so forth and so on.

Alabama is a small state. The vast majority of Alabama and Auburn fans live, work, play and worship together and for most Alabamians, the Iron Bowl really is just a football game, albeit a very big and very important one for bragging rights and the next season’s wardrobe selection.

Very small fringe elements on both sides of the rivalry are guilty of excesses, but the fact remains that it is a miniscule proportion of the state’s population and the two schools’ fanbases. The proliferation of loosely moderated internet message boards (i.e, the ones not named TideFans.com), Twitter, Facebook and talk radio has put those fringe groups closer together than ever before, and this allows the whole world to give witness to their antics.

These two football programs have accounted for the last two BCS National Championships and the last two Heisman Trophy winners. The last three Iron Bowls have had national championship implications and the 2011 installment probably will, too.

Most Alabamians are proud of those accomplishments.

Y’all jealous, much? With a few notable exceptions, not many of the programs mentioned in the paragraphs above have won anything of significance in years. Florida and Duke have won recent national championships in football and basketball, but when was the last time West Virginia or Michigan mattered in anything?

The attempted herbicide at Toomer’s Corner and the alleged assault of the Dr. Treevorkian in the case are examples of fringe element behavior. The vast majority of both fanbases condemn this kind of activity.

It’s not war. It’s just a big football game in a place where football is a big deal.

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