The trees of Toomer's Corner are dying one limb at a time and the spirit of a proud football program isn't doing too good itself.
A deranged Bama fan brags that he poisoned those magnificent oaks on the corner of Auburn's campus, but he can't take credit for the condition of a football team that crawls into Homecoming weekend with a 1-7 record and nary a victory in the unforgiving Southeastern Conference.
Trees that once were healthy and dignified are skeletons. Caretakers cut them back in the spring but what was called pruning was really a violent rape. For 80 years there were limbs; now there are stumps. Limbs once decorated with leaves are bare.
For decades that corner has been a rallying spot for Auburn faithful. I had seen photographs of the destruction, but I visited the trees Thursday to see for myself and up close the results are worse than expected.
Every living thing is dying, but this is different. As ESPN's Wright Thompson wrote in a memorable article, "the oaks at Toomer's Corner are starving to death."
Even in this condition, school officials promised fans they could roll the trees with toilet paper after every Auburn victory in 2012, but the scoreboard hasn't cooperated. Saturday is Homecoming and the opponent is 1-7 New Mexico State, but the town doesn't seem hopeful.
No signs taunt the Aggies or tout the Tigers and, across College Street from the trees, few customers are buying memorabilia at J&M Bookstore. You wouldn't know a football game was 48 hours away.
"People aren't pumped up about the football team," admits Michael Overstreet, the manager of Toomer's Drug Store, an Auburn landmark since 1892. "It can't help but affect the town. When it's down, the morale of the city is down."
Local media is chirping.
Wareaglereader.com posted a photo of a fan dressed up for Halloween as Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, complete with his unattractive mustache.
"Absolutely terrifying to Auburn fans but sadly not to anyone else," a commenter observed.
Rachel Morand, editor of the Auburn Villager, said immediate action is demanded and expected: "Auburn fans will undoubtedly be demanding repercussions for this year's losing season."
An editorial in the student-run Auburn Plainsman said it was time to admit there was a problem: "We want to live in a fantasy world where all we have to do is blindly believe in our team and they will win. We want to be positive and shrug off these losses. But the reality is we need to make
some serious changes in our team."
Like the trees, Auburn fans cling to life. Like Overstreet, they believe Auburn will always be Auburn.
"It's still the best place in Alabama," he said.
Better than that other town, where the football team is No. 1?
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.