AUBURN, AL (RNN) – If it was a prank, it went too far.
A man accused of trying to poison Auburn University's storied 130-year-old oak trees, where students and alumni gather to celebrate victories and mourn losses, was arrested in the wee hours Thursday morning, charged with criminal mischief in the first degree.
Authorities said they believe Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr., 62, of Dadeville, AL, acted alone in attempting to poison the trees. Updyke, a retired Texas State Trooper, made his first court appearance Thursday.
The charges against him could be upgraded as more evidence becomes available.
"This is good news for the campus and community, especially since we delayed announcing the bad news about the trees for a few days to protect the investigation that was in progress," Auburn University President Jay Gogue said in a statement posted on the university's website.
On Wednesday, the university confirmed that the oaks in Toomer's Corner - where fans congregate after football games roll the trees with toilet paper - were poisoned by a powerful herbicide some time in the late fall.
The trees are unlikely to survive, Auburn University horticulturist Stephen Enloe said during a news briefing Thursday.
The poison, called Spike 80DF, is commonly used to remove trees along fence lines or right of ways and kills all vegetation in its path.
"[The poison] is very effective at what it does," Enloe said, "and that is to kill plants."
A man who identified himself as "Al" from Dadeville called "The Paul Finebaum Show" on Jan. 27 and said he had poisoned the oaks in retaliation for perceived slights by Auburn fans over the years. When asked by Finebaum if what he did was illegal, the man said, "Do you think I care?"
He ended the call with, "Roll Damn Tide!," a reference to rival school University of Alabama's battle cry.
It is too early to know for sure if the trees will survive the poisoning. The chemical has a half-life of 12 to 18 months, and could still be working in the soil for five to seven years after initial application.
The university said it is doing all it can to save the trees, including accepting advice and offers of help that have poured in from across the country.
While Updyke's deed - if he is found guilty of attempting to kill the trees - goes well beyond a good-natured prank, he wouldn't be the first to think it was a good idea to exact some sort of revenge on a rival team and their treasured traditions.
The University of Alabama, however, is not taking any chances. The university has signs posted around bronze statues of famous football coaches that remind passersby that the area is being monitored by surveillance cameras.
Here are some of the more well known pranks that have been pulled over the years:
It's a wrap
The rivalry between UCLA and the University of Southern California (USC) has been dubbed the "Battle of L.A." and is considered one of the biggest rivalries in college football history.
The campuses are only separated by 12 miles, which means daily interaction with opposing fans increases the intensity of the rivalry.
Common pranks during the team's rivalry week have led USC to completely encase its "Tommy Trojan" statue in bubble wrap and duct tape to deter UCLA fans from dousing it in blue and gold paint.
UCLA regularly hides their Bruin statue and displays a sign that says, "BRUIN BEAR IS HIBERNATING, BEAT SC."
The Trojan has been defaced so many times that USC replaced the original bronze sword with a wooden one to cut replacement costs. That didn't stop UCLA from removing and welding the statue's arm in such a way that he stabbed himself in the back.
The televised prank is considered to this day one of the best-pulled at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA.
Millions were watching the game featuring the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Washington Huskies. The set-up and execution was planned to perfection.
Washington fans in certain sections were given instruction to flip colored cards in unison at an appointed time. When the cards were flipped, they spelled "Caltech," the name of a small, nearby technical college.
A recent version of this prank occurred in 2004 during the Ivy League rivalry of Harvard and Yale.
A group of Yale students dressed up as a Harvard Prep Squad infiltrated the Harvard fan section and convinced them to hold up colored cards that they said spelled out "Go Harvard!"
However, when the cards were held up in unison, they spelled "WE SUCK" in Harvard's crimson letters.
One of the oldest and continuous pranks began in 1896 and involved Auburn University getting the best of rival Georgia Tech.
The night before the rivalry game, Auburn students greased the rails of the train track that went from Georgia Tech to Auburn.
The next day, the train carrying the Georgia Tech football team was unable to stop at the Auburn station and continued until it was halfway to the next town.
The Georgia Tech football team was forced to walk 5 miles back to the Auburn campus, where they were beaten by the Tigers 45-0.
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