The fate of the poisoned oak trees near Auburn University at Toomer's Corner in Auburn, Ala., remains uncertain.
University spokesman Mike Clardy said the chances of the tree's survival will be made clearer if there is leaf growth this spring, but added that the condition of the trees has continued to deteriorate.
Alabama fan Harvey Updyke allegedly poisoned the trees after Auburn beat Alabama at the end of the 2010 season. He has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of felony criminal mischief and other charges. His trial is scheduled for March.
This week, a source close to Updyke's case told ESPN.com that Updyke turned down a plea offer from prosecutors that would have required him to spend 13 years in prison and never attend an Alabama sporting event for the rest of his life.
It's tremendously sad to see the status of the oaks at Toomer's continue to decline. When I was there last fall, I only got a tiny glimpse of the power the trees hold and the beauty they contain. What I saw was a mere skeleton of tradition that so many Auburn fans hold so dear.
Even though the trees looked frail, fans came by the bunches to take pictures next to the trees. Some just stood and stared with looks of both disbelief and sorrow. The worst part had to be the feeling that no one could do anything about it.
They were as helpless as the trees themselves.
But what I also noticed were bits of toilet paper tangled in branches and leaves. Even with signs that read "PLEASE DO NOT ROLL TREES" attached to the mini barricades surrounding the oaks, there were tiny shreds of evidence of hope -- hope that maybe the trees would survive and that tradition would continue.
Well, that tradition will go on. The next tree(s) that might occupy Toomer's Corner will have a new look and feel. The roots will grow differently, and branches will have dissimilar twists in them. But the mere presence of a healthy tree -- or trees -- looking down on those draped in blue-and-orange will no doubt bring back that warm feeling of what things used to be like.
While it won't bring the original trees back, it will help bring a little closure to what has been an extremely unfortunate situation for the Auburn family.