Damage to Howard's Rock is a crime

Didn't Harvey Updyke teach us anything?

Three days after Updyke was released from an Alabama prison, where he served six months for poisoning the iconic trees at Toomer's Corner near the Auburn campus, Clemson officials discovered that vandals removed about 15 percent of Howard's Rock, another of college football's greatest traditions.

Howard's Rock, which has sat on a pedestal at the top of a hill above the east end zone of Clemson's Death Valley since 1966, was vandalized on June 2 or 3, according to a report obtained from the Clemson University Police Department. Police said the plastic protective cover that fits over the rock was sitting on the ground near a stadium gate. Although police were able to get a partial print off the pedestal, they've yet to name a suspect or make an arrest. Police estimated the damage to be about $500.

Most Clemson fans, of course, believe the culprits are probably fans of rival South Carolina. For sure, the damage might have been much worse. At least you can't poison a rock.

Hey, I'm all for school spirit and good, old-fashioned college pranks. They're as much a part of the game as tailgating and bowl games.

But let's leave the destruction on the field. Pranks are fun; vandalism is a crime.

Ask Updyke, a die-hard Alabama fan and former Texas state trooper, if he regrets poisoning Auburn's trees. Updyke's family says he lost nearly 70 pounds while he was imprisoned and locked up 22 hours a day. He'll be on probation for the next five years, which includes a 7 p.m. curfew, a ban from attending college sporting events, as well as a ban from stepping foot on Auburn's campus. Auburn officials also are seeking more than $1 million in restitution.

Of course, embarrassing your rivals is nothing new in college football. It's a tradition that's been around for more than a century. In 1896, Auburn students greased railroad tracks in anticipation of the Georgia Tech football team's arrival from Atlanta. The prank worked, as Tech's train slid an extra five miles down the track. The Yellow Jackets had to walk about five miles to the stadium, where they were walloped 45-0.

Mascots have often been the victims. Texas acquired its live mascot -- a longhorn -- in 1916. Four Texas A&M students located the steer in an Austin stockyard and branded it with "13-0," the score of the Aggies' victory over Texas the previous season. Texas officials later decided to barbecue the steer because of the wartime costs in keeping it, and the Aggies were presented with a 13-0 hide.

In 1998, a group of five California students -- who called themselves Mr. Black, Mr. Green, Mr. Orange, Mr. White and Mr. Yellow -- kidnapped the Stanford tree mascot. The Cal students paraded their hostage in front of cameras blindfolded, and even released letters supposedly written by the tree, saying how wonderful life was away from the Stanford campus. When school officials and police threatened the students with serious charges, the tree was returned to Stanford, where it was shredded at halftime of the "Big Game" because of contamination.

Just last year, Navy's "Bill the Goat" was kidnapped from a Maryland farm where he lives and was later found attached to a median near the Pentagon. Army cadets never took credit, but the prank occurred a week before the Army-Navy game.

Some pranks have been less obvious. When Oklahoma State renovated Boone Pickens Stadium in 2004, a brick mason, who was apparently an Oklahoma football fan, used darker bricks to spell out "OU" in the stadium's wall. OSU officials didn't find out about the prank until photographs began to surface on the Internet a few months later. The bricklayer was fired, and the subcontractor had to pay for the costs of staining the bricks.

Caltech, MIT and Yale are mostly known for their academics, but their student bodies pulled off three of the most memorable pranks in the sport's history. At the 1961 Rose Bowl, played between Minnesota and Washington, Cal Tech students broke into the Huskies cheerleaders' locker room and replaced the flip cards that fans were instructed to use at halftime. When fans turned the cards on national TV, viewers saw a beaver (Caltech's mascot) and the word "Caltech." In 1984, Caltech students hacked into the Rose Bowl's scoreboard and made it read, "Cal Tech 38, MIT 9."

In 2004, a group of Yale students posed as the fictitious Harvard pep squad and passed out flip cards to unknowing Crimson fans in the stands. When the "pep squad" instructed Harvard fans to flip their cards, the cards read, "we suck." Yale fans serenaded their rivals with chants of "You suck! You suck!"

MIT's student body has been so good at pulling off pranks that they refer to them as "hacks." Before the 1982 Harvard-Yale game, MIT students snuck into Harvard Stadium at least eight times and planted a hydraulic balloon under the field. The balloon, which had MIT written on its sides, was wired into an electrical grid under the field. The black balloon ascended from the ground, floated over the field and then exploded.

Leave it to the smart guys to pull off the best pranks.