Hell hath no fury like a politician spurned.
That's what Robert E. "Bobby" Lowder, chairman and chief executive of Montgomery, Ala.-based Colonial BancGroup, discovered when he supported the loser in the state's 1994 gubernatorial race.
Last week, the victor, Gov. Fob James, dismissed Mr. Lowder as a trustee of Auburn University and replaced him with a political ally.
But in ousting Mr. Lowder, the Republican governor was taking more than a prominent banker - he was taking on a local legend.
The Colonial executive is revered in Alabama for his tireless support of Auburn's football team, the Tigers. His dismissal from the university board swiftly ignited spirited discussion in newspapers and on sports radio in the state.
"When you mess with Bobby Lowder," wrote Kevin Scarbinsky, a columnist with the Birmingham News, "you mess with Auburn football." And that, he averred, amounts to challenging "the real meaning of life in this state."
The day following his dismissal from Auburn's board, Mr. Lowder marched into state court and sued for reinstatement on the grounds that the governor had violated a provision in the state constitution requiring Auburn trustees be confirmed by the Senate.
"I think it's very important that I take a stand," Mr. Lowder declared in a telephone interview Monday.
His case is currently pending in state circuit court in Montgomery.
During his 12 years on the university board, Mr. Lowder, according to several supporters including Mr. Scarbinsky, played a major role in the hiring of football coach Pat Dye, who took the Auburn Tigers to three consecutive Southeastern Conference championships.
As chairman of the board's athletic committee, Mr. Lowder - a graduate of Auburn's class of 1964 - also promoted a $15 million expansion of the university stadium.
In defense of Mr. Lowder, Auburn alumni have written angry letters to newspapers and made their views known on talk radio. Current Auburn Tigers coach Terry Bowden, citing a "very close relationship" with Mr. Lowder, told the Associated Press he was "frightened" and "shocked" by the dismissal.
Mr. Lowder's troubles began earlier this year when Gov. James moved to replace three members of the university board, including Mr. Lowder, whose terms had expired. Gov. James also has strong ties to the Auburn football program, having been a star halfback in the mid-1950s.
Amendment 161 of the Alabama Code gives the governor authority to appoint replacements "with the advice and consent of the Senate."
To replace Mr. Lowder, Gov. James submitted the name of insurance executive Phil Richardson, whose company had contributed $100,000 to the governor's re-election campaign in 1994.
Although technically eligible for reappointment, Mr. Lowder had supported Gov. James' Democratic opponent, Jim Folsom. A political action committee associated with Colonial, the state's fifth largest bank, contributed $25,000 to Mr. Folsom's effort.
"If you were governor and were faced with the choice of appointing a guy who had supported your opponent or a guy who had supported you, who would you appoint?" asked Alfred Sawyer, a spokesman for Gov. James.
A committee of the state Senate approved Gov. James' appointments during this year's legislative session. But somehow the bill never made it to the Senate floor for a final vote.
On Monday, June 3, Gov. James arrived at the monthly board meeting with an entourage of legal advisers, state troopers, and two of his board appointees, including Mr. Richardson.
As soon as the meeting was called to order, according to several press accounts, Gov. James announced that the state attorney general had issued an advisory opinion giving him authority to replace Mr. Lowder and Huntsville attorney Jim Tatum, the two board members who were resisting dismissal.
Without saying a word, Mr. Lowder gathered up the material on the table in front of him and walked out of the room. Mr. Tatum stayed behind to tell the governor what he thought about his behavior - reportedly likening it to residue found on the floor of a hen house.
Mr. Lowder and Mr. Tatum appeared together the next day to file their lawsuit in circuit court in Montgomery.
"Under our constitution, Bobby is still a member of the board," said John C.H. Miller Jr., Mr. Lowder's attorney in Mobile.