Same Ole Miss, Same Ole Mess
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…" – Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)
Sure, it’s a bit cliché, but one would be hard pressed to successfully nominate truer language to describe the excruciating existence of the Ole Miss fan and the deep range of conflicting emotions that infinitely encompasses his feelings toward this place from which one never graduates.
Dickens’ famous introduction certainly fits the 2009 football season for the Rebels. The season, however, never seems to change. The story I saw unfold on Pat Dye Field Saturday was a microcosm of the 2009 season, the season being a microcosm of Ole Miss football which is, of course, a microcosm of Ole Miss in the most general sense.
I love Ole Miss. This, the most reliable sources of consistent disappointment in my life, I love. I love topping that last hill on Hwy. 6 and catching that first glimpse of urban sprawl that has become West Oxford. I love turning down South Lamar and passing all the perfect houses with perfect yards and perfect picket fences leading the way to the center of the universe also known as the Oxford square. I love mixing my first bloody mary or mimosa on a crisp fall morning in the Grove. I love hearing students exclaim their desire for LSU to burn in hell when the opponent is actually Auburn. I love seeing old friends and drinking and dancing away our sorrows from the latest football failure. I love meeting out-of-towners who’ve traveled from New York, California and everywhere in between to experience Oxford and the Grove. I love the sense of pride I feel when they continually tell us how lucky we are. I love never losing the party.
"I hate us." - Me
I hate us. Those were my parting words as I escaped section 30 of Jordan-Hare Stadium immediately after what would prove to be the Tigers’ final offensive score of the day and, of course, minutes before young Jesse Grandy took the ensuing kickoff back for the Rebels’ first points since their game-opening touchdown drive. It wasn’t the first time I’ve uttered those words. Every monumental disappointment, gut-wrenching loss and epic failure destroys a small piece of my spirit. From the annual choke jobs in the baseball Super Regionals to Bryce Drew cementing his name in NCAA Basketball Tournament history to Eli tripping on fourth down against LSU in 2003, my hate grows with each passing year.
"It’s just a game." – Opposing Fan
Standing quietly in a bar on College Street, I appraise the scene before me, the young men and women of Auburn University, costumed for Halloween, dancing, celebrating an unexpected victory on the gridiron. A good friend and proud graduate of Auburn hands me a beer, slaps me on the back and reminds me "It’s just a game."
If only it were "just a game". I appreciate the gesture but part of me wants to respond with an unleashing of obscenities and blasphemy never before heard on the plains of southeast Alabama, born out of frustration and disappointment – the always reliable fruits of Rebel fandom. But he wouldn’t understand. How could he? Why should he?
Few fan bases in America can truly understand the mantra "We Are. Ole Miss." Chicago Cubs followers come close. Like the Rebel faithful, Cubs fans have seen decades of dedication produce nothing more than decades of dashed hopes and dreams. Even they could never truly feel our pain, though. There exists in college athletics a connection that runs far deeper than anything a professional sports team can produce. We’re more emotionally invested in every aspect of not only the team but the institution as a whole. And Cubs fans only suffer during baseball season. For the Red and Blue it’s a year-round phenomenon that envelopes every sport and every facet of the school. There is no escape.
"Man is the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes." – Mahatma Gandhi
Has Ole Miss become a victim of its own pessimistic conditioning? Ole Miss fans have mastered the art of expecting the worst. No matter the circumstances, we remain in a perpetual state of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Only at Ole Miss would a significant number of people have serious doubts about hosting a presidential debate due to fear of an embarrassing incident or impending disaster.
For most of the last 40 years, the cause of our athletic woes can be easily attributed to the complete lack of regard and support by the administration. Be it stagnant coaches’ salaries, lack of facility upgrades or archaic traditions, Ole Miss held itself back throughout the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. From the mid-90’s to the present, though, there has clearly been a renewed commitment to make the University competitive in every way, shape and form, both in the classroom and in the stadium. But to what avail? "The curse" – as many refer to it – remains alive and well. And so, we in the Ole Miss family grow increasingly jaded, pessimistic and hopeless. Maybe Ghandi’s right. Maybe we really are the product of our thoughts.
"Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away." – Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)
Sunday mornings. They’re especially unkind to Ole Miss fans. I’m not sure there’s anything in the material world more depressing than waking up on Sunday with an Ole Miss Football hangover. There is no hair of the dog cure waiting in the fridge. Sunday brunch helps to ease the pain but only provides temporary relief.
The moment I awaken and convince myself it was not just a horrible dream and it is not Saturday morning, my mind explodes with an array of questions. How and why has Jevan Snead, Ole Miss Quarterback and dark horse Heisman candidate, morphed into the poor man’s Michael Spurlock? How and why do our receivers continue to volley the football into the waiting arms of always alert defensive backs? Why were we ever ranked in the top five anyway? How the hell did I allow myself to be, once again, sucked in by the sirens of a promising Ole Miss athletic team? Of course, there are no answers.
Many in the Ole Miss family have proposed that we are simply paying the debt of our fathers, a debt accrued in one lump sum on a muggy (I’m guessing it was humid) October night in 1962. But, if this is all true, why have we not satisfied the balance after four decades? Apparently, Archie’s broken arm was just one of those mysterious finance charges. And, I suppose, the student body is running up late fees and interest rates with their "The South Will Rise Again!" shenanigans.
And, so, like a weekly semi-religious ritual, the events of Saturday are typically blurred and softened by the haze of bourbon, beer and other mind-altering poisons. On Sunday morning, though, reality rears its ugly head – a reality faced at one time or another by every Rebel who’s given their heart and soul to Ole Miss in the last 40 or so years. Ole Miss is cursed. Now, pass the Maker’s Mark.