Provincialsim: It's Always Been Part of Their Schtick


With the Egg Bowl upon us - and the Hate Week thread still to come - it is our suggestion that you follow "Mr. Freezy" Kyle Veazey (seriously, if he had no hair and was painted blue, he'd be a dead ringer for this Batman villain).  I am, and that's how I ran across this 1991 masterpiece from Sports Illustrated by Ed Hinton entitled "The Dixie Cup," which suggests that when it comes to Mississippi State coaches, the tune never really changes.

Whether its "Mississippi" or "TSUN," taking a look back at Hinton's piece from 1991, shows that the tune of Mississippi State, their coaches, and their fan base hasn't changed much in the last twenty years.

Hinton writes about the personality clashes of these teams:

Ole Miss is the last bastion of the traditions of the old Southern gentry. Its teams are nicknamed Rebels; its fans still wave Confederate flags despite official disavowal of the symbol by the university and its alumni association; its marching band still plays Dixie.
It opened in 1880 as Mississippi A&M but quickly acquired a popular nickname: People's College. No vestiges of class structure, such as those that prevailed at Ole Miss, were allowed at what would become Mississippi State.
Though the symbols of the "Southern" in our gentry are slowly fading, they have not taken with them the footprint of foundational class conflict.  With our without Confederate flags, there is still the personality difference that skirts beneath our dividing lines - "culture" and "agriculture."  We extol our leaders of music, politics, and literature; this makes us "blue bloods." 
Today, the lines of class are artificially highlighted by Dan Mullen.  Back in February, Ghost alluded to this tactic of social persuasion that Maroons have been employing for a while, in his piece "Did Dan Mullen Really Win an Instate Recruiting Battle."  There, Ghost addressed Mullen's touting of his recruiting class that hailed, largely, from our native Magnolia State.  It, he concluded, was little more than a clever public relations move:
Fans of The School From Which Cardinal Directions Apparently Originate, in a uniquely Ole Miss-ian provincialism, have convinced themselves that bringing in sought-after talent from points beyond Mississippi's borders is somehow an inferior process to seeking out unheralded and otherwise unnoticeable talent from within the same.

...

Coach Dan Mullen is . . . telling his fans exactly what they want to hear.  He's bringing in the good ol' Mississippi folk to play hard-working, honest boy ball, right here in the Magnolia State . . . .  He's touting a victory-ish in a poor recruiting tactic and preparing his team to play hard in what is literally the only  football game that mattes in Starkville.  He is succeeding at both, and laughing his ass off all the way to the First Bank of Oktibbeha County.

It's, actually, a fun dichotomy, if not always accurate, because it gives each fan base a source of pride and oppositional ridiculte that goes beyond that results on the field.  Fans of Ole Miss are not "truly Mississippian," as evidenced by their non-native recruits and/or bourgeois heritage.  This is why "TSUN" is a passionate rallying cry for State fans; it is a way of calling us "outsiders."  The irony of a man from New Hampshire levying that charge is hilarious to some of the Red and Blue and infuriating to others.  Rebel fans, meanwhile, can relish this charge of elitism.  When one person says to another, "You just think you're better than me," it is, usually, true in some sense.  It is from this sensibility that our pride in the Grove, gameday attire, and superior-looking women springs.

The tune, however, was more harsh (but from the same songbook) in 1991, when Jackie Sherrill, who made his career coaching at Pittsburgh and Texas A & M, used Oxford's social and class reputations against it, saying with historical inaccuracy, "When the National Guard was on the doorsteps of [the universities of] Alabama and Mississippi, black students were being admitted here."  Of course, Mississippi State integrated three years after Ole Miss.  It made Willie Morris, the close friend of Billy Brewer, sick then, and it gives me a fesh distaste for Sherrill now. 

Sherrill, like his successor, famously would not say "Ole Miss."  These subtle jabs - today they are "Many Happy Returns" or "From Dixon with Love" - served then, as they do today, to unify State fans in their opposition to Ole Miss.  For some Ole Miss fans, more animosity exists toward State's coaches and their rhetorical flair than toward the school itself.  It is much easier to hate Sherrill than it is to hate State.  Mullen's antics, similarly, tap into the sense that Ole Miss is, somehow, a symbol of those in Mississippi who "wear their britches a bit high," though to Mullen's credit, there is no reason to accuse him of using racial fear as a recruiting technique.  Hopefully that chapter is behind most of us.

The Battle for the Golden Egg is a football rivalry that is a symbol of a larger social storyline of the State.  For most fans, the storyline has some truth to it but is not reflective of any real, deep conflict - like when Ghost charges that I am not funny.  Other fans spend half their lives commenting on Clarion-Ledger articles.  Ole Miss sees itself as a symbol of Mississippi's rich cultrual history, while Mississippi State sees itself as a symbol of Mississippi's common man, who have their own damn culture, thank you. 

Personally, both these representations of Mississippi's personality make me proud.  But I have made my camp with the red and blue.  So, on Saturday, I will be sporting a sweater vest, and I think I will bring my pipe with me (I'll have the corn cob version for any commoners).  You might hear me refer to the weekend as "An Exhibition of the Lifestyles of the Landed Gentry," as I sample fine spirits and cheeses.  Nothing says "elitism" like "Ivory Tower."  And while the Junction is quiet and serene, the Grove will be bustling with the movers-and-shakers, the mansion-owning money-makers, who listen to public radio and speak with authority concerning Faulkner, fine wine, and Fiji.

 Now, if we can just find one of them to buy out Tyrone.

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