Rebel brothers and sisters,
It is difficult to contain my excitement. As dawn breaks on another year of Rebels football, I am at odds with myself. Some may think that I keep myself up at night, plagued by bad dreams concerning bull rushes right through the middle of our offensive line. Others may believe that an inexperienced secondary or slim numbers at receiver cause me discomfort. These fears, while not unfounded, are not the crux of my message today.
I am desperately trying to temper my enthusiasm. I say to myself that we will take our lumps this year, then I come home and read that our quarterback situation is light years ahead of where I thought we might be when Jevan Snead announced his intention to play professional football. Say what you want about this kid, we won 18 games in two years with him under center. We have only won 18 or more games in a two year span 7 times in the entire history of Ole Miss Football. We have only won 9 or more games in 18 seasons, total. As a side note, I hope he gets picked up by a team, performs well, and gets paid. Dollar, dollar bills y’all.
The signs are there; unmistakable even. Over the past few years, we have received lavish praise; affirmation upon affirmation that both Oxford and our beloved University can be counted among the best of what American college life has to offer. While we have known this since our own times there, times are a changin’ at Ole Miss. From being named a Best Value University, hosting a Presidential debate, to making a real effort to build prestigious academic programs; good things are happening in God’s country.
Vincent Van Gogh said that excellence does not happen on a whim, it is the summation of many smaller parts coming together.
There is a great many of these smaller parts going on at our fair university. One thing that I have noticed more and more is that our students and administration are taking positive steps towards being a proactive and creative entity. Even the Jai Ho video in the student union dining area is indicative of positive, forward thinking students. Those of you who are not of Generation Y may not see the importance of this, but, if you will; in my own humble opinion these types of viral video demonstrations will become the advertising mechanisms of the future, and I for one was glad to see this happening on the hallowed grounds of our University. In fact, it is the number one You Tube search when you type in “Ole Miss”. The video has more than 750,000 hits... Care to venture a guess how many have seen the best videos of our football highlights? About 60,000 views, belonging to Travis Johnson and his pick six of Matt Mauck in the opening minutes of the LSU game in 2003. The most viewed video that has anything to do with Ole Miss is when Brian Walker feigned getting hit by a Brett Bukvich pitch. Sorry Brian, Brett had a great career with the Diamond Rebs, and he was a great representative for our University; but Nuke LaLoosh he was not.
Getting back to the suppression of my positive thinking, the article that Steve Duin wrote about Jeremiah Masoli’s chance at redemption in Oxford is my main inspiration for this missive. I have linked it below for anyone who missed it, it’s worth the read. I had no idea that James Meredith’s son graduated at the top of his class in the business schools PhD program, but that is awesome. Congratulations to Mr. Meredith and his family. This is the kind of thing that our proud country is based upon. No matter our checkered past, it is moments like those that make me proud to be an American.
Our university has made great strides the last decade. We have resurrected our football program from a death knell handed down by the NCAA. We have built a premier baseball program. We have begun building a good basketball program. Our others sports teams outside of the big three have also improved. We have built the facilities we need to continue our growth, both in sports and in academics. Enrollment has been on the rise. We have received hearty acclamation for the McDonnell/Barksdale Honors College, and we have witnessed our national esteem flourishing in the perception of many across the country. Look over the message boards, and pay no heed to the detractors and complainers. Read the messages that people post about meeting fellow Rebels all over the country. Read the messages about people running into others who have heard of Oxford’s charms. Read the messages about our Alumni base growing, and fundraising programs experiencing heretofore unmatched success. Read about our coach’s growing excitement for the direction of their programs.
I have had the great opportunity to do a fair bit of traveling so far in my life. Oxford and Ole Miss are special places. I am biased, obviously; but rightly so I think. There are few places where I would rather be, and fewer places still that invoke such positive memories and passions in my life. What is going on right now could grow into a full-fledged renaissance of sorts for our little town in North Mississippi. I am a native Alabamian, but I find that I identify more with Mississippi as a result of my time at Ole Miss. We already know that our University is special. We have an ever burgeoning opportunity to show that to everyone else. Everyone I have brought to Oxford from Washington, DC has fallen in love with the town and the University. They are astounded by its rich history and tradition. They are captivated by its beauty and accessibility, and surprised to hear of its contributions to literature and music. We need not worry about Oxford.
On gridiron, we could find ourselves on the cusp of a new high-water mark in Ole Miss Athletics if some things bounce our way this year. I am glad that our first five games will allow some time to get some solid game experience before taking on the Crimson Tide. I am worried about center. This is a guy who touches the ball on every play. He touches it more than the quarterback. Good exchanges are vitally important. Fumbling snaps makes it a lot easier on the defense. I don’t know if our DL will be the pass rushing terrorists some are expecting. I think we may not see a 100 yard rusher against them all season. I think our pressure on QB will be sufficient, but I don’t know if we’ll see Playstation like seasons in the sack department, though I hope I am wrong here. Aside from the DL, we are a pretty young team. This year is the pivot point of Coach Nutt’s next 5-6 years. If we go out and win eight games or more, I think we can pull in a great class and build a really great football team over the next several seasons, perhaps even one that can challenge for conference championships. If we go out and finish 5-7 or God forbid it, 4-8, we may just sink back into obscurity. The pieces are there. Can we put it all together?
I am glad that our team suits up in only 8 days. I look forward to most of our fan base putting away their sticks and stones and becoming collective in support of Rebel Football victories this Fall. We have been picked last in our division by many of the preseason prognostication publications. I think this team is going to show them that their predictions were misconceived.
Pre-season football is a funny thing. All over the country, fan bases debate endlessly about their chances in the upcoming season; hundreds of confident teams heading into the season on level ground with all the rest. It’s an exciting time. For the football fan, this time of year is as full of hope and renewal as the brightest Spring morning. I feel bad for those who are dispirited at the end of summer.
It is easy to get caught up in the growing excitement. It is the refocusing; the culmination of all of the offseason energies spent discussing recruiting, the NLF draft, uniforms, coaching changes, players getting rowdy, mascots, players leaving the program, The Grove, recruiting, spring practices, compliance issues, mascots, athletics directors, summertime movies, mascots, restaurants, photo caption contests, keeping up with our baseball players, recruiting, and mascots. Teams and their fans get prepared for the upcoming campaigns, anxious to reap the rewards of their offseason labors. One thing we cannot dispute on our fair message board is the difficult path we have in front of us. We play in the deepest division in the best conference in the nation. Our road to glory will never be easy. Can we summit the mountain? Can be we tame the beast(s)? Yes. What’s that you say? Give me one reason why you think that way? One reason: The New Orleans Saints won the Superbowl this year. If the New Orleans Saints can win it all, that is verifiable proof that every once in a while, the Sports Gods show their benevolent side to the long awaiting hopeful.
In the meantime, I wish our young athletes the very best this year. This can be a big year. We may one day look back on this year as the one that help usher in an age of new prosperity for the Ole Miss Rebels. We have to keep this momentum going.
I leave with one question to ponder.
Are you ready?
Hotty Toddy Rebels