As I write this, the background of my laptop shows a photograph of a jubilant group of Rebels celebrating a victory at the old Cotton Bowl. They have hoisted both Dexter McCluster and the CB trophy (which are remarkably close in stature) into the air. Powe stands stupefied in the background, staring at the golden football like it’s the last piece of fried catfish at the buffet in the JC. Bradley Sowell reaches up to grab the trophy, his fourth holding penalty of the afternoon. It is a photograph depicting the peak of Ole Miss football in at least a decade.
There will be more scenes like this in the future. We will win games again. We will win more shamelessly entitled corporate-sponsored bowls (Beef O’Brady’s Bowl? Really?) We will have our blocked extra points and Les Miles meltdowns. I will keep writing short, repetitive sentences. But for every trophy lifted, there will be at least threefold the amount of dejecting losses, stupefying letdowns and blown leads. This is life on the lower tier of the SEC. We are not Alabama. We are not Florida. We are not LSU. We are not, as a program, capable of competing for a conference championship year in and year out. This will remain true long after Houston Nutt and even (please God) Pete Boone are gone.Like it or not, losing is engrained in the Ole Miss culture. It is as much of a tradition as the Grove, chanting Hotty Toddy, or drinking bourbon out of a Solo cup. Dex fumbling on the one-yard line to lose to Vandy in ’07 is a part of our history just as the ’77 Notre Dame upset is. It is not confined to the football team either; losing permeates our entire athletic program. The only way our basketball team can go to the NCAA tournament is if they buy tickets, and the diamond Rebs can’t even find Omaha on Google maps. Sure, our Rebels will provide us with occasional thrills and excitement, but inevitably they will let us down. And it is the manner in which they let us down that makes losing such a uniquely Ole Miss experience. The gut-wrenching, logic-defying manner in which we typically lose unfolds like a script written by Steven Spielberg. As in any great cinematic work, these losses are composed of the three-part structure of the rise, the climax, and the fall. Early success leads to inflated hopes (winning the first game of a super regional), which is followed by a climatic tragedy (a 15 yard penalty for Markeith Summers diving into the end zone at LSU), leading to heartbreakingly close defeat (missing the NCAA tourney by a single game for the 200th time in a row).
As a life-long Rebel fan, I have come to accept these losses as almost a badge of honor. Putting up with the failures of our athletic teams has become, for many of us, a warped point of pride. Ole Miss does not have a very strong fan base; for most, the agony of defeat is simply overwhelming. This is why half of our crowd heads to the grove in the third quarter; alcohol and physical detachment is the only way they can cope with it. But for those of us that stay for every excruciating minute, the true fans (and I assume you, reader, as a follower of the Cup, are included in this group), we are among the most loyal followers in the country. It’s easy to head over to Tuscaloosa every other Saturday and cheer for a national title contender. It is a far tougher test of one’s loyalty and fanhood to drag yourself out of bed and drive three hours to Oxford a week after your team has lost to Jacksonville State.
While unprecedented in its exaggeration, yesterday’s loss to Vanderbilt was nothing new. We are, as Ole Miss fans, accustomed to such letdowns. But what makes us some of the best fans in the country is that, despite what was probably the worst loss by our team in at least the last decade, in a week we’ll be right back cheering them on. We’ll set out for the grove or tune in to the pregame (depending on your geographic proximity to God’s Country) at nine o’clock Saturday, before the rest of America’s alarm clocks even go off. We’ll drink Bloody Marry’s (switching over to bourbon and coke at 12:00 on the dot) and take bets on how bad Georgia’s gonna whip our asses. We’ll argue over whether Zach Stoudt, Randall Mackey, or Michael Spurlock should start at QB, and we’ll talk about why in the fucking world was our superstar tailback with a fractured ankle MAKING SPECIAL TEAMS TACKLES IN THE FOURTH QUARTER DOWN 30-0. Then we’ll scream and cheer and swear and sweat for four hours while our Rebs probably get beat. And then we’ll do the whole goddamn thing over again at the next home game. We’ll do it because we’re fans, and we don’t know how to do anything else. We’ll do it, goddammit, because WE ARE OLE MISS.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go put water in Houston Nutt’s mama’s dish.