"I don't want to step foot in that fucking bar again."
That's what I thought.
"Yeah, that place is kinda out of the way for me now."
That's what I said.
We were at happy hour at a DC bar whose collection of whiskeys is stored and categorized literally as a library categorizes its books. It was one of those types of bars you love for its Mad Man-esque ambiance and pretension until you close your tab and remember why it is you'd rather drink at home. Unable to decide upon a bourbon, and learning that drafts were $2 off until 7:30, I ordered a beer. Being careful, I slowly sipped some Austrian dunkel doppelbock. The beer was rather forgettable. I should have gotten whiskey.
As conversations of which I am a part tend to trend, Ole Miss football was our topic. Specifically, we were discussing possible places for Ole Miss fans to gather in DC on gamedays for aptly and uncleverly named "watch parties."
The bars which we had grown accustomed too were either inconvenient or far too small for the growing Rebel contingency in the District. One such bar is a dimly-lit yet somehow spacious sports bar in one of the frattier areas of Northwest DC, a neighborhood that is a Southern enclave of sorts, where SEC alumni move into English basement apartments to extend their college lifestyle a bit longer before settling down and raising kids in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. I lived in this neighborhood for two years.
With the Ole Miss watch party bar mere blocks from my house, I had invited friends over to eat, drink, and revel both before and after Ole Miss' presumed victory over Jacksonville State in 2010. Before the game, all was well. We were stupid, happy, delusional, immature Ole Miss fans. We were enjoying homemade biscuits and gravy and washing it down with Maker's Mark-laced coffee. We watched College Gameday and rattled the house's 80-year-old windows with "From Dixie with Love." From there, the dozen-or-so of us walked to the bar, ordered pitchers, and settled down for what was sure to be an enjoyable afternoon of football. We'd watch Ole Miss trounce the FCS Gamecocks and make small talk with our Rebel compatriots before ambling back to my house to finish where we had left off.
Of course, It didn't go down like that. We all know what happened, and we all know how I reacted online. And I must confess that, offline, I was just as bad. I was vulgar and mean. I probably didn't tip my bartender. I probably left a beer unfinished. I was very much out of character. I was so blinded by my own anger and embarrassment that I do not remember precisely what I did or said, but it wasn't becoming of me, and to this day I still regret it.
Perhaps an extension of my own regret and self loathing, I taught myself to hate that bar. That wannabe Library, that "hey we're all young professionals but let's live like we're 19 again" watering hole, with wood paneling and poorly hung mirrored beer signs accenting the linoleum floors, whose DJ's playlist consisted of Ying Yang Twins and Miley Cyrus - that place is forever ruined. For the aforementioned reasons, it used to be one of my favorite bars in the city. It lacked pretension (its clientele didn't - key distinction) and allowed for a childish atmosphere, ideal for 20-somethings struggling with the realities of professional adult life. But now, it's the bar in which I watched Houston Nutt yank his pants down and shit in the punch bowl of what was a pretty good party. His public dismantling of the Ole Miss Rebel football program began that afternoon, and with it went my temporary sanity and sense of decency.
The post-game celebration was, predictably, cancelled.
I thought about quitting blogging at that point. "I'm going to dedicate my time, energy, money, emotions, and acumen towards something which, at the very least, gives as much back to me as I put into it." I wrote that three years ago. (Interestingly enough, one of our SB Nation comrades who covers LSU talked me down from the ledge. Thanks, LSU fan.) I was tired, angry, embarrassed, and downright ashamed of myself for becoming so emotionally invested in something so damned trivial and inconsequential as a game played by complete strangers who just so happen to attend a university from which I graduated. I kept asking myself "why?"
"Why do I care so much? Why do I get so emotional, win or lose? Why is this a major component of my identity?"
Back at the DC happy hour, I explain my position more thoroughly.
"You know, I live on the Hill, and there are plenty of bars near me that are great, and a friend's going to have Ole Miss folks over to his house to watch anyway." I'm thinking, "Ole Miss broke my heart in that bar. I'm not going in there. I'm not recreating that scene."
"I'd definitely rather do that then spend $40 on round-trip cab fare... Oh, anybody need another drink?"
More drinks were purchased.
"So do you think Ole Miss is gonna win against Vandy?" I always get asked these types of questions when I'm with this group of people. I don't mind it at all; I like that I can be somebody's go-to for Rebel insight.
I shrugged my shoulders. "I hope so. I really do." I try not to let on that I care too much. Of course my company knows better. They know that it's all I've been able to think about for months. They also know that, post Jacksonville State, post Houston Nutt, that I've changed a lot as a fan. Never again will an Ole Miss game ever truly inspire the blind confidence in me that an opening date against Jacksonville State should have. Then again, never will one truly devastate me as that one did.
The closest I've come to that level of depravity since that afternoon was, naturally, against Vanderbilt last season. I was watching the game at a friend's house. He's a Vanderbilt alumnus, who invited a cadre of Vanderbilt alumni over to watch. I was one of two Ole Miss alumni at this party. They were pretty cool about the last-second win, doing me the favor of tempering their excitement, something which I surely would not have done had the shoe been on the other foot. I had convinced myself that the season was over at that point. The Rebs would fall to LSU and State, miss bowl eligibility, and probably leave Hugh Freeze with a more difficult rebuilding job than we had hoped for. I wound up taking the long walk home, reflecting on what could have been, stopping in a dive on the way for a late night burger and fries.
No childish outbursts. No blind rage. Just abject disappointment. My Rebels had let me down again, and here I was kicking myself for being so foolish as to expect anything else.
(Thankfully, my prediction would not come true. The Rebs won the Egg Bowl, earned bowl eligibility, won the BBVA Compass Bowl, and parlayed that success into the most celebrated recruiting class in Ole Miss football history. Thank you, Donte Moncrief!)
"You know, if the Rebs can force some turnovers and execute in the red zone, they should win easily. That was the problem last season, you know, poor red zone play. Can't settle for field goals against Vandy." It was 7:30, happy hour was over. I finished my last beer, and the rest of my crew departed to get Mexican food. I took a bus home, thinking about last season's game and this season's opportunity to avenge that imbroglio.
That was last night. Today, as I write this, I wonder if those "whys" I found myself so captured by have satisfactory answers. I'm sure there's some meaningless, academic trope one could use to answer those questions - stuff about local identity and self esteem and other obscure ideas buried deep in psychology journals that nobody's ever going to read - but I am beginning to think that those questions aren't even deserving of an answer. "Why do I care?" How about "why does it matter why I care. The fact remains that I do."
No matter how poorly Ole Miss athletics may treat me, I'll be there. Ideally I'll be more well behaved and less prone to stupid outbursts, but no guarantees. Perhaps it's a type of learned helplessness, a bizarre Stockholm Syndrome of sorts, or perhaps it's nothing more than me hoping to see something out of my alma mater that I can take pride in. Tonight, I'll be clad in what might as well be the Ole Miss alumni uniform - a red polo, khaki shorts, and a red ballcap with the script "Ole Miss" emblazoned in blue across its front. I'll be cheering, cursing, pacing nervously, and imbibing among my Rebel compatriots. I'll be Tweeting maniacally, and hanging on to every word every pundit has to say about our Rebels because I need that sort of mass media validation.
I won't be at that bar.
I'll be among friends at a good Rebel's house. We'll have the grill going. I'll make my Rebel Red and Bleu hot wings. We'll have enough beer to drown a cow. And once the Ole Miss Rebels take the field in Nashville against the Vanderbilt Commodores, I'll be back in love with the cruel mistress who has broken my heart more times than I deserve. And while I will do my best to cover up the scars of past Rebel defeats, I won't ever let them do me in - they are literally incapable of defeating my love as a fan.
Ole Miss football is finally back. Beat Vanderbilt. Hotty Toddy.