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The Case for a Great Rivalry

College athletics is all about rivalries, and on a campus that prides itself on tradition, rivalries are doubly important.

The movement to give our age-old game with LSU a nickname was not without controversy. Mostly because the nickname has all the collegiate football aggressive personality of David Cutcliffe's mother-in-law's toy poodle. Also, the first trophy design looked like a wiener.

Our rivalry with State works well because we have alternating big brother complexes. The Maroons have a clear advantage on the hardcourt, the Rebels on the gridiron, and real historical evenness exists on the baseball diamond. The competitive relationship with LSU is more difficult because they, generally, best us athletically, forcing the discussion on our side to devolve into the poor comparative quality of their campus, their women, and their overall behavior (ignoring, usually, as a low-blow the fact that General William T. Sherman served as its president).

Our late strife with our other neighbor to the West has been well documented.

A rivalry, though, that deserves some attention is our occasional engagement of honor with the athletic teams of the University of Georgia. True or not, Athens is often described by residents of both states as a "bigger Oxford." Large numbers of Georgians attend Ole Miss (generally, as a result of our lower admission standards). We have long been among each other's most desirable road trips. And, the impetus of my post, the contest between the Rebels and the Eastern Division Bulldogs is the marquee rivalry in at least one SEC sport.

My reference, of course, is to men's tennis.

Ole Miss and Georgia will renew their cross-net rivalry on Friday at 2:00. The last time these two teams faced each other it was in the Elite 8 at the National Championships in Tulsa. It was, for Ole Miss, their 13th trip to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen or higher and came in the same season as an SEC Tournament Championship and their seventh straight division title. If these sound like the marks of a national power in the sport, do not be alarmed. At least on the tennis court, "We are Ole Miss" has a slightly different ring to it.

These boasts do not even fare favorably with Georgia, though. The men's team from Athens boasts 6 national championships, including the last two. The Bulldogs have won 32 league titles (to the Rebels' suddenly meager-sounding 11). And that match in the Elite Eight finished 4-1 (a disappointing, if not altogether representative, score). The intensity and competitiveness in that match, though, was perfectly representative of these two programs' place as the premier teams of the conference. And words cannot fully express the gayness of this team's perfumed ambiguous glory.

But if rivalries can be built in a decade, this one has. The Bulldogs and Rebels met each other four times in the SEC Tournament final between 1997 and 2007. The road to the SEC championship has run from Athens to Oxford since Billy Chadwick put Ole Miss tennis on the map. And, if you want to ask whether Rebel tennis will just be its normal really good or will have a shot at the national championship, you need to ask whether the Rebels beat Georgia.

All this is to say that in the realm of Ole Miss athletics, there are few more intriguing, meaningful match-ups than the annual meet between Ole Miss and Georgia. It is a diamond in the crown of history between these two schools. And, unless Mike gets his act together, it will be your only opportunity this year to see competition of any significance in this - one of the few (if not the only) - gentleman's rivalry of the Southeastern Conference.