I was honestly unable to convince myself that it was not going to happen this offseason.
I figured that, with a season beginning with an unfathomable letdown to Jacksonville State and and ending with a rare consecutive loss to Mississippi State - a loss which resulted in their proclamation of "ownership" of the state of Mississippi, a testament to the Starkvillians poor understanding of property law - we would be a subdued, even downtrodden lot.
We wouldn't be buying season tickets.
We wouldn't be playing EA Sports electronic version of NCAA ball, vicariously living out our wildest Ole Miss football fantasies via pixellized Rebels.
We wouldn't be reading silly columns like this.
And we sure wouldn't be exciting ourselves over online hype videos, message board chatter, and random footballers' tweets.
I was sure of all of this, and I was wrong. Even I, a guy who swore to himself that he would not invest nearly the time, money, and emotion into Rebel football as I have in years past, have found myself thumbing through Phil Steele's publications, perusing the various recruiting services, and digesting as many specious rumors and bits of speculation as I can get my eyes on.
I am hardly the only one, either. All one needs to do is walk around Oxford, follow the football team on Twitter, and peruse a few pro-Rebel biased forums and websites to see that, while excitement might be tempered when compared to years past, the Ole Miss fan base has not preemptively thrown the towel in on 2011. People are generally excited and are looking forward to great things.
But why? Why do this season after season. Why suffer nail-bitingly close victories, agonizing upsets, and embarrassing gaffes committed by coaches and players alike season after season, especially when you know that you'll be doing the same in another calendar year? Are we masochists? Are we hopelessly deluded? Are we just plain stupid?
Don't answer those, or, know that if you do, that there's a better explanation for all of this annual renewal of Rebel hope, and it's a rather simple one.
It's a routine.
Every Ole Miss football offseason over nearly the past decade has gone something like this: either an embarrassing loss in the Egg Bowl or a pleasant postseason bowl victory - or sometimes both! - takes place. Fans begin to look back on what could have been, dissecting losses which should have been victories and vice versa, and always seem to reach the same conclusion that our team was, in fact, better than the final record indicated. We pat ourselves on the back for enduring another season before gearing up for the most bizarre spectacle in all of "amateur" athletics: National Signing Day. We "steal" a recruit or two from some school from a neighboring state, out-recruit the maroon and white clad Bulldogs per a nearly arbitrary rankings system, allowing ourselves to speculate into the near future over wins and losses, the establishment of dynasties, and Sugar Bowls. Spring football comes and goes, and largely nothing is learned, which doesn't at all stop people from writing about and disseminating what we've "learned" from spring ball amongst everyone willing to suffer through reading it. Preview magazines roll out, Summer comes and goes with a few players getting the coach's boot - but that's okay because we didn't want that thug anyway, right - ESPN starts to heat up the hype machine, and we're back at the beginning of football season once again, convinced that greener pastures lie ahead.
This doesn't make us dumb. It makes us normal. What we go through every offseason is no different than what every fan of every college football team goes through during these Summer months. It is how we maintain our fandom. It's how we take our minds off of whatever else it is we put our minds on. It is how we connect to better times spent with good food, drink, friends and family under the autumn leaves of our Grove.
Just last week, all it took for literally thousands of Rebel fans to renew their excitement in Ole Miss football was a 90-second video of Brandon Bolden running (It is on Ole Miss' official media site. Give it a look when you can). Sure, the video has a decent soundtrack and uses some cool camera angles, but the video was just as described. Yet, as soon as it was released, Hotty Tottys rang out across the internet. Something that simple is all it takes to remind us that, despite whatever happened last season, college football is what we fans live for.
I do not think the Rebels will shock the world this year. I cannot, however, convince myself that they won't make me a happy fan. It's that easy feeling brought about every July by the blank slate of a football season waiting a mere two months over the horizon, and I cannot help but enjoy it.