Last Thursday in the Kennedy Caucus room of the Russell Senate Office Building, the Ole Miss Alumni Association of the District of Columbia held its annual summer reception. Bland hors d'oeuvres were accompanied by an understaffed and understocked open bar (two people get stretched pretty damn thin when serving a few hundred Ole Miss graduates), as Rebels young and old alike gathered to schmuck around, glandhand, and hear from Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork.
Bjork, who has been on a bit of a whirlwind Summer tour to drum up support for our athletics program, was introduced by former Governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour as someone who is going to be "the greatest AD in Ole Miss history."* And while that might seem like a bit undue pressure to put on an AD who hasn't been on the job for even a month and a half, it didn't at all seem to bother Bjork whatsoever. "Talk about pressure," he'd joke to open his remarks, but the guy's confidence is perfectly suited for the high-stakes environment that is Southeastern Conference Athletics.
To kick things off, Bjork ensured hat we all knew the proper form of the landshark gesture. "No, it's not the Marshall Henderson rooster," he informed us, as one does not extend the thumb and wiggle the fingers while properly delivering the fin. Thumb in, fingers tight, center of the forehead. We all did it with him, and it looked as oddly cultish as you could imagine. Even ol' Haley was landsharkin' up in the Kennedy Caucus Room, something of which I do deeply regret not capturing photographic evidence.
Then the talk moved to the Forward Together campaign and the upcoming construction that this capital campaign will fund. As I am sure you are all aware, the Tad Pad is a bit, shall we say, old and terrible. I mean, the roof leaks for goodness' sake, making the building seem as structurally sound as an old tool shed. The new basketball arena, Ross has assured us, will be not terrible, and will seat just enough people to keep the cozy yet raucous atmosphere we have grown accustomed to at Ole Miss' home basketball games. It will also likely be placed closer to the football stadium than the current coliseum, and will be accompanied by a parking garage, which should help alleviate a lot of the parking headaches we Rebs are accustomed to enduring.
Worry not, the parking garage will most definitely be tastefully done, as in it will be adorned with red bricks, white columns, neatly planted ferns and azaleas, the works. Think of the Lyceum, but for your car!
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will also be the recipient of some upgrades, with mostly cosmetic changes being installed this summer. Eventually, the stadium will be expanded and bowled in, but that will not be for several more hopefully winning seasons.
Currently, the Indoor Practice Facility is expanding, as new team meeting rooms, coaches offices, and locker rooms are being installed. Additionally, the building will have a new dining area featuring food specifically tailored for the players' nutritional needs.
All of this lovely new stuff though comes with a bit of a caveat, and that's the simple fact that we as fans have a responsibility to give something back to these programs. If we want nice things, we're going to have to pay for it, so whether it is in donations - big or small - or through your purchase of tickets, parking passes, concessions and merchandise, give Ross Bjork and his staff some capital to work with.
And, finally, put some faith and attitude into your fandom. Bjork's main point to his audiences has been that of his mission to change the culture of Ole Miss sports.
We at Ole Miss have tremendous resources, he argues. We have a beautiful, safe campus nestled within a vibrant and unique college town. We have good academic opportunities for our students and student athletes. We have Ajax Diner. We have the Grove. We have charmingly desperate and mildly crazy fans. We have the resources and exposure of the Southeastern Conference. And we have a tradition of excellence to restore. We do have a lot going for us, which is why he asked us to be unafraid to ask "why not us? Why not Ole Miss?"
That success, though, does depend on us. Aforementioned monetary support aside, we need to support our programs with our actual fandom. We fans should not do things like skip half of a football game to eat pimiento cheese and cold hushpuppies in the Grove. We should not stop selling out the Tad Pad in the event of one deflating SEC loss. We should not treat losses as foregone conclusions, even if doing so is perfectly reasonable. We should carry ourselves with pride, because if we aren't going to believe in us then who exactly will?
Ross' points are valid ones. While coaches and, even moreso, players deserve the lion's share of credit for athletics wins and losses, the monetary and fan support we provide can go a long way in bettering these programs and, ultimately, our fan experience.
But, most importantly, please get your landshark technique down pat. Hotty Toddy.
*Haley also recognized former Governor Ronnie Musgrove, also in attendance, and Senator Roger Wicker. He referred to Wicker as Musgrove's "bag man" (DC jokes!) and everybody got all chummy and giggly and back-slappy, Musgrove in particular. Politicians, y'all. They love this kind of thing.