Like any good LSU vs. Ole Miss football story should be written, I am putting this together after drinking three sazeracs and burning a roux in my futile attempts to make gumbo for the first time. After reading a gumbo story in the October issue of Saveur, I decided, "Hey! I cook a lot, I can make gumbo," thinking it would be perfect preparation for any Rebel fan excited about their team's chances this Saturday night in Death Valley. So I am typing this as my wife orders pizza and the weak resemblance of a gumbo continues to gurgle in the pot as I ignore it with the resentment usually reserved for an Ole Miss student that cheers Bama when they come to town.
My excitement and overindulgence of cocktails lead to my botched gumbo, both of which were themselves the result of my unbridled excitement for this year's Magnolia Bowl game. The Ole Miss vs. LSU rivalry is an interesting one that evokes all types of feelings on both sides of the aisle. Any sidewalk LSU fan will tell you that we aren't a rival of theirs, and that their main rivalry is Alabama or any team with whom they are competing for the SEC West title.
More old school LSU fans have a more seething hatred (or perhaps it's an "annoyance") reserved for the Rebels, one that was forged decades ago when both the Tigers and Rebels were routinely competing for SEC crowns and Sugar Bowl berths. Some of them still wear "Geaux to Hell Ole Miss" tee shirts, buttons, and stickers for our annual contest, and go out of their way to show Baton Rouge's unique take on hospitality to any visitor wearing red and blue.
On our end, most Ole Miss fans would tell you that LSU is our main rival, even ahead of Mississippi State. This idea was forged when Johnny Vaught was Ole Miss' head coach because State, at that time, posed no threat to the Rebels. it was reinforced under David Cutcliffe for the same reasons. So, years ago, I'd have agreed with you. Now, with the poking and prodding of Rebel fans by the Mississippi State fan base and administration and their recent Egg Bowl successes, we're back to giving a damn about the Bulldogs. Still, the feelings we have for these games aren't analogous; it's been best explained as a simultaneous feeling of hating losing to State, and loving to beat LSU.
For me and LSU, it started in 2003 when Eli Manning and the then-undefeated in SEC play Rebels welcomed the No. 3 Tigers into the Vaught. A trip to Atlanta and perhaps Eli's Heisman Trophy chances were on the line. It was my freshman year as a member of the band, and I'll never forget playing in the Grove during the band pep rally. I could feel it in the air - "it" being that drunken, electric, explosive feeling that wants to separate you from every limb of your body. It was the first time that type of atmosphere had consumed Oxford in many years, and it was the first time that I and many Ole Miss fans finally felt like fans of a top-flight program.
The game was a back-and-forth affair for most of the night, with both defenses playing lights out football. Tragically, and in Ole Miss fashion, the play that everyone remembers is the one that guaranteed an LSU victory. Late in the fourth, Doug Buckles stepped back one step too many and caused Eli to trip on 4th and whatever to seal the deal. LSU fans began their celebrations, and Nick Saban stoically took them to the SEC and National Championships. They broke our hearts, again.
So began my hatred for LSU.
[Jump to 5:20 for the trip, or watch the whole thing for full prime self-loathing]
Two years later, I welcomed three LSU friends who I met through my World of Warcraft guild (YES I WENT THERE, THIS IS THE LIMIT TO WHICH LSU PUSHES ME) and their top 5 team to Oxford. The Ed Orgeron Rebels lost 40-7.
It wouldn't be until three years later that I watched an unlikely hero in Jevan Snead shred up the Tigers in a night game at Death Valley. The Rebels were an upstart team that year, and won the inaugural Magnolia Bowl 31-13 behind a dominant defensive line and a strong-armed quarterback. I left the game drunkenly yelling "REBEL BAIT" to every yellow and purple dressed fan I saw. The Rebs snapped a six game losing streak to LSU that night, and I was making sure to let everyone know just how good that made me feel.
The next year in Oxford holds one of my biggest fan regrets - I missed the game due to a family wedding. Yes, I know. I've seen it in all of your comments here before. A family wedding is no excuse. Well if I wanted to still receive birthday gifts, baby showers, and funeral arrangements from my mom's side of the family, I absolutely had to attend this wedding. I snuck out to my car to listen to David Kellum call the play-by-play of the clock management fiasco and it still made me smile as I later danced the cha-cha slide for the umpteenth time.
As for last year, there's not much else to say. Y'all were there. You saw the field goal. You yelled like me. You jumped like me. You stopped breathing like me during the entire LSU possession following the go ahead field goal. You cried like me after we won (right?). You celebrated all night in Oxford and probably throughout the following Sunday, because that's what wins over LSU do to us. They turn us into crazy, emotional people.
I recount the last ten-ish years of Ole Miss' biggest games against LSU because, this year, things are different. The Ole Miss Rebels are the top-5 ranked team this time. We're the ones with a smothering defense and a capable offense led by a veteran quarterback. LSU is capable in their own right, but also liable to finish 5th or 6th in the SEC West. Ole Miss is the talk of the college football watching universe and LSU is the school getting mentions only in passing. Katy Perry is on our Grove stage throwing corndogs at cameras, not in Baton Rouge mocking bowties and feigning an enjoyment of gator meat. Because of all of this, the Magnolia Bowl rivalry is taking on a bit of an unusual meaning this season. Conveniently, along with that new meaning comes a brand new trophy to commemorate the game.
So how did this trophy come about?
As we've established, Ole Miss and LSU have played each other since the 1890's. The teams are in bordering states, have competed against each other for championships, and have made a point to ensure the regularity of their meetings. In 2008, the Ole Miss and LSU student governments met to better cement the legitimacy and appeal of this rivalry,and felt the best way to do that was to name it. "The Magnolia Bowl" was decided upon because the Magnolia is the state tree of both Louisiana and Mississippi. Naturally, with every bowl comes a trophy.
In case you don't remember, this was the original Magnolia Bowl trophy:
When that image was released, it was immediately ridiculed as looking too much like, well, a phallus. A gushing floral phallus over which two football teams would compete. That design was soon scrapped and replaced with something that can't in any way be described as representing any sort of genitalia:
It was boring, but it worked. That is up until Ole Miss upset then-No. 6 LSU last year and got so rowdy that the team accidentally popped the magnolia blossom off of the trophy itself.
Having broken it, we took it upon ourselves to redesign and rebuild the trophy to something that both represents both schools well and should hold up to the violent movements of massive, victorious football players.
The new trophy's design starts with Will Hopkins, the owner of the The Green Door Company, a local business in Oxford that specializes in custom woodwork projects, many of which are made from reclaimed wood from throughout the South. When I heard he was the designer and creator of the new Magnolia Bowl trophy, I couldn't wait to talk to him about the inspiration behind the trophy and what his shop aspired to create.
Smeargle: So how did this whole project start?
Will Hopkins: Well my wife and I are Ole Miss people through and through. My father-in-law played football for Ole Miss on the national championship team from ‘59-'62. I also played baseball for Ole Miss from ‘93-'96, so we have an ongoing link to the athletics department. Regarding the trophy, it started with Ross Bjork and building furniture for his home once he became the AD. We established and now maintain a good friendship. Well after my wife and I watched the LSU game last year and saw the players hoist the trophy, I turned to my wife and said, "That trophy looks like shit." So then I sent Ross a text and said something along the same lines, "Grats on the win. That trophy looks like shit." and thought nothing of it after that.
Turns out, a week later Ross calls me and says [In a spot on Ross Bjork impersonation -Ed.] "Hey man, wanna uh...wanna build a new trophy?" I could only reply, "Are you serious?" Ross then told me he would have a guy get in touch with me. So Ross had an assistant AD contact me about designing a new trophy for the Magnolia Bowl. Right around this time, I was talking to the Ole Miss arborist who had the exclusive contract with all Ole Miss, Terran Arwood. He told me that he had all of this wood from [the] Ole Miss [campus] and wanted to do something special with it so I came up with Magnolia Collection.
Speaking of Will's Magnolia Collection, here are some shots of his shop and offerings:
That's a table made of a tree taken from Rowan Oak. "Oh did you just leave a water ring on my table? No big deal. I'm sure William Faulkner wouldn't mind either! Hopefully he hasn't stopped, dropped and rolled in his grave ten times over by now."
WH: So I'm in the infancy of my Magnolia Collection when I get the call to design the Magnolia Bowl trophy. The trophy itself is made of magnolia wood taken from a tree on the Ole Miss campus. In addition, the base in which the magnolia flower is placed is made of cypress from a warehouse in New Orleans. So you've got a Magnolia Bowl trophy composed of two woods that are signature to their respective states.
Smeargle: Can you talk a little bit about the design of the trophy itself?
WH: I started with a "live edge" design which is a new look in furniture. By "live edge" I mean you leave the natural look and don't cut it square and even, you leave it "live." [The knot jutting out on the right side of the base would be a prime example of the "live edge" look. -Ed.] It's the newest thing in furniture. We then took the current brass flower and painted it. Both the respective Ole Miss and LSU student bodies had to approve my design. After its approval, you now have the new Magnolia Bowl trophy.
At Ole Miss today...this is what the Rebels will be playing for Saturday. And yes, it's as heavy as it looks. pic.twitter.com/vi73v9A5QI— Greg Ostendorf (@GregO_ESPN) October 20, 2014
So that's the story of the Magnolia Bowl trophy and it's origins. I myself and very impressed with the trophy and really look forward to the game. My sincerest thanks to Will and The Green Door company for giving me a behind the scenes look at their work and business. When I was visiting with him, I couldn't help but purchase one of their Oxford bricks!
[Card reads: In 1904, J.W.T Falkner (Grandfather of William Faulkner) and C.W. Petrie incorporated The Oxford Brick & Tile Company. In 1911, the company was sold. During the 7 year tenure over 100 years ago, each brick produced was stamped with the "Oxford" logo.]
What's your favorite Ole Miss-LSU memory? Share it in the comments below. Hotty Toddy and go to hell LSU!