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Ole Miss and New Orleans go way back, or 'Why Rebels feel like they belong in the Sugar Bowl'

Rebel football in New Orleans just makes sense.

Ole Miss Rebels and New Orleans Saints legend Deuce McAllister
Ole Miss Rebels and New Orleans Saints legend Deuce McAllister
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Ole Miss and New Orleans have a long history together. The Crescent City is but a few dozen miles from Louisiana's border with the Magnolia State; Oxford's love of food, music, and drink has earned it the moniker the "Little Easy"; and thousands of Ole Miss students and alumni -- and even the university's new Chancellor, Jeffrey Vitter -- call the New Orleans area home. This long and celebrated relationship is why Ole Miss fans are flocking by the thousands to take in the sights, sounds, and sensations of the Big Easy this weekend, as the No. 12 Ole Miss Rebels erase a four-decade Sugar Bowl drought with a matchup against the No. 16 Oklahoma State Cowboys.

While it is true that Ole Miss fans have a reputation of traveling well (recently filling to capacity bowl venues in Dallas, Atlanta, and even Birmingham), a trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl is something much more special and important to the Rebel fan base. A lot of this, of course, has to do with the city's geographic proximity to Mississippi and its identity as one of America's best destinations for eating, drinking, and general misbehaving, but to say we're tickled pink to be here because "it's close and there's a lot of booze" is really doing a disservice to the cultural weight of this weekend's festivities. Ole Miss fans feel like we belong here, and that our football team is supposed to compete for Sugar Bowl berths, even if the Rebels haven't received an invite to the game since the doors of the Superdome first opened. To us, Ole Miss football has a strong, natural association with New Orleans, and our long history there underscores our reasons why.

Let's take a brief look at that storied history.

Dr. A.L. Bondurant and the Boys of 1893

Ole Miss first played football in 1893, a year in which only one game would be played in Oxford: a season-opening 56-0 blowout of Southwestern Baptist University (now known as Union University). Twice that year, however, Ole Miss played in New Orleans, first losing to Southern A.C. (?) 24-0 on November 30 before turning around to beat Tulane 12-4 two days later.

From it's very inception, Ole Miss football has made a name for itself in New Orleans.

The Rival Green Wave*

After playing and beating Tulane in its inaugural season, Ole Miss squared off against the Green Wave 70 more times, earning a 43-28-0 record against the former SEC foe. Only Vanderbilt (90), LSU (104), and Mississippi State (112) have played more games against Ole Miss than Tulane has, making the semi-annual trip to New Orleans one of the most celebrated games in Ole Miss football for a while. The two last met in 2012, with the Rebels winning 39-0 in the Superdome. Ole Miss is set to resume playing the Green Wave in 2021.

*Or, "why the hell are we still playing against Memphis?" (Sorry)

Nine Sugar Bowls trips

The Sugar Bowl first kicked off in 1934, with Tulane beating Temple in their home stadium, 20-14. Since then, the bowl has invited a top-SEC team to represent their conference all but a handful of times. Ole Miss, particularly under John Vaught, was a mainstay at the New Year's Day contest, only trailing Alabama and LSU in total number of Sugar Bowl invites. The Rebs first bid was for the 1951 contest, where the No. 7 Rebs fell to No. 2 Georgia Tech, 24-7. Ole Miss lost to Navy in the 1955 contest before earning its first Sugar Bowl win in a 1958 beatdown of Texas.

From 1960 to 1970, Ole Miss played in five Sugar Bowls, winning in 1960, 1961, 1963, and 1970; while losing in 1964. Of these bowls, the most notable of those was the 1960 game, where No. 3 Ole Miss beat No. 2 LSU 21-0. That capped off a 1959 season in which Ole Miss was arguably the nation's most dominant football team, shutting out all but three opponents to earn a 10-1 record. That one loss was, as you all know, the heartbreaking 3-7 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge in which Billy Cannon returned a fourth-quarter punt to snatch what was almost a sure victory from the Rebs. That Ole Miss loss gave Georgia the SEC title, Syracuse the AP and Coaches national titles, and Cannon the Heisman Trophy. Ole Miss would get its revenge over LSU in the Sugar Bowl, but things like national titles weren't awarded after the bowls, so it was a game whose only real accomplishment was cementing in the minds of Rebel fans the idea of Ole Miss being a team that wins when it doesn't count.

This is your obligatory reminder that Billy Cannon is a felon and that he probably stepped out of bounds on that punt return anyway.

Archie and Deuce in Black and Gold

A total of 21 former Ole Miss Rebels have played for the NFL's New Orleans franchise, but none is more notable than former Rebel quarterback (and Sugar Bowl MVP) Archie Manning. After a Heisman campaign of a senior season, Archie was taken by the Saints with the second overall pick of the 1971 NFL draft. While the Saints were a struggling franchise while Manning was under center, he still managed to play eleven seasons in New Orleans, earning two Pro Bowl selections (1978, 1979) and NFC Offensive player of the year honors in 1978. He left New Orleans to play for the Houston Oilers and Minnesota Vikings, but returned to the Big Easy to live out his retirement. Even though the Saints have improved their lot dramatically recently, he is still considered by many to be the face of their franchise and, arguably, all of New Orleans sports.

But big-time contributions by former Rebels to the Saints doesn't begin and end with Archie Manning. Deuce McAllister, one of the first real Ole Miss college superstars after Archie, was picked by the Saints in the first round of the 2001 NFL draft. Deuce was the 2002 NFC rushing champ, a two-time Pro Bowler (2002 and 2003), and holds all-time New Orleans records for rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns. While not a member of the active roster during the Super Bowl XLIV win, he was brought back as an honorary captain for that game.

From the Big Easy to Oxford

If it's said that Ole Miss gave Archie Manning to New Orleans, then it can be said that New Orleans returned the favor with Eli. While Archie was playing for the Saints, he enrolled his three sons at Isadore Newman, a private day school in Uptown New Orleans that has a reputation for winning Louisiana state championships. Cooper, Peyton, and Eli all became stars at Newman, but only Eli would followed his father to Ole Miss, where he broke dozens of records and winning plenty of games in Oxford before making Ole Miss fans proud by doing something or another in the NFL.

But it's not just Eli (and Cooper) Manning who have come from New Orleans to Oxford to play ball. A handful of other notable Rebels, such as Minnesota Vikings receiver Mike Wallace, Baltimore Ravens safety Kendrick Lewis, and current Rebel tailback Eugene Brazley signed with Ole Miss out of New Orleans high schools.

It's Close and There's a Lot of Booze

Oh, did we mention that it takes, like, only a few hours to get to New Orleans from most of Mississippi? And that the alcohol laws are lax there? Yeah, that's pretty great.