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A toast of our red Solo Cup for the man who invented it

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Robert Leo Hulseman passed away last week, but the plastic boozing vessel he gifted to mankind will live on as a fixture of Rebel athletics culture.

2016 has felled many a great name. Prince. David Bowie. Carrie Fisher. And now, tragically, Robert Leo Hulseman, the inventor of the red Solo Cup. He passed away on Dec. 21, 2016 at the sprightly age of 91. As the namesake for this very sports blog, a dark day has dawned over the Grove.

Whether Hulseman knew the scope and prolificacy of his bequeathment on tailgating in Oxford can never be known. According to his obituary, he enjoyed a knack for languages and was a practicing Catholic all his life. He donated to anti-poverty charities and sired 10 children.

Hulseman began working for his father’s business, the Solo Cup Company, at 18 and invented the iconic red cup in the 1970s. Though the original version didn’t feature the one-, five- and 12-ounce lines for liquor, wine and beer, his brainchild would take the collegiate drinking landscape by storm and gain fixture status in the Grove at Ole Miss.

It’s times like these that stepping back for introspection is important. Why red Solo Cups on Rebel game days? Why Red Cup Rebellion, for that matter?

According to the university’s official policy on alcohol on campus, “It is unlawful ... for any person under the age of twenty-one to possess or consume alcohol.” Furthermore, and this is where the Solo Cup culture finds its inroad, “Any possession of alcohol in plain view or unattended alcohol shall be considered distribution in violation of this policy.”

It’s here — “in plain view” — that the red cup thrives on Ole Miss’ campus, a silently brokered agreement between the university and fans that, yes, there’s undoubtedly booze in this cup, but this cup is unmarked, so there could feasibly be anything in this cup, but please don’t ask me about it, OK officer?

This winking understanding between university and fans of course extends over to Swayze Field, where by some miracle of architecture, zoning and real estate quirks, the student section in right field isn’t technically on campus. Pop open that PBR can all you want, friendo, but make sure to dump the contents into a Solo Cup if you don’t want security pestering you. The Solo Cup has become such an integral mainstay of Ole Miss athletics culture that the baseball promotions crew has giant anthropomorphic cups race one another during the fifth-inning stretch.

How perfectly Mississippi, then, that a very flimsy agreement of plausible deniability surrounding an unmarked plastic vessel for imbibing should come to be synonymous with Rebel sports. Given Ole Miss’ adoption of Harvard red as one half of the university’s colors, it’s only natural that red should be fans’ Solo Cup color of choice. Red stands out in ways that blue just can’t. Red is blood, life and death. Red is the bricks on the Walk of Champions and Ventress Hall.

And so, red cups. Red Cup Rebellion. Not Red Cup Refill or Red Cup Rising. Certainly not The Red Solo Cup, cease-and-desist letters notwithstanding. The Cup. RCR. Red Cup Rebellion. Thank you, Robert Hulseman, and may we do your legacy proud.