I’m not sure if anyone else remembers it quite like I do, but here’s how I remember the weather on the day of the 2014 Ole Miss vs. Alabama game in Oxford.
It was literally one of the most picture perfect weather days I have ever had in my 30-plus years of tailgating. The high was in the upper 60’s or lower 70’s, there were fluffy clouds slowly moving across the crystal blue sky, and there was no humidity. By all accounts, a day that nice a wonderful had me thinking there would be nothing but ruination inside Vaught-Hemingway.
I mean, College dadgum Gameday was in the Grove for the first time ever. Katy Perry taunted LSU fans with a corn dog on live TV, and she snubbed her nose at all the pickers and went with the underdog Rebels. Surely, this wasn’t going to turn out to be one of the greatest days of the last 20 years of Ole Miss football, was it?
There were so many people in the Grove that day too. I can’t recall a day any fuller, there were standstills in the arteries of the heart of university as the tens of thousands of eager Ole Miss, Bama and Lord knows who else looked for their tent, drank cold ones and tried to find a friend somewhere in the mass of humanity.
Now, typically I like to have a really great buzz going when I sit down in the stadium to help ease the nerves and relax for three hours of football, but that day something told me to only have a couple of beers before the game. Make sure you take this game in, remember every possible second, because after all, hope had sprung eternal yet again before an Alabama game.
Then the game kicked off, and the Rebels were suddenly up 3-0. But come on, it’s early - and predictably a missed Ole Miss field goal later, Bama QB Blake Sims scored on a bootleg to go up 7-3 and the pain slowly began creeping in for me.
There was a major moment in the first half of this game sometimes fans forget, or maybe they don’t, I don’t know. The fumble return for touchdown and the missed facemask call to extend Bama’s lead to 14-3 with only 40 seconds left in the second quarter. I distinctly remember staring at the ground for a couple minutes then looking at my wife and saying, “that’s the game, this bullshit always happens against Bama.”
I’m not sure what happened in the locker room at halftime, but the Rebels came out firing on all cylinders and somehow turned the page forgetting about a disastrous end to the first half. Suddenly, Alabama seemed like the team unable to hold onto the ball, and Ole Miss shifted into the driver’s seat. It seemed so improbable, and any Rebel fan in good conscience tried not to get overly excited about the prospect of an upset.
Tied 17-17. Bama getting the ball back in the fourth quarter. I am fully expecting the Crimson Tide to drive down and get at least three with a minute or so left on the clock for a heart-wrenching 20-17 loss. Channing Ward was not me though.
BOOM, a fumble by Christion Jones and a recovery by Kailo Moore caused the second loudest eruption by fans of the day. It was going to happen, and we were all there to witness. A handful of plays later and the scoreboard incomprehensibly read 23-17 including a blocked extra point.
“Well, I mean, come on. Six point lead, only a couple minutes left, we’re good, WE’RE GOOD!” I kept telling myself over and over, but the WAOM was still strong at this point in 2014. As the Tide meticulously drove down the field, I thought surely all the prayers I have lifted in the previous three hours had not gone unheard.
Sims made a massive heave to the endzone, trying to pull off a dramatic Bama comeback deep into the fourth quarter. And like the big ass swimming dinosaur shark in Jurassic World entertaining the crowd, Senquez Golson lept up and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for one of the most electric plays in Ole Miss football history.
Looking back, it was incredible mainly because of how much the program had turned around in such a short period of time. It was the first win over Alabama in so long, and there were so many close losses over that time, fans had to sometimes feel like this would never happen until Nick Saban retired.
But it did, and it was amazing. Then it happened again the next year in Tuscaloosa, but it has not happened since despite best efforts.
So as I cross off the Grove list for tomorrow, I’m sitting here thinking about the feeling of standing in our tent, watching a damn field goal post get propped up against a stage where earlier in the day a pop superstar proved to be more knowledgeable than the analysts of ESPN. It was truly one of the greatest afternoons and evenings to be an Ole Miss Rebel.
No doubt tomorrow’s game will have its hype and the Rebels still have a lot to play for and a win would be absolutely sweet. For some reason, 2014 will forever be indelibly etched in my memories, and when the Tide roll into Oxford, the feelings come roaring in that this is college football, the Grove, Ole Miss, and with Lane Kiffin at the helm, anything is possible.