College football starts in less than two weeks. Here is a brief history of my fandom for the Ole Miss Rebels. Just a warning, it’s not too pretty.
I never cared too much for college football as a kid or even a high schooler. Both my parents had gone to the University of Memphis, so I guess they were “my team” but neither my mom nor my dad showed much passion for the football program. My dad instilled in me my love for Tiger Basketball, but football was just something that happened in the fall before basketball started.
When I got to high school, everyone loved college football. Being from Memphis, I came in contact with copious amounts of fans of UT (TN), Ole Miss, Arkansas, Mississippi State (Schtayte), etc. And these fans were all die-hard. But I still didn’t really buy into such fanaticism for a sport that I had never paid much attention to and had never been a big part of my upbringing.
After I graduated from high school, I chose to go to Ole Miss because a) they gave me the most money and b) it was relatively close to home but far enough away that I didn’t feel like I was still in Memphis. When I got to Ole Miss, I knew of their recent football history with Eli Manning and that they won games pretty often while he was at quarterback (as long as he didn’t trip over himself) and so I assumed that Saturdays in the fall would be spent watching the Rebels kick some ass and then hanging out in this Grove place people kept talking about. And apparently I was supposed to wear a tie for all of this.
So I dove in headfirst. I was going to be a college football fan because I picked a place where people loved football and a place that had a history of winning. And everybody was overly excited for some Coach O guy that apparently threatened to kill players if they crossed him.
My first game experience in Oxford was the home opener versus Wyoming, I believe. After the Rebs beat Memphis in Memphis a week earlier, a team featuring Heisman hopeful Deangelo Williams, I was pretty convinced that I had picked a school with a championship caliber football team. There were fireworks and organized cheers and a motorcycle on the field and pretty girls everywhere and man, this was going to be awesome.
And then Wyoming beat the crap out of us. And that is pretty much the picture of my allegiance to the Ole Miss Rebel Football Team. Unbridled hope in the beginning of the season, followed by catastrophic disappointment at the end.
We won a few games that 2005 season. There was reason for hope. Coach O was still new and was getting good recruits, so the next year would be a better one. We would go to a bowl and start our ascent to the top of the SEC just like when Eli was there.
And we lost most of the games the 2006 season. And then we lost even more games in the 2007 season.
My friends at other schools regularly mocked my team and my passion for said team, but I continued to hope for something positive. My dream of getting to see the Rebs stomp on the opponents never came close to becoming a reality in those first three seasons. We never went to a bowl. We had universally hated coach who barely spoke coherent English. And things didn’t look like they would get any better.
Then Coach O got fired and Houston Dale Nutt was hired after leaving the University of Arkansas.
I went to his initial press conference and sat on a step in the balcony because it was so crowded. He spoke of championships and winning and I bit that talk hook, line, and sinker. More offseason optimism abounded in Oxford. Sure our coach was another SEC team’s discarded junk, but he was our treasure. He would put Ole Miss football on the map.
And he did, for a brief period.
Come back next week for part 2.
Hotty Toddy, y’all.