Mississippi Stories: It Just Ain’t the Same

Hey Y’all,

Sorry I’ve been remiss in my postings as of late. I kind of picked up this bad habit lately called working. You see, when I first began this blog I was “under” employed. So I had plenty of time to cartoon and satire to my heart’s content. Now I’m nearing the sixth month anniversary of my new job and I’ve been quite busy receiving congratulatory calls, texts, and emails. Or rather, I’m just receiving a lot of calls, texts, and emails asking me to do stuff. The nerve right?

Nevertheless, my site stats have begun to climb on auto-pilot, being that this is now college football season. So, I had to give the people what they want. We all know that 75% of Southern culture is SEC football, 10% is the Civil War, 10% beauty pageants, and 5% bourbon. So SEC football it is to start the new season of blogging.

But then I had another problem; writer’s block. Haven’t I already blogged all my SEC stories? After all I’m one of the few Ole Miss alums who graduated in less than five years, so I don’t have but so many football stories. But then a friend reminded me that I often go on rants about how other schools, conferences, and game day experiences fail to live up to the SEC. And there you have it…perfect topic. And while some of my closer friends reading this will have heard these stories before, that’s true of about everything I’ve blogged about. At least this time there’ll be new cartoons.

And that was the other problem; Cartoonist’s block. You really can get out of practice with cartooning. But, once the first one was completed, the mental storyboard kicked in and this post took off. So without further ado, here’s my rant about how my other college football experiences have never lived up to my SEC ones.

Believe it or not I have other duties besides blogging about the South

For those of you new to this site, I didn’t grow up in SEC country. I’m a native of Virginia. So while my birthplace is not as football crazy as points south, it does make me 64% more likely to be president and 78% more likely to win a Civil War battle. That is to say, every Southern state is known for something. But the “southern” portion of my state is rapidly shrinking. Our universities seem like Big East schools (more on that later), and even the “in-state” kids can seem like they’re from out of state. And while I grew up safely entrenched along the south bank of the James River my region of the state is in the minority. So I fled to Mississippi.

You can read in several of my earlier posts how my time at Ole Miss shaped my identity. It especially shaped how I view the Saturday religion of SEC football. And like all things religious in the South, we tend to be evangelical, devout, and rather fundamentalist. Lukewarm college football gets spit out of our mouths. It was in the Bible I think… Bryant 14:5.

So fast forward a decade. I’ve been back in Virginia for awhile actually working in my major. For advancement in my field of work it became necessary to obtain a Master’s Degree. It made financial and professional sense to stay in state. In other words…it was free. And I wanted to get my degree as quick as possible. So I ended up at Virginia Tech.

Well that won’t be so bad right? That’s a football school. “You’re going to love it!” everyone tells me. Just wait until I see my first tailgate and game and it’ll be just like my SEC days…

WRONG!

Now don’t misunderstand me. I made some great friends at VA Tech. And indeed it has advanced me professionally as promised. The team was okay but…the football culture was rather lacking. Not their fault. They just don’t know no better.

I tried my friends. I really did try. I bought some Hokie paraphernalia and decided to give ACC football a shot. I even got season tickets and toned down my game day wardrobe a bit…you know the casual polo and khakis look of a successful land grant student.

Well when I entered my first tailgate I saw a shocking site. I believe I said something out loud to the effect of “well you can take the school out of the Big East but you can’t take the Big East out of the school”. Backwards caps, “alternate” Oregon style jerseys peddled by Nike, a sea of cargo shorts where there should be sundresses, and lots and lots of cornhole. Where I come from (collegiately speaking) the only time you should be watching cornhole is if you get sent to Parchman.

I guess I just never got used to the idea of tailgating on asphalt.

But then I realized It’s not really them, it’s me. See it began to dawn on me that the college football culture that I experienced as “normal” was actually very unusual, and that what I was witnessing in the parking lot was the norm for 95% of the country. So, I took that to heart, realized people were just having a good time supporting their school, and then I took a deep breath and decided they were all wrong!

Heathens!

Once you’ve gone Groving you never go roving.

But wait…I haven’t gotten to the game yet. The first game was against Marshall. I don’t remember much of it. I know they kept blaring a turkey call, and two dudes in front of me were “celebrating” with miniature shots of Wild Turkey from miniature airline bottles. And they were doing so in a way that I think is still illegal in Montgomery County, VA. But I wanted to give it a chance and I stayed until the bitter end of the 3rd quarter when the crowd did the Hokey Pokey. Then I left. The ACC was foreign.

I went back to two more games to at least see the in conference opponents. Maybe that would get better. The UNC game was better, I think because I got along with the UNC fans very well. Then there came the NC State game. That was a dilemma let me tell you. Ole Miss was not awful yet. In fact, that was a Cotton Bowl season for us. Yeah yeah, go ahead and laugh Bama fans, but to us, the Cotton Bowl is our version of the BCS championship…or at least as close as we’re going to get. I had a bet going with my LSU friend (and what does that tell you about the state of the ACC fan base that my best friend at grad school had gone to LSU?), and it was the CBS game of the week at 4 O’ clock.

Meanwhile in Blacksburg I had my ticket to the Wolfpack-Hokie matchup. I wore my Ole Miss t-shirt under my Virginia Tech fleece and headed to the stadium. Along the way I had a chance encounter with a fellow Ole Miss alum. We did the Hotty Toddy cheer and we’ve remained friends since. So one positive…

But still but the time the game starts in Hokie-land I swear the whole time I’m watching the scoreboard for the Rebel-Tiger score. I think they gave two updates. The first update it was announced as zero-zero. In the meantime I had to listen to Hipster Northern Virginia Hokie kids trash talking clueless computer geeky NC State kids. I wanted to plug my ears and sing the “Ballad of Archie Who” but it wasn’t going to work. There would still be an ACC game on the field and an ACC student section surrounding me. When the second score update was finally announced Ole Miss held a slight lead at halftime.

That was enough for me. Surely Ole Miss would blow this lead and I would lose my bet if I didn’t rush home to watch the game in person on TV. Now, normally I’d never leave a game at halftime. The 4th quarter is my earliest, and only if there is a blowout. But this was different. This was life and death. This was the SEC on CBS. I exited to the gates. The nice lady reminded me that I wouldn’t be allowed to re-enter. I replied “that’s okay; I’ve got a real game to see”. I quickly unzipped my maroon  jacket, and proudly displayed the shirt emblazoned with the name of my true love and sprinted home.

Like Superman, my appearance in front of the TV saved the day in the nick of time.

And I made it in time to see the 4th quarter. Ole Miss barely held onto the game, but not before nearly tearing my heart out, causing me to shout obscenities that would make a sailor cover his ears, and make several bargains with my maker. And thanks to Les Miles not understanding the concept of time….we won. About a minute passed. The minute that Ole Miss fans expect the referee to reverse a call to cheat us (see whenever we play Alabama close), or for Vern Lunquist to yell “PSYCHE!!!!” But no, we really won! And I went outside the house, right when all the ACC faithful were walking and driving home from their mundane game that had mercifully ended, and I yelled, and jumped, and danced, and screamed, and yelled filled with the spirit of Johnny Vaught.

The next day I sold the rest of my tickets to fund a trip to Oxford, MS. Four games were worth the price of one. Even though the game I attended in Mississippi was a loss, and I was told upon my return that I missed an exciting beat down of Boston College, I really didn’t miss anything. They missed it.

As another LSU friend of mine says “a bad game in the SEC beats the best game anywhere else”. See, different denomination, but same religion.

But that’s just the ACC. What about a football powerhouse conference?

Lemme guess? The Big Ten?

Let me tell you about the Big Ten folks. Not the same. Nope. Been there, done that…twice even. That’s enough evidence.

The first time was when I went to a Penn State-Iowa game in 2003. Now, I always knew something was wrong with that school and in the end it was the cult like mentality of the place…

“Now wait a minute Southern Blogger” you’re saying….isn’t the SEC a cult? No, we are the true religion. See, we choose to be fans and students of our SEC schools and when they don’t live up to expectations someone pays. Like a bad minister we will send an inadequate coach packing as quickly as you can say Houston Nutt. And we boo our own teams. The girls boo too. Heck, they’re the meanest ones. Our school cheers are complex, and we also have the complexity to dress ourselves without the aid of the student body president. The “white out” nonsense, “we are Penn State” banal cheer, and inability to criticize team and coach when they gave up an easy game to an easy opponent was lame to say the least. But the worst of all was the pre-game announcement that “Beaver Stadium is a smoke free, alcohol-free environment, and we thank you for your cooperation.” No sarcastic cheers from the student section, no boos… (No booze?) and no middle fingers of youthful defiance. Just pre-approved cheers, school-approved signs, and school-sponsored team spirit. No thank you. Not impressed.

And then there was the famous time I infiltrated the University of Michigan. Now that was a lot more fun. Mainly because I decided to dress up in costume to infiltrate Midwestern football. I came as a Gerald Ford era Michigan Wolverine. In fact, I dare say my Midwestern costume was more Midwestern than the other Midwesterners. In true Globe Trekker fashion I went “native” and did what the locals did including: participating in a Climate Change Awareness Rally, spinning a post-modern Art cube, playing beer pong without beer (that was the oddest thing of all), learning their fight song, playing nerf football with strangers while making Heisman poses, and eating copious amounts of cheese fries with ranch dressing. Perfect infiltration. Except for one problem.

As I had no hickory cane handy, I had to intimidate with a cheese fry.

During my munching of the cheese-ranch fries at the bar, a friend of my friend, a hardcore Wolverine got into a conversation about the “overrated SEC”. The apostasy included rants about the “unfairness of playing bowl games in warm states, the easy non conference opponents the SEC faces, the quality of Big Ten NFL draft picks, media bias…yada yada”. And then, in full costume, in the middle of Ann Arbor, after all my successful infiltration…I blew my cover and went full on cheese fry to cheese fry Preston Brooks mode calling out Yankee lies. I couldn’t help myself.

By the end of the evening I was in a room of people who were watching the Minnesota Michigan State Iowa Purdue Indiana game. Or something like that. I couldn’t tell. What I could tell was these foreigners were watching a crappy game and cheering loudly when a real SEC game was on on CBS. It was awful, just awful. So I did what any good Southerner would do in the midst of a pagan ritual. I began preaching.

I began sharing about the promised land of Southern girls in pearls and sundresses, the smell of fried chicken, fall leaves and bourbon, the utter hatred you have for anyone else in the visiting student section, the rules of said combat, the battle scars, the joys, the defeats, the best damn football conference in the land. Amen and Amen.

It is indeed a heavenly place…I have seen it.

In the end there’s only one school for me. You grad school can give you a nice resume and an extra diploma on the wall but it is not, nor can it ever be your alma mater.

I know which one mine is. Hell yes, damn right! You finish the rest…

-Southern Blogger

NEXT TIME: I will show the Show-Me state how to properly behave in their new neighborhood. So long as we’re stuck with them. I’ll try not to be so late this time.

Something tells me the Mizzou folks are gonna have a tough time grasping this.


Guide to the SEC…Football Game Day

We don't tailgate on asphalt!

(click on any picture to enlarge and read text)

Going to Church on Saturday

Can’t you just smell it? The crisp air, the falling leaves, and the sweet smell of bourbon! It’s college football season down in the South. You see, Southerners have two religions: One we do on Sundays throughout the year, and the other, where we worship at “cathedrals” that on Saturdays become the third largest cities in our states. This weekend is our upcoming “Holy Week” whereby pilgrims filter in from their dorms, frat house, farms, towns, and neighborhoods in order to commune with their coreligionists (even the “Sabanic” Alabama fans). Ah, the first week of football season!

Now by football season, I’m of course speaking of the SEC or Southeastern Conference. I don’t know what you call what those other teams and conferences are doing, but it ain’t football. Well now friends, (and former friends who are mad I insulted their schools) you can’t hear my accent (or put-on accent) on the internet. There’s a difference between the word “foot, comma, ball” which is played up north, and “Foo-Boll” which is what we play down in the SEC. I’m going to be writing about the latter (surprise, surprise).

Like everything else, we do things a bit different down here. And like food, manners, leading battles, writing novels, and producing beautiful women, we do some things much better. Football is another of them. I didn’t grow up in SEC country, but when I attended Ole Miss in the fall of 1996 I became a convert to this new religion…and what is it that they say about the zeal of a convert? So here is my guide for anyone who wants to know what it’s like to attend a game in the SEC. Sure it will be a bit Ole Miss biased, so there won’t be a lot of talk about winning championships and such, but I think the fellow faithful of other schools will get what I’m talking about, and will have shared similar experiences.

When I first went to Ole Miss I got my student season tickets within the first two days of school (See The South Will Blog Again, Guide to the SEC, Back to School Edition). I stood in line and received  my envelope of tickets, a total Noob to the football culture that awaited me. Sure, I knew there would be some good games ahead of me as I peaked inside and noticed the Auburn, LSU. And Mississippi State games, names of teams I had seen on TV, but really, I had no idea just what a big deal this would turn out to be.

At the time Ole Miss had a bit of a primer as to what to expect. On my initial campus visit (which had an evangelistic fervor to it) I was informed that Ole Miss students dressed up for football games, and told about some of the school traditions, fight songs, and cheers. I was also informed about the Grove. So for my first game I put on an Oxford shirt, khakis, a necktie, and my white (eventually to be sweat stained brown) Ole Miss “bar cap”. This was to later be my game day “uniform” and a part of my Saturday morning ritual. I then walked from my dorm with some friends and first entered the Grove.

Sunday Best and Student Sections

The Grove (always capitalized) is a wooded park-like area of campus, surrounded by some of Ole Miss’ oldest school buildings. It to me is what the South is supposed to look like but doesn’t always live up to. It was intoxicating. I saw the students dressed in their “Sunday best”, the gorgeous coeds wearing their sorority “hearts” the Rebels stickers, heard the band playing “Dixie”, a lot (not that I ever minded), the generations of alumni, the smell of fried chicken and whiskey, and the general aura of camaraderie, rivalry, and ease of manners that comes from shared ritual.

The Grove takes football tailgating and classes it up Kentucky Derby style. I couldn’t imagine wearing jeans and a t-shirt to the Grove or to a football game ever. I know that sounds strange to lots of people, and sounded really strange when I informed people at my graduate school, Virginia Tech, of my way of life. But once you’d been to the Grove you don’t tailgate on asphalt.

There was lots of tradition that both warms my heart and makes me sad today when I think back. Sad because several poltroons of the highest order have taken it upon themselves to ruin the school in the name of the almighty Nike. What I can tell you was that back in the day, I and many others would listen to the band play our fights songs, then we’d do the “Hotty Toddy” cheer, and after playing “From Dixie with Love” which combined Dixie and the Battle Hymn of the Republic would march out to the stadium, somewhat inebriated, full of hope (and a little piss and vinegar) ready for the Rebels to charge and take down those Yankees, even if those “Yankees” were hardly Yankees at all.

Oh, but then I got to the stadium and got my first taste of the militant law and order culture that pervades the leadership of my alma mater.  I had student tickets. The good news was that it gave me 50 yard line seats for $5 a ticket. The bad news was having to enter through the student gates. There one had to run the gauntlet of a cadre of private security known as “Cobra Security”. They were kind of like the villains from G.I. Joe only with redneck rather than quasi-Eastern European accents. The more dressed up you were, the more you looked like a “typical Ole Miss student” the more you got manhandled and strip searched. The cause… looking for smuggled bourbon. If you gave those folks any “guff” you might get a thump on the head or some mace.

My "buddies" Cobra Security

In any case, I got to hand it to the Ole Miss students. Some of the same guys who flunked science or who would fail engineering miserably were experts at concocting and designing elaborate systems to smuggle in their whiskey. This included soft plastic flasks, tube systems, items with false bottoms, and let’s just sat “strategic placement”.  The easiest way to smuggle in bourbon was to bring a date. Ole Miss girls were “bourbon mules”. Now ladies…I don’t mean to say you looked like mules, far from it, but am explaining how women were able to smuggle whiskey “across the Cobra-can border”.  The way they did it was to place a bottle underneath a row of “feminine items” which no good ol’ boy wanted to touch, and they were through. Sadly, I think they wised up and started hiring some rough looking gals to search the women.

Now about those Ole Miss girls….I love them and always will. Girls in the Deep South KNOW football. I always say the ideal Southern girl looks like Reese Witherspoon and throws like Peyton Manning. And these women understand the game! You won’t hear them ask “what does a two point conversion mean?” or “when is halftime?” or “what’s going on honey?” No, what you’ll hear is “You @#$%# suck (insert player name here)!” or “I can throw better than that!” or shut the @#%# up (insert team rival here)!”

The camaraderie was another thing. Even people who didn’t talk to each other or get along with each other in class, for no other reason that they were strangers or of a different major etc. became your “family” during the game, especially a rivalry game. I’ve seen our students get jumped and guys from rows back jump in for the rescue, or other pieces of etiquette like sharing your bourbon, or helping to shield other fans from the security when they were filling their cups of Pepsi with it. There was also a shared misery of losing, shared joy of winning (one of the few acceptable times down there to hug another guy) and the mutual cynicism of a school that is the Charlie Brown of the conference. So yeah, I saw as many losses and wins, and you know what? So what! We partied harder, and classier, and with more style than any other team in the country. Or at least we once did.

Hell hath no fury like a Southern Woman whose team cannot score!

I Used to Hate Some of my Best Friends

This brings me to the other fans. Look, this piece is about you too. (I hate you all but I also respect you) See, you hate them, and I mean HATE them during game day, but after it’s all said and done they were just like us. It’s sort of like Catholics, and Presbyterians and Baptists are branches of the same faith. We have our differences but we aren’t “heathens” like the &@#$# Big Ten! So since my graduation I’ve become great friends with alums of other schools, even the most hated ones. They’re the only people who get what I’m talking about.

Now there are three types of rival fans. The first, silliest and easiest to make fun of are the “sidewalk alums”. The name comes from them coming no closer to campus than the sidewalk, i.e. never were students. These are the fans you stereotype in order to make fun of the students at the other school. Almost every SEC school is embarrassed by their “Sidewalk fans”. Of all of them, and I’ve seen them all, the Alabama ones are the craziest and scariest. Of course they are also the most numerous and winningest which brings out the crazy. But here’s the deal…many sidewalk alums donate a lot of time and money to the schools they love and root for. And that money gets back to cleaning up the campus and paying for the facilities the students use. And when push comes to shove, a “sidewalker” can be a great friend indeed in a fight.

The second type is the other school’s students. They are your peers and the most likely to fight you. The toughest in my experience were the LSU students. They didn’t back down at all. Hated ‘em, respected the @$%# out of ’em! In my day, the Ole Miss administration placed our student section, and the visiting student sections next to one another (they’ve since been moved to opposite endzones). This meant there was only a ten foot “no man’s land” between the two sections. This meant after every big play, or controversial call a hail of bottles, cups, or any throwable item would fly through the air. Back to LSU…they were better than us, and usually beat us…which made it that much sweeter when we pulled a victory out once in awhile. I remember after one such occasion when this one brave soul decked in the purple and gold version of the “Grove attire” I told you about, flanked by two friends propping his whiskey soaked body up, stood up in front of our entire section and flicked us all off. He had tears, tears of utter rage in his eyes. He was struck with dozens of projectiles from our people, but I had to admire such courage and “patriotism” in such a suicide mission.

These people really do exist!

Then there are the alums. Some alums are passionate, but most including our own (especially our own) can be a bit boring. Maybe that’s because they’ve partied so hard in their younger days it’s all out of their system. But in any case I always used to chuckle at a certain kind. We’d have these middle aged guys, with the official coaches caps, official coaches polo shirts, pulled up khaki shorts, high socks, gleaming white sneakers, and radio headsets doing a walk of shame after every Ole Miss defeat. We used to call them “hitched up” people. These guys would go through three stages of grief. As you first walked by them, they would be in shock about a defeat that they shouldn’t have been in shock by. Then after a few minutes they would go through a brief anger period whereby they would denounce the school and vow never to return. And yet, inevitably by the end of the walk back to the RV Park, these same fans would comfort themselves with the mistaken belief that Ole Miss would somehow still win a national championship.

Hitched-up hope springs eternal.

Ah…fun times and funny times. I wouldn’t trade those football memories for the world. To this day any time I meet a fellow alumnus anywhere in the country I will say a “Hotty Toddy” cheer, and share our similar stories. And when the weather cools, and the leaves begin to fall, anywhere I am, I begin to smell the bourbon and the fried chicken, hear the cursing, cheering, and the band playing “Dixie”, remember the 4th quarter friendships and the game day enemies, and I return to the Grove, where I’m forever 19 and ready to lead the charge.

Thanks again for reading y’all. This week I went through an earthquake, hurricane, and power outage to bring you this post a bit tardy. Thanks to a friend with power and wi-fi I was able to get this up a day late. I will return to the SEC and lampoon all those other fans of the rival schools just so you don’t feel left out in GUIDE TO THE SEC…PLAYING WELL (AND NOT SO WELL) WITH OTHERS.

– Southern Blogger