My eldest brother moved to Mississippi back in the 1990s. I took my first trip down there in 1999. I had always been a fan of the old South, so I was greatly looking forward to roaming around the oldest of the Old. Although we stayed in the northern reaches (my brother lives in Tupelo), I saw a lot of the Mississippi delta life and history, even breaking into Arkansas briefly.
My favorite spot was Oxford, home of Faulkner and home of Ole Miss. We spent quite a bit of time walking around campus, and I was favorably impressed. It had a “grand” feel to it, something cavalier. After that trip, I adopted Ole Miss as my “second favorite team” (after Michigan) and started rooting for them: partly out of respect for what I saw and the fact that I, after spending 90 minutes there and eating lunch on its quad, could boast that few people in Michigan had ever spent as much time on Ole Miss’ campus as I; partly out of my inborn tendency to root for the underdog; and partly out of affection for my eldest brother.
I renewed my adoption last year when I went back to Oxford and drove around the campus with my kids before my niece’s wedding.
So Saturday night was hard. I can’t say I watched the entire Mississippi-Auburn game (I rarely watch entire football games; I simply get “too antsy” to sit there that long), but I watched the fourth quarter and cheered loudly when Treadwell (who stunned me with his abilities) crossed the goal line to take the lead with a minute left in the game. And then it fell apart: Treadwell was hurt, bad, and replay showed that the ball came loose at the one-foot line, and Auburn had recovered the fumble in the endzone.
Like that, zap, and Mississippi was out of the top ten and its chances at a playoff berth dashed. It has to be one of the top two or three emotional rollercoasters I’ve ever seen for a college program.
I’ll continue to root for Ole Miss, but in the meantime, I’ll take comfort in the team that I adopted as my third-favorite team: Mississippi State. During my 1999 trip, Marie and I were driving around back roads one afternoon and I saw the sign for Starkville. I said, “Hey, that’s where Mississippi State is located. Let’s check it out.”
I wasn’t favorably impressed. In fact, I remember feeling kinda bad about what I saw. Whereas Ole Miss had a gallant, almost elegant, feel to it, Mississippi State’s campus felt like a cinder-block institution, the State’s second-favorite son. I suspect I didn’t see MSU’s best face (I don’t think we even got out of the car, but rather just drove around), but that was my impression. Out of loyalty to my brother, I adopted them as my third-favorite team anyway. They haven’t disappointed.