Friday, October 5, 2012

Ag Football Preview: Ole Miss Football History

When you think of Ole Miss you think of three things…..the epicenter of the good ole deep south, The Grove (and all it’s glory), and The Mannings.

Well, most guys think about those things.  Most women in America think of the school that poor adopted kid went to in that really sad, touching movie. 

Back to the guy stuff….
Born Elisha Archibald Manning III, he was the starting QB at Ole Miss from 1968-1970 where he finished 4th and 3rd in Heisman balloting in his junior and senior seasons before the Saints selected him as the #2 overall pick in the NFL draft.  The speed limit on campus in Oxford is 18 mph, his jersey number, in honor of him.  He essentially lived out his entire career, collegiate and professional, as a great player on bad teams.  Archie Manning is a cultural icon in both the state of Mississippi and the state of Louisiana. 

The one thing Archie didn’t pass?  His name.  How on earth could he father three boys and not pass that name on one more generation? 

One of those of those boys went to Tennessee, and he could play a little football, but the other two went to Ole Miss.  Cooper, his oldest, suffered from a spinal condition just as he was arriving on campus.  Eli, his youngest, brought Ole Miss football back to relative success.  He was rewarded for taking Ole Miss to the Cotton Bowl with the Maxwell Award, the Johnny Unitas Award and a third place finish in the ’03 Heisman balloting…..and the #1 overall draft pick in the NFL draft.
Wait.  Back it up a bit….Eli’s birth name is Elisha Nelson Manning.  It was the Archibald part that his father didn’t want to hand down?  That’s even crazier.

The glory years of the program were the late-50s/early-60s under John Vaught, not to be confused with John Voight – who also gave us something of importance.  They claimed the National Championship in 1959, 1960, and 1962 and six SEC titles (’47, ’54, ’55, ’60, ’62, ’63). 

Interestingly, the ’59 squad has widely been considered one of the best teams of the mid-century but they didn’t win the SEC title that season (Georgia did).  They slipped against LSU in Baton Rouge, losing 7-3, but avenged the loss in the Sugar Bowl by beating the Tigers 21-0 in a rematch to end the season.

During Vaught’s 24 years at the helm of the program he coached 26 All-Americans, including four players who finished in the top five of the Heisman balloting (Charlie Conerly ’47, Charlie Flowers ’59, Jake Gibbs ’60, and Manning ’69 & ’70).  He is the 4th winningest coach in SEC history behind only Bear Bryant, Lou Holtz, and Vince Dooley.  And you had never heard of him until three paragraphs ago – we have much to learn about the deep history of the SEC.

The 70s, 80s, and 90s were, in general, pretty forgettable for Rebel fans.  In the late 90s, when Tommy Tubberville left Oxford for Auburn, they hired David Cutcliffe (of Peyton Manning fame – he was the OC at Tennessee when Manning was there).  Cutcliff turned things around, along with Eli, but he went 4-7 the year after Eli left and was fired.  He it was his first losing season in Oxford.

The Rebels have been through a whirlwind of coaches in recent years but none as exciting or enthusiastic or hard to understand as Ed Orgeron. 
How do you not go buy a car right now?  

Coach O was a recruiting-aholic and stocked up the USC Trojans roster leading up to their historic mid-2000s run.  
Coach O was apparently much more exciting than he was good a coaching a football team and was fired at the end of 2007 after 3 seasons at the helm.  He was replaced by Houston Nutt who came over from Arkansas, looked like a crazy person, and despite a strong 2008 season, was gone after four seasons to be replaced by new HC Hugh Freeze.

The Rebels play their games at Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium, which was opened in 1915 and most recently renovated in 2002.  It holds just over 60,000 and holds little to no aura when compared to the majority of SEC home fields.
What the Rebels do have that no other school in the country has, is the tailgating mecca that is The Grove.  Just over 10 acres of shade trees and tents – but this isn’t a bunch of coolers in the back of a truck, these set ups would make Martha Stewart proud.  Linens, silver, hors d’oeuvres, chandeliers.  Yeah, this is fancy pants tailgating.  The going phrase around Oxford is, “We may not win every game, but we never lost a party.”

Ole Miss, like most SEC schools, is very Greek – sororities and frats are what everyone does, which is 
something that Ags are going to have to get adjusted to.  The Grove helps take this to another level.  T-shirts and flip flops aren’t going to get it done…..make sure your chinos are ironed, your loafers are clean, and your tie is straight.  And this is their war-cry:

Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty
Who the hell are we, Hey!
Flim Flam, Bim Bam

That isn’t their only song, they have many, mostly with some reference to Dixie.  The school no longer allows them to play Pride of the South at football games due to the student’s unwillingness to stop using the phrase “The South will rise again” in the song.

Along those same lines, the famous mascot, Colonel Reb, was replaced in 2010 by Rebel Black Bear in an effort by the administration to continue to distance itself from its ties to the antebellum era .  Rumor has it that he still makes appearances in The Grove on game day.  We’ll have to watch for photos.

Ole Miss is a road trip that has been on my Bucket List for years and I’m really excited to catch a game in Oxford in the next couple of years.

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