Sugar Sweet

Ole Miss returns to the Sugar Bowl for first time since Manning lead Rebels to New Orleans 46 years ago

            Sometimes in life you actually get to see things you never thought you’d see.

            Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl is one of those things.

            Y’all, I, truly, never thought I’d see it. Sure, there was always hope. But, at times, the idea of the Rebels returning to New Orleans for one of college football’s biggest bowl games felt more like a fantasy than a realistic possibility.

Seriously, when Ole Miss used to play Tulane in the Superdome, I’d joke with my out-of-town friends that they better come in for the game because that might be the closest the Rebels would get to playing in the Sugar Bowl in our lifetime.

            But this wasn’t always the case. Between the 1940s and early 1970s, Ole Miss was a college football powerhouse, culminating in the Rebels winning three football national championships between 1959-1962.

            In my time as a student in Oxford, I would love to hear the “old-timers” talk romantically about catching the train for a football weekend in New Orleans, painting the town red (and blue), and cheering the Rebs on to victory between trips to the French Quarter.

            Strangely, Ole Miss football slipped into mediocrity shortly after the 1962 riots that forced President Kennedy to federalize the National Guard so that a black student could be enrolled in school.

I had grown resigned to the idea that Ole Miss would be forever marred by its past, stained by its sin of segregation, and never able to escape the shadow of the lambasting Bob Dylan laid down in his song Oxford Town:

 

“He went down to Oxford Town

Guns and clubs followed him down

All because his face was brown

Better get away from Oxford Town”

 

            Rebel football suffered though mediocrity for much of the last 50 years or so, punctuated only when a member of the “first family of football” was under center. The last time Ole Miss played in the Sugar Bowl was 1970, when Archie Manning was the team’s quarterback. It seemed their best chance to return was when his son, Eli, was the team’s quarterback in the early 2000s. But the Cotton Bowl in Dallas was the apex of Eli’s tenure.

            Four years ago, Ole Miss hired Hugh Freeze as its head ball coach. Inaccurately portrayed in the Sandra Bullock film, The Blind Side, fans howled, and questioned the search committee’s choice. Archie Manning, the committee chairman, asked fans to trust their decision.

            In four seasons, Freeze has led the Rebels to four bowl games (the last two have resulted in appearances in New Year’s Six bowl games), landed some of the top recruiting classes in the country, and returned Ole Miss to competing with the game’s elite programs.

            For too long, Ole Miss seemed to find ways to lose at the most inopportune times. This season, it appeared again that in addition to losing to Florida, Arkansas, and Memphis, the Rebels would also succumb to Depressive State. Instead, wins over Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M vaulted the team to its best finish in decades.

            As a New Orleanian, I won’t need the train to get to town on New Year’s night. But I’ll be on board with the Rebels.

            Oklahoma State and Ole Miss will square off in the 82nd annual Allstate Sugar Bowl on Friday, January 1, 2016, in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The game is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m., and will be televised by ESPN.

 

 

 

Categories: The Pennant Chase