Monday, October 20, 2014

For a day, Mississippi is King of College Football

It was a bad nightmare.

Cowbells kept clanging so hard my brain wanted to jump out of my head.  An earlier rainstorm had made my clothes feel as if they were in the middle of the rinse cycle.  Oh, and my beloved Auburn Tigers had just been defeated.

So why was I smiling?

Maybe it was because of the father I saw hugging his young son, pure love coming from both of them.

Maybe it was due to the overwhelming look of happiness I saw on fan faces as they celebrated like it was V-E Day.

It could have been the young woman, either overcome with joy or booze or both, crying as she rang a cowbell bigger than her forearm.

I think, though, the reason for my smile is because I have been in their shoes and know the pure exhilaration of a program-defining victory.

Their neighbor to the east, especially in football, has long overshadowed the state of Mississippi.  While Auburn and Alabama have captured the nation’s attention, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have been considered also-rans. 

Well, until this year.

Mississippi State just does not win big games.  That was the sentiment heading into the clash between No. 2 Auburn and the No. 3 Bulldogs.  Auburn has more talent.  The moment is too big for State.  How will they handle all this hype? 

I mean, College Gameday was making their first ever appearance in Starkville.

It shouldn’t have been the Bulldogs that we were worried about.

Behind quarterback Dak Prescott, Mississippi State emphatically answered any and all questions.

The record crowd grew louder with each touchdown, inching closer to a victory of unseen proportions in this small western Mississippi town.

The mass celebration really began in the middle of the 4th quarter.  I have been in many great atmospheres, but listening to the crowd sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” to the beat of 55,000 cowbells ranks right up there.

You know the phrase “act like you’ve been there before?"  That didn’t apply in this case.  Mississippi had never been in this position before.  They came into the game with their highest ranking in the program’s history.  They left with a No. 1 ranking in the near future.

Walking down the seemingly endless ramp, fellow Auburn fans and myself were invisible to the raucous Bulldog faithful.  Instead of the usual trash talk, State fans were focused on their team, their fellow fans and, importantly, their university.

For a day, there would be no more “thank God for Mississippi” jokes.  With Ole Miss’ win against the mighty Crimson Tide a week earlier, the Magnolia State was on top of the college football world, both figuratively and literally.  All of the problems facing states like Mississippi disappeared just for a while.

Women wept, grown men hugged, cowbells clanged and this Auburn man couldn’t help but smile.