State, Ole Miss fans need to savor this season

Published 12:19 pm Thursday, October 16, 2014

I have to admit, I’m a little bit jealous of Mississippi State and Ole Miss fans right now.

While my alma mater, LSU, hurtles headlong toward a forgettable season, the Bulldogs and Rebels have skyrocketed up the polls and set their sights on a national championship.

My envy, though, doesn’t stem from the fortunes of the teams. It comes from the fun MSU and Ole Miss fans are going to have over the next six weeks.

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You see, no matter how many championships your team wins later on, there’s nothing like going along for the ride that first time.

For college football teams, it usually starts in late September or early October with a win you never planned on getting in August. For Mississippi State, it was the upset of LSU; for Ole Miss, the win at home over Alabama.

The next few weeks are filled with glee and anticipation as you and the rest of America wake up to the fact that your team — the one that hasn’t won anything in years — is finally worth a flip.

There’s the weekends where they sidestep the trap games, beat another formerly invincible nemesis, and slowly climb the ladder. “First time since …” mentions give way to serious conversations about January bowl games.

They reach the conference championship game and find a way to win it, then do the same in the national title game. The point when they break into the clear will make grown men weep with joy as decades of heartache and wasted autumn weekends melt away.

The next day is even better. Wear something with your team’s logo, and you’ll be congratulated by friends and strangers alike as if you’ve just had your first-born child.

I got to experience all of this 11 years ago. I enrolled at LSU in 1994, and spent a decade watching mostly mediocre teams. There was an SEC championship in 2001, but it was sort of a fluke. A half-dozen different scenarios broke perfectly in LSU’s favor in November that allowed it to go from 4-3 to league champs in a span of six weeks. More often than not, the Tigers found a way to come up just short.

Then came 2003.

On Sept. 20 of that year, I sat in Tiger Stadium and watched No. 7 Georgia take a screen pass 93 yards for a touchdown and a 10-10 tie with 4 1/2 minutes left. It was the kind of backbreaking play LSU teams of that era always gave up during big losses.

On that cloudy day, though, a strange calm and light came over me. A stadium full of 92,000 screaming lunatics might seem like an odd place to hear the voice of God, but I think He spoke to me and said, “Don’t worry. We’ve got this.”

From that point on, I had no doubt things would be all right. LSU went on to score the winning touchdown in the waning moments of the game, and 3 1/2 months later hoisted its first national championship trophy in 45 years.

I suspect there were a lot of those zen-like moments experienced over the past few weeks in Starkville and Oxford, or maybe they’re still to come. There are, after all, a lot of twists and turns left in this crazy college football season.

When it happens, it might be the best feeling in the world as a sports fan. It’s one you only get to feel once, for one fleeting, shining moment, but it’s one you will never, ever forget.

I wish I could feel it again, but I’ve had my share. All I can do now is live vicariously through State and Ole Miss fans as they enjoy the ride.

Savor it, guys. You’ll never have another autumn like this one.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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