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For sports, Mississippi is one big small town

One of the many realizations that I’ve come to about Mississippi after living here for half my life is that it’s really one big small town. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody, and there’s a kinship that exists whether you were born in Tupelo, Tchula, Vicksburg or Gulfport.

That’s especially true when it comes to sports, as Mississippi State’s women’s basketball team demonstrated with its recent run to the Final Four.

Mississippi State fans and alums, of course, were ecstatic. So were fans of Ole Miss and Southern Miss, who normally would cringe if they pricked their finger and maroon blood spilled out.

Facebook and Twitter were full of support for the Bulldogs, for no other reason than they were representing us and shining a positive light on our often beleaguered state. It didn’t matter what side someone was on, it only mattered that we were rooting for our neighbors and friends.

To paraphrase JFK, Mississippi rose up and declared, “Ich bin ein Bulldog.”

It’s hardly the first time something like that has happened. We’re all proud to claim Brett Favre, Jerry Rice or the Manning brothers — even if the latter are actually from New Orleans — as our own. Any time one of the state’s colleges does well in sports on a national level, even the bitterest rivals will fall in and cheer them on.

It’s not like this everywhere. I grew up in the Northeast, where there are dozens of allegiances and geography splits people into different factions. Philadelphia Eagles fans would sooner punch themselves in the liver than root for the New York Giants to win a Super Bowl, and generally could not care less whether the Pittsburgh Steelers win one. Pennsylvania is the same size as Mississippi, but Philadelphia and Pittsburgh might as well be in different states instead of opposite sides of the same one.

Even in other SEC states people don’t pull together like they do here. LSU is the big dog in Louisiana and the other state schools are generally beneath its fans’ notice. Auburn and Alabama have such a blood feud that rooting for the other under any circumstance breaks families apart.

Mississippi is incredibly unique in the way its people genuinely put aside differences — temporarily, of course — to pull for the state to do well. Maybe it’s part of our perpetual underdog status or just our friendly side. Whatever it is, it’s a trait that makes me happy to call this state my home.

Ernest Bowker is a sports writer for The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at ernest.bowker@vicksburgpost.com

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 sports reporters in the paper's 137-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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