This is huge for Mississippi, all of us…

Rick Cleveland 2007.jpg

Mississippi State plays against UCLA starting Monday for college baseball’s National Championship.

This is one of those moments.

This is huge for Mississippi.

You want to know how huge? UCLA leads the nation, having won 109 Division I team national championships. Mississippi’s Division I schools have never won one, not clear-cut.

So I don’t care if you pull for State, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Alcorn, Millsaps, LSU or Alabama. If you are from Mississippi, this should make you proud. Furthermore, this should make you happy for your friends who went to State and who pull for State.

Most of you know I have been fortunate to have covered Mississippi sports all my life. I have close friends of all persuasions, from State to Mississippi Valley State, from Delta State in the flatlands to Blue Mountain College in the hills.

What has bothered me most about all those games all those years is the constant bickering among the fans of the schools. And, yes, I know that’s what makes it fun for some. Many Ole Miss fans think that any time State wins, Ole Miss loses. Many State fans feel that any time Ole Miss wins, State loses.

I don’t, never have. Look at it this way: With State playing for the national championship this week, maybe a few more people outside of Mississippi, including those who work for ESPN and other networks, will learn that the Bulldogs are the maroon and white team from Mississippi State, and the Rebels are the red and blue team from Ole Miss. And that the land mass between New Orleans and Mobile has a name and it is Mississippi.

My immediate thought when Jonathan Holder got the last out Friday afternoon was for all of my dear ol’ State friends who did not live to see this moment. I thought of Ben Puckett, who bled maroon and white and who credited Mississippi State for changing his life, who did so much good for so many people, and who died just last month. The last game Ben listened to with his daughter, Carol, was this State team losing to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament. Even Ben Puckett, with all his optimism, could have imagined what has happened since.

I thought of good ol’ Bob Hartley, the long-time Mississippi State sports information director who was my unofficial uncle from Starkville. For so many years, Bob Hartley was the best asset Mississippi State athletics had going for it. He was maroon and white through thick and mostly thin and he always made you feel welcome when you entered the press box at Scott Field or Dudy Noble or in the press room at The Hump. I would love to see Bob Hartley’s smiling face right now and drink a toast with him to these Bulldogs.

I thought of John Buckley, who grew up at State, but made Hattiesburg his home. He opened Cap’n John’s, which became the unofficial gathering place for coaches, officials and sports media in South Mississippi late on Friday and Saturday nights. Here’s to you Cap’n John.

I thought of Hal White, of Hal and Mal’s fame, who loved his ‘Dogs thoroughly but not at the expense of anyone else. Never forget the year he made the Hal and Mal’s Oyster Open caps maroon. “All these years, I never did it,” Hal said. “I didn’t want to listen to the s—.  This year, I figured what the heck. Hey, it’s my tournament.”

I thought of Harold “Bird Dog” Grove, who was the person I always called (especially after Bob Hartley passed) when I needed to know something about Mississippi State history. Bird Dog Grove, who played for truly great State football teams, dearly loved his school but he kept it in the right perspective. He didn’t hate Ole Miss; indeed, I’m not sure Bird Dog hated anyone or anything.

But he loved State, and he would have loved this. So do I.

•••

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9 thoughts on “This is huge for Mississippi, all of us…”

  1. Rick, I travel all over the country quite a bit, and I can’t tell you how many times people have complimented “my team” when one of the Mississippi schools does something noteworthy. If the accomplishment was by State or Ole Miss, I used to explain, no, I’m a Southern Miss fan, but I’ve basically learned to say thanks and go on. Once you get out of the Southeast, most folks don’t know or care the difference. They really have a hard time understanding why I would go out of my way to draw the distinction. We’re a small state and any big accomplishment should be enjoyed by all of us. As long as the State fans don’t get too obnoxious about it, that is. Seriously, we should all be Bulldog fans right now. Jim

  2. People should be proud, I know I am. I am originally from Tupelo and now live in Omaha, NE. It’s great walking downtown and seeing all the maroon and white. I bought a hat and shirt and have proudly worn it to work. I have never followed any of the sports in the state but this I am following. I actually can see the games being played at the stadium from my office. All I have to say is Go STATE!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. I have a diploma on my wall from OLE MISS but I just don’t bleed red & blue , I bleed MISSISSIPPI. Your words were right -on-time. Keep up the good work ! Hail STATE.

  4. Amen! In addition to Ole Miss, I went to U.Va. But after Wes Rea planted that Charlottesville homer near the Potomac, I had a feeling that this Miss. State team was a team of destiny. Go get ’em, Dawgs! Make us proud.

  5. A great sports editorial! Thanks, Rick ..
    We all need to be reminded , we are MISSISSIPIANS , first , middle and last !

    don mc nair
    meridian ,ms

  6. Rick, thank you for this article. I bleed deep maroon, but I learned to root for MISSISSIPPI while living in Minnesota. When you leave Mississippi and the south, you find out what the rest of the country really thinks of our state. It was at that realization that I began supporting ALL Mississippi teams. I catch a lot of flack from family and friends, but I feel that it is so important. I still enjoy the competition, but I support Mississippi teams when they play out of state.

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