Best Miss. baseball season gives us a most unlikely scenario
This college baseball season in Mississippi has given us so much to cheer: conference championships, nationally ranked teams, splendid players and so much more.
But did you ever think you would see what we saw Saturday? Mississippi State fans openly cheered an Ole Miss victory.
The SEC Network showed it perfectly on split screen TV: State fans, in Starkville watching their Bulldogs on the field and the Rebels on their cellphones and portable TVs. Of course, State fans were cheering for their Diamond Dogs. But when Ole Miss got the last out to defeat Texas A & M, State fans cheered wildly. I saw them, heard them. I swear I did. They rang their cowbells — for an Ole Miss victory. Yes, and Dudy Noble — the person, not the field — rolled over in his grave.
There were exceedingly extenuating circumstances. State needed a victory over Arkansas and an Ole Miss victory over Texas A & M for the outright regular season SEC Baseball Championship.
But even that didn’t make it particularly easy for many Bulldog fans to cheer for their most hated rival.
Says author Neely Tucker, a lifelong Mississippi State fan (who graduated from Ole Miss), “For me it was the definition of a moral quandary.”
It was for many.
And some couldn’t pull the trigger.
Take Phillip Bonds, of Iuka, a 46-year-old, maroon-bleeding, Rebel-despising, life-long State fan. He was fine with a shared championship, but he wasn’t, under any circumstances, going to pull for Ole Miss.
“I told my brother, I just can’t (pull for Ole Miss); I just can’t,” Bonds said. “I cannot think of a single scenario in which I would pull for Ole Miss. That’s just me.”
One of Bonds’ earliest sports memories was the 1981 Egg Bowl when a controversial pass interference call gave Ole Miss a last-ditch chance to win. John Fourcade scored the winning touchdown and waved the ball at angry State fans.
You don’t forget things like that if you are Phillip Bonds.
“I guess I love to see Ole Miss lose at least as much as I love to see us win,” Bonds said.
It goes both ways. I know Ole Miss fans who won’t so much as step foot in Starkville, even for important games with the Rebels.
“I’d rather watch it on TV than spend money in Starkville,” is the familiar refrain.
Tucker, an accomplished author who writes also for the Washington Post, is steeped in the rivalry, a third generation Bulldog who grew up in Starkville and attended State for two years. And then he met the late, great author Willie Morris (an Ole Miss man) in the Left Field Lounge at Dudy Noble Field and told Willie he wanted to become a writer. Morris told Tucker he should come to Ole Miss. Tucker did. He learned a lot of about writing and journalism. He did not learn to love — or even to like — Ole Miss.
“I love my friends up there,” Tucker wrote me. “I got my degree there. But I am not physically able to utter the words ‘Hotty Toddy.’ ”
So, was Neely Tucker watching the SEC Network Saturday when Ole Miss and State were playing on the split-screen?
“Yes,” he answers.
And was he pulling for Ole Miss?
“No, I was pulling against Texas A&M,” Tucker said. “Big difference.”
But again, many Bulldogs couldn’t even go that far.
Tucker was watching the State fans celebrate the Ole Miss victory, looking for family members, when the camera panned to one section on the first base side of Dudy Noble. Amid all the cheering fans, one guy stood up and showed what he thought Ole Miss winning. Yes, and he used both his middle fingers.
And then there was State fan Charlie Turner (@CharlieSt8Fan on Twitter) who tweeted: “I was pulling for a rainout.”
Where the final SEC standings were concerned a rainout would have been just as good for State as an Aggie defeat — and far preferable for many State fans than an Ole Miss victory.