There must be something really special about what goes in the water bottles Mississippi high schools use on Friday nights.
Just has to be be.
How else to explain it?
Jerry Rice, pro football’s all-time leading receiver and scorer, played his high school football a few miles outside out of Starkville.
Brett Favre, pro football’s all-time leading passer, played his prep ball in Kiln.
Walter Payton, pro football’s second all-time leading rusher, played his high school football in Columbia.
Archie Manning, the patriarch of America’s first family of football, first played at Drew.
Steve McNair, the NCAA’s all-time leader in total offense, won his first football championship at Mount Olive.
There are more, so many more. Mississippi gets such a bad rap all the time. We’re the poorest, fattest, least educated and on and on and on.
But, hey, we sure can play ball. Mississippi takes a backseat to no other state when it comes to producing sports legends, which is part of what makes the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum such a magical place.
Touch a screen over here and watch Walter Payton break about 10 tackles on one play against the Kansas City Chiefs. Touch another spot and watch Rice, going full speed across the middle, reach back behind him with one hand and snare a pass. Touch another screen and watch Sammy Winder (Pocahontas) take off from the four-yard line and dive over a would-be tackler three yards into the end zone.
Decade after decade, small-town Mississippi keeps producing many the best football players on the planet, which begs the question:
Here’s my best guess: Because football means so much here. Tonight is the first full night of high school football in Mississippi. For much of this state it’s like Christmas, New Year’s, Halloween, anniversaries and birthdays all rolled into one. It’s an integral part of our culture. Entire towns rally around their teams. You’ll see more passion and pageantry on one Friday night in Mississippi than Hollywood or Broadway could ever produce.
My daddy drove me to cover my first football game when I was 13, 46 years ago next month. Brooklyn played at Lucedale. We walked the sidelines. I was smitten. It was like a two-hour passion play. And get this: One of the main characters, the Brooklyn coach, was named Poochie — only in Mississippi.
I love everything about Friday nights, especially the fact that in Mississippi, you never know when you might be watching a future NFL MVP.