Yes, our tongue is somewhat in our cheek as we contemplate this Saturday's installment of what was once -- and may well be again -- one of the premier football rivalries in this neck of the woods. When the University of Memphis Tigers tangle at the Liberty Bowl with the University of Mississippi Rebels, each squad will lay an undefeated record on the line. Okay, so both teams are just 1-0 and are fresh from opening victories against underdog rivals -- Vanderbilt in Ole Miss' case; Tennessee Tech in the case of the Tigers. So what? This game has got game. Always has.
Memphis State-Ole Miss (as it used to be known) has been a hot number since the unsung Tigers nearly pulled off a colossal upset against the Rebs in the long-ago year of 1960. That was when Ole Miss, ranked number one before the game, still countenanced the flying of the Stars and Bars, and the Tigers, whose John Griffin ran back an interception for a TD in the game's first minutes, led for three full quarters -- keeping those familiar flags furled until the last quarter, when Ole Miss pulled away for an ultimate 31-20 victory. From that point on, with the Mississippians winning most -- but not all -- of the sequels, the game was considered a must-see for the fans and alumni of both schools and for followers of football in general. A 1998 column by our former editor, the late Dennis Freeland, who wrote peerlessly about football, is reprinted in this issue of the Flyer, and that piece says it all.
The sad fact, however, is that the football fortunes of both schools took a precipitate decline in the last several decades. (Okay, so the Tigers' dive was more precipitous and more depressing and more lasting than the Rebels'.) But now they're meeting again at the beginning of a season, when hopes are high at both venues, and along with the unbeaten status enjoyed by both teams as they prepare for action is the fact that each can legitimately look forward to potential bowl involvement if their Ws turn out to outnumber their Ls at the end of the season. Moreover, both teams have potentially illustrious quarterbacks at the helm -- Ole Miss' Eli Manning of the storied football clan; U of M's Danny Wimprine, who just last week set new all-time career passing stats for the Tigers. And did we mention that Joe Lee Dunn, the legendary defensive coordinator who's toiled for Ole Miss, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and the U of M, is now back with the Tigers and ready to throw some new wrinkles at Manning and company?
Scene set? Good, we've done our handiwork. All that's necessary to do now is to turn out for the game. A full house at the Liberty Bowl would complete the setting nicely. Then it'll be time to commence to hollerin' for your team of choice. Ready? Go to hell, Ole Miss! (Or that Hotty Toddy thing, if you're of the other persuasion and you really insist.)