It was utterly joyous, unexpectedly terrifying, and ultimately agonizing.
The day was October 5, 2002: the day that the Ole Miss football team beat Florida. The crowd flooded the field -- among them, one of my cousins who is well into his 50s -- and en masse took down one goal post and then, like a scene out of The Blob, they headed for the other post. To imagine being swept up in this frenzied, emotional mob was to expect certain injury. These fans were out of control.
This year, the fans must be getting used to winning. Though Ole Miss was humiliated by losing to the University of Memphis, these perennial ne'er-do-wells beat Florida again, took out Auburn in a nail-biter, and remain the only undefeated team in the SEC.
This Saturday, Ole Miss faces LSU in Oxford. It could be a ferocious battle; it could be a fizzler. I don't know because I don't follow football or any sports, really. This story isn't about stats or strategy. This story is about what it takes to be an Ole Miss fan. This is a story about my brother David. He claims he's just an ordinary college-football enthusiast. For the sake of humanity, let's hope not.
First of all, David is a glutton for punishment. Not only is he an Ole Miss fan, he also roots for the Saints. But it's not really his fault. My father, an Ole Miss alumnus, brainwashed my brother early on during the glory days of Archie Manning. David had a phonograph record extolling the virtues of Manning. He had a button proclaiming he was part of "Archie's Army" and a bumper sticker declaring, "Archie Is a Saint." He once got Archie's autograph three times in one day. He named his dog Archie, an ill-tempered creature who was once stabbed in the nose with a fork by the mail carrier.
These days, it's all about Eli, Archie's son. Earlier this summer, David sent me a link to a story about Eli's prospects for the upcoming season. I did not read it because I did not care. Earlier this week, he sent an e-mail urging me to go to a certain Web site and cast a vote for Eli to win the Heisman Trophy. I did go to the Web site and I did vote for Eli and I still don't care. Here's the deal: David is excited, and I'm excited for him. Yet, to be excited is a dangerous thing for my brother. It goes against his ritualistic, nearly obsessive-compulsive approach to the game.
It is a must for David to be prepared for the worst. He concentrates on the idea that Ole Miss will lose. And if they have a huge lead in the first half, he knows for sure that they will blow it, spectacularly, in the second half. Second, he wears the same shirt, jeans, underwear, socks, and shoes he had on during the team's first surprising upset. He wears this outfit to every game, even when watching it on TV. It's not unusual in sports to rely on lucky apparel. But what about a lucky sister? Because I was with him that day Ole Miss beat Florida, he announced that for the team's sake I must forevermore attend every game. I bargained him down to having him swab the inside of my mouth with a Q-Tip and depend on my DNA rather than my entire body.
When Ole Miss calls a time-out, David bows his head and prays. This only applies to Ole Miss time-outs; no praying during TV time-outs or the opposing team's time-outs. He has season tickets and drives from Dallas to Memphis for each home game. He made the trip three weeks in a row last month. He must be several hours early. If the game starts at 2 p.m., 7 a.m. is the latest possible departure time from Memphis. He has a radio to listen to the game while watching that same game.
He reads the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, The Commercial Appeal, and The Daily Mississippian every day. He listens to WHBQ on the Internet and reads the practice reports on the Ole Miss Spirit online message board. Before the game against Auburn, he was overwhelmed by the feeling that he needed to be there. He bought a ticket on eBay, drove to Alabama, and when he spotted former Ole Miss star running-back Deuce McAllister, he took it to be a good sign.
On game day, he must drench himself in football. That means listening to sports radio on the trip to Oxford and the trip back. On our return from the Florida game, he tried desperately to call up any kind of sports on my car radio. My antenna happened to be down, so there was no way the AM stations would come in. Nevertheless, that did not stop David from pushing the scan button the entire 90-minute drive. Click, schrssh, click, schrssh, and on and on and on.
I have committed two, football-interfering, unforgivable sins. First, when he was looking for a place to watch some more football, I sent him to a bar with only one television. He was disgusted. But it is to his true mortification that I will not upgrade from my 13-inch TV, nor will I get cable. "Cheap!" he cries and then makes a creaking noise whenever I open my purse to suggest its lack of use.
The upcoming LSU game brings in a whole new element: my other brother, Bill. Bill is an LSU fan, equally obsessed with the game as David. Since David has the tickets, Bill will sit on the Ole Miss side and, stupidly, cheer very, very loudly. He is, I've been told, often pelted with cups.
Tickets are sold out for the November 22nd Ole Miss/LSU game but are being auctioned on eBay. The game will air on CBS at 2:30 p.m.