Fowl Play 

The football Tigers finally win a Big One -- with a little help from Marie Levaux.

The chickens did it. The rubber chickens. Those of you who were among the half-hundred thousand at the sun-drenched Liberty Bowl Saturday afternoon may have an idea of what I'm talking about.

The Tigers had just stumble-bummed their way through a horrid third quarter, putting on as inept a display of football as you'd ever like to see. The Ole Miss Rebels, meanwhile, seemed to be putting their engines on cruise-control, scoring 17 unanswered points.The game seemed to be relentlessly slipping away.

Around me in the stands, Tiger loyalists had that glum expression that is by now, well, traditional. This script was all too familiar: The heroes come out of the gate strong, give away an early lead with dumb mistakes, rally to take it back again, then barely show up for the third quarter. That's when we broke out the chickens.

A well-known fried-chicken company has come up with a goofy promotional gimmick that evidently will now occur between the third and fourth quarters of U of M home games: Three contestants, each armed with rubber chickens, try to throw their birds into a large bucket placed to the right of the north goal posts.The winner gets buckets of fried (hopefully, not rubber) chicken.

As the teams changed ends, the Tigers down 31-17, I was wondering absent-mindedlyabout this chicken silliness, but, more importantly, I was wondering what the hell I'd write about in this column. The sad, excruciating events of the past two seasons have caused me to use up just about every metaphor for painful defeat I can imagine.

Thankfully, the rubber chickens gave me an out.I figured I'd write something cute about how the Tiger football program was like a rubber chicken (the word "indigestible" came to mind), and then ... And then something very peculiar happened. The U of M opened the fourth quarter with a razzle-dazzle play involving Danny Wimprine passing to his left to Chris Kelley, who passed back across to the far right to a sprinting Wimprine, who scampered 35 yards deep into Ole Miss territory. This little Frank Merriwell number set up a DeAngelo Williams touchdown romp on the very next play.

Suddenly, the Tigers took their game to a whole new level. Wimprine could do no wrong, throwing nary an incompletion in the final quarter and racking up 355 record-tying passing yards by game's end.

Eli Manning, Ole Miss' media wunderkind, just as suddenly could do no right. His receivers dropped balls they should have caught, and he seemed increasingly disheartened as the quarter progressed. Around the six-minute mark, Wimprine magically escaped getting tackled in his own end zone and threw a Hail Mary in the general direction of Tavarious Davis, and, presto, what had once been lost was suddenly found.

Throw in three fourth-quarter field goals and there we were, staring with disbelief at the scoreboard -- Memphis 44, Ole Miss 34 -- with less than two minutes to play. Soon, Tommy West was raising his fists, the ecstatic crowd was tumbling onto the field, and grown men were weeping around me. That's when I remembered the rubber chickens. And I figured it all out.

You see, I think a convincing case can be made that this victory was the product of an elaborate voodoo hex, perhaps concocted by the U of M marketing department. The plan was simple: Go to New Orleans and get some "stuff." (Marie Levaux provided those chickens, I'm certain.) Then get some folks to throw 'em around in the air, releasing bad juju into the north end zone. Sound far-fetched?Well, how many Rebel points were scored in the north end zone in the fourth quarter?Not a one.

Need more evidence? Remember when Taye Biddle dropped that perfectly thrown Manning pass that would have stretched the Rebels then-shrinking lead to 10 points?Did he just "happen" to be no more than 10 yards from where that voodoo chicken bucket stood just half an hour before?And when Wimprinewas nearly nailed for a safety minutes later, did he just "happen" to be near the same spot? Could there have been some mojo floating around when he launched The Pass to Davis?

I am not usually given to seeking supernatural reasons for natural events. But, hey, when you haven't beaten your archrival for nearly a decade, you seek out truth wherever you can find it. And while Tommy West's hard work over the past two seasons looks like it's finally reaping dividends, it wouldn't hurt to keep a few rubber chickens around.

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