“Dammit, sir . . . will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?”
-- Judge Stevens, William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”
When the Ole Miss Rebels' national title hopes died, their whole town went to the funeral: the women through a sort of respectful affection for the fallen hopes of their men, the men mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of top ten, which no one save an old Manning--a combined Rebel and Saint--had seen in years.
Alive, the Ole Miss title hopes had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation, dating from that day in 1969 when Colonel Reb, the mascot--he who fathered the edict that no Ole Miss woman should appear on the Grove without a Red Solo cup--decreed that they may lose the game but never the party, the dispensation dating from the loss of the first game on national primetime television.
Not that Ole Miss would have accepted charity. Colonel Reb invented an involved tale to the effect that Ole Miss football was more of a social occasion than a barbaric field contest, which the town, as a matter of business, preferred.
Only a man of Colonel Reb’s generation and thought could have invented it, and only an Ole Miss fan could have believed it.
When the next generation of Mannings, with its more modern timing routes and pass patterns, became quarterbacks, this arrangement created some little dissatisfaction. On the first of the year, Eli mailed in a three-point win in the Cotton Bowl and went on to the NFL. A deputation waited upon him from San Diego, but he signed with the Giants instead.
On a tarnished gilt easel before the draft day podium stood a crayon portrait of the Ole Miss quarterback’s father getting sacked in a Saints jersey.
A season later the Ole Miss administration wrote the Mannings’ coach himself, to the effect that he no longer went after high-profile recruits at all. The termination notice was also enclosed, without comment.
The next coach looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue. His eyes, lost in the muscular ridges of his face, looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of granite as they moved from one recruit to another. He did not ask them to sit, but to remove their shirts and chant “Ole Miss!” and “wild boys!” and “I pay no taxes in Jefferson!” He stood on the sideline until the team came to a stumbling halt.
So Ole Miss vanquished him, horse and foot, just as she had vanquished the previous coach.
That was when people had begun to feel really sorry for her. People in our town, remembering how Ole Miss had gone completely crazy at last, believed that they held themselves a little too high for what they really were. None of the young coaches were quite good enough for Ole Miss and such.
Then Ole Miss named Houston Nutt, a Razorback--a squirrelly, ready man, with a big voice and eyes lighter than his face--their head coach. The little boys would follow in groups to hear him cuss Gus Malzahn and Springdale High School. Pretty soon he knew everybody in their town. Whenever you heard a lot of laughing anywhere about the Grove, Houston Nutt would be in the center of the group.
At first we were glad that Ole Miss would have an interest, because the ladies all said, “Of course another SEC school would not think seriously of running the ‘wildcat.’” But there were still others, older people, who said that single-wing football was no gimmick.
Then the newer generation became the backbone and the spirit of their town and Ole Miss defeated Florida in the Swamp, but the title hopes grew up and fell away and did not survive an early-season road game in Columbia. After tomorrow, the front door will be closed upon the last one and remained closed for good.