Mississippi State claims its' 11th SEC Crown and there is joy in Starkville

I barely know where to begin. Like many of you, the days of my youth involved sitting around a radio hoping for something good to happen. Born into an age where we had four channels on the television set, we grew up the beholders of the beauty in the great story telling of Jack Cristil, John Correro and Jim Ellis on the radio. They became our men on the scene for Bulldog athletics.

If Mississippi State was playing, the radio was on in our house. The TV may have been on as well with the volume being adjusted during commercial breaks or whenever something big happened where ever the Bulldogs were playing, but the radio was on. 

It's just how things were at Freddie Robertson's house. It's what you did. You may have had a bushel of peas to shell, while you listened, but you listened to the Bulldogs play. Listening to those games brought us together. That was family time for us. We were close, but when we were gathered in the living room, on the patio or even in the garage should the reception require it, we were even closer.

This week, I thought a lot about my dad and about how we wore out that old Philco radio. In the latter days of my youth, daddy upgraded to a Bose system that he kept under an end table next to his chair. He was awfully proud of it, even though it was more radio than an old boy from Ellisville, Mississippi really needed.

We spent countless hours listening to those games. If we had to go somewhere, then we had to make the move from the house to the car when the commercials were on. If the women in our family just needed to run into the store for something quick, we would sit in the car and listen to the game. 

This all may sound strange to some folks, but it was pretty much how we lived. 

Back in 1989, Mississippi State won the SEC Baseball Championship. My dad and I listened to games together when we were together. When we were away, I would call to get his commentary. I was with him when it was announced that LSU had lost and that the Diamond Dawgs were the Champions of the SEC.

It was a big moment, but back then big moments were expected in Starkville. The good ole days were great when it came to Bulldog baseball. No matter what happened on the other fields of play. State fans knew they would field a quality ball club every spring.

The championship in 1989 was the third SEC hardware harvesting in five seasons. The 1985 and 1987 teams won the SEC tournament, while the 1989 'Dogs won the regular season title. Even the in between years were good ones for State finishing third in the league in 1988 and going to Omaha with a 1990 squad that won 50 games in a "rebuilding" year.

To be honest about it all now, we took a lot of that for granted. I guess we thought it would last forever. Never would any of us have dreamed that the beloved Bulldogs would go 27 years without another SEC regular season title. 

There have been some ups and downs, some peaks and valleys. Two years removed from playing in the NCAA championship series, State missed out on the post season altogether. Those were dark days, but that all changed on Saturday. At long last the Mississippi State Bulldogs were once again Kings of the SEC diamond hill. 

The Bulldogs won a program best 21 SEC games this season and they needed every single one of them to win a title that no other program could claim a share of. Yes, no team navigates from behind without seeing some of the traffic clear, but these Bulldogs put themselves in a position to win the outright title by going undefeated in May capping the regular season with an 11 game winning streak.

As the sun rose Saturday morning, I told my wife that I wanted my two boys there in person to witness history. As my father did to me, I have passed down a legacy of Maroon and White. While it didn't take a lot of convincing, it was important to me for them to be able to take part in the moment.

While it may seem silly to some, when Richard Williams' 1996 Basketball Bulldogs knocked off Cincinnati to advance to the Final Four, I had my wife hand me my then seven month old son, Oni. I told her that when he is older and hears the story of that team, I want him to know that he was there. While he wouldn't remember it, I wanted him to know that he saw it happen.

I had some of those same feelings yesterday and not just for me and mine, but for you and all of yours. In the collective family of fandom, we share a common struggle. Hard times have often come easy for Bulldog fans, which make moments like we all witnessed yesterday all the more special.

Sometimes we have to be reminded about why it all matters. There has to be a payoff at some point for all of the loyalty, passion, and support, doesn't there? Somewhere between what could have been and what will someday be, Bulldog fans found themselves in a place most least expected, playing for the SEC crown.

Sure State was expected to be better, but good enough to win an SEC race that featured seven top ten teams? Not even the Truest of the True Maroons expected that and maybe that's what makes this one feel so special. In the 1980s, the Bulldogs were expected to win and win a lot.

While the pre-season projections were pretty positive for the 2016 'Dogs, most expected this crew to be somewhere in the middle of the pack and probably a two seed on the road in an NCAA regional. Honestly, most would have been satisfied with that step forward.

Instead, Mississippi State saw a return to glory, which will force John Cohen to get a new trophy case and completely redo the outfield wall at Dudy Noble field with updated program achievements. 

As the Bulldog players rushed the field to celebrate and to try on their SEC Champion T-Shirts for size, I did my best to soak it all in. With all due respect to Jim Ellis and the radio crew, there is simply nothing like being there.

The first hand I shook was that of long time Bulldog baseball media man Joe Dier. Joe looked away as we shook hands and as he choked back tears, he said, "A long time coming."

Yes, indeed, Joe. Yes, indeed.

As the First Lady of Bulldog Baseball, Nelle Cohen, patiently waited for her husband, John, to complete his TV appearance, our eyes met and she just smiled, a smile of both pride and relief. The woman who dubbed Dudy Noble Field the Carnegie Hall of college baseball was certainly among the happiest in attendance on Saturday.

I can only imagine how difficult last year was on John, Nelle and the entire Cohen family. While we all can move on to something else, Mississippi State Baseball is their everyday life. It is both incredibly just and incredibly rewarding to see a new SEC banner won under the name Cohen. 

Before heading back up to the press box, I got the chance to see Coach Nick Mingione, who's recruiting efforts are a big part of this turnaround. Looking to avoid an emotional moment about all I could get out was "Thanks". 

Nick stood there holding his son, Reeves, in his arms and all of a sudden I was somewhere else. The serendipity of the moment made me think about my own boys and how grateful I was we were there together bearing witness to history, making a memory that none of us would ever forget.

I thought about my dad and how much he would have loved all of this and about all of those times we would sit, listen and cheer. I don't know if they have radios in Heaven, but I know if they do that Freddie Robertson was listening yesterday as our Bulldogs were SEC Champions once again.


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