Reaction from fans to a pretty poorly-kept secret seemed generally positive and the local market will absolutely welcome increased trade in this newest shade of State stuff out just in time for holiday sales. Won't mind if I'm given some myself; I could use a new light-shell jacket for early baseball season. And any excuse to pound some AC/DC through the stadium speakers is justified. Primarily though the Bulldogs themselves enjoyed the latest addition to their locker-room wardrobe and that's all that really matters, right?
Because it was something, or some things rather, that my friend said which left this self-confessed dinosaur Dog uncomfortable. To wit: that the target-audience for such a contemporary fashion statement as State made last night was not me. It is the young male athlete, and not just those today wearing such shirts but those who may, possibly, hopefully find such dandy duds attractive. No, he didn't use the ‘R' word nor need to. All of which I utterly understand; this isn't talking ‘bout my generation as R.Daltrey put it.
But I also couldn't help commenting, as more than a few Mississippi State folks and fans have over the last few decades, that I just wish we'd pick one uniform, ummm, uniform and stick with it for ten years. To which my buddy responded, and I quote, "You're looking at them."
Ahhhh, wait. That's a contradiction of implications. We can't state that any style will become standard for any length of time, if in the previous breath we've just conceded that all style is subject to the tastes of succeeding generations. Should the recruiting pool of 201whatever finds a fancy for pomegranate-and-puce then would State trim-out to suit such prospective tastes? And who will rewrite the Alma Mater sung post-game every few seasons or so to reflect shifting school color scheme?
And why do we really care either way? It's just a bunch of dyed fabric after all.
Right. Because we do Care. And because after decades of having to wear shades ranging from rust to fuschia we're justifiably thrilled that State finally got Maroon right…only to seemingly sideline its significance somewhat. Mostly though just because at core it's all part of the fun, albeit the symbolic part, inherent to college football in particular and college athletics in general. Hey, I didn't bat either eye last spring when the Diamond Dogs debuted their spiffy black jerseys and white caps, though thank benevolent Heaven alumnus John Cohen kept the block MS that I'd go to bat for myself. See, there it is again, proof that such silly things Matter at MSU and everywhere more than a few fans congregate.
Now we must note that ideas of ‘classic' equipment don't stand time-testing much. At a basketball game last winter those web-savvy Byrne boys, Nick and Davis, hijacked my computer to find a site that shows all helmet styles worn by just about any D-I school playing the game today. They used it to design the 2009 schedule page run in Dawgs' Bite, by the way. Pertinent to today's theme was noticing that almost everyone has changed their headgear to lesser or greater extent; whether adjusting the logo letter (there's lots of ways to tweak a Tennessee ‘T') or altering hues of blues I can't find many programs where today's players wear hats identical to 20, 30, certainly not 40 years ago.
Though I also should add that in our own league the squads which have made the most drastic adjustments to such things, by which I mean completed and repteated changes in helmets, seemed to be State and Vanderbilt. There you have it, scientific proof that changing styles and shirts guarantees gridiron success.
OK, that's a cheap shot. And believe you me there is nothing cheap about this business of adorning and altering a college club's wardrobe. Or much anything else involved with putting on a game quaintly originated for the enjoyment of participants and entertainment of observers. If this is still fun, it's become serious fiscal fun, though happily we all get to pick and choose what we like and loathe best. For example, I'm convinced the Big Dawg replay board was worth every six-trillions-penny just for that Crawfish Shuffle ad which attracts more fourth-quarter cheers than State's passing game.
Hey, there's an idea; have Zatarain's design a similar ad for fans at Scott Field to guess which SEC official makes the most egregious missed call of the game! Winner gets to retrieve Dan Mullen's visor, tossed after said-ref does some crawfishing himself with another dubious explanation. Another notion: contract a vendor to emblazon cowbells with ads for Dr. Pepper, official kidney-killer of the SEC. Imagine the conniptions this would cause in the League office. True tale: back when the SEC hoops tourney was played in the Memphis Pyramid I managed to find the one operating Coke machine left in the building and quickly bought a couple of cans to keep my synapses lubricated. I think League marketing staff has issued shoot-on-sight orders for such an offense these days…but #@$%^& if this Southern boy is gonna swill Pepsi at a college game. Mountain Dew, maybe.
I ought not be mistaken here. This is not the rant of someone opposed to modern market capitalism, other than an unalterable ire at faculty and staff who hock their courtesy tickets to opposing fans. Gotta be some way of scrutinizing these Benedicts seeking Benjamins. Sponsorship dollars are every bit as important to Mississippi State's hopes of funding, thus functioning, in a conference that practically invented college currency. It's called the $EC for good reason and thank heaven for the league largesse State lived on for too many years. All credit—or should we say cash?—to young Mr. Byrne and staff for ambitiously, nay aggressively pursuing fresh funding from all sorts of sources. State sat stagnant for far too long relying on the same faithful cash cows.
Besides, my keyboard and vocabulary are always available for pay because I, too, make moola off Mississippi State sports. I've been known to jump for a free-lance check faster than an AAU coach leeches onto shoe company shills. Oh, wow, I think I've got it! I've solved the Renardo Sidney imbroglio! It's not about amateurism, it's about adidas! Sharpie™ some Reebok logos over those three stripes and all is slick, right? Yeah, better suck down some more Folgers (are they a SEC corporate partner?) before proceeding further.
And yet…getting back to the original point. There's just something slightly unseemly to this old Dog about letting players dictate our identity. OK, sure, we can equally argue that they already do by their on-field efforts. Maybe it's a minor matter in the bigger picture, but…don't we claim to be the Maroon and White? Not, I haste to add, that I'd ever want to see those awful all-Maroon jammies Emory Bellard introduced in the mid-80s. I mean, it took a pretty lousy uniform to make Don Smith look slow but State succeeded for one season. Whew.
I reckon what I'm wandering and pondering about today is this uneasy matter of image vs. identity. Is there a point, and where might it be, defining the difference between players having a rightful say in their specific look, and a program and University maintaining defined traditions that hold true for Bulldogs of all teams, all generations? I don't have an answer, either. Previously I've often argued that it's good to have a variety of logos and looks somewhat specific to sports; i.e. a block MS cap or a ‘swoosh M' helmet or dribbling Dog on the short pants. I still prefer the ‘Chopper' Bulldog as Joe Dier used to call it. He'd whup the whey out of old ‘prissy Dog' in creased khakis, that's for sure.
But maybe I was wrong. Maybe we do need a uniform uniform; a mutual logo; traditional togs. Best I can tell the great, consistently successful programs might tweak their logo and thus image a tiny bit every now and then but the identity stays the same season to season, era to era. What say y'all? Do we really have something that symbolizes ‘this is us, this is Mississippi State' any more? Or is everything from now on negotiable and ready for leasing to the next customer?
What the heck. Let's paint the Chapel of Memories carillon black, so the clock markings will be as indistinguishable as Dog digits were last night. Or weld a bronze visor onto S.D. Lee's bust, the old guy's eyes need the rest after a century or so. How about redecorating DWS in black-and-white Holstein patterns—we're a Cow College after all—and eeting mor chikin? And if a line must be drawn somewhere, do please make sure it's three stripes.
But Champ, my man, if some smiling marketing type approaches, intending to brand those three stripes on your noble brindled flanks, do us a favor and chomp his paw real hard. Because you may just well be the last Bulldog left on this campus free to bite the hand that pays you.
MEANWHILE BACK AT THE FIELD: Getting briefly back to more on-field Bulldog business, today Coach Dan Mullen said State came out of the Alabama battle in pretty good physical shape. "Patrick Hanrahan broke a hand in the first quarter, and that didn't faze him the rest of the game, that won't slow him down at all." The coach said Christian Ducre feels much better after continued rehab work on the bone-bruised left knee (he wore a full-length sleeve all week and didn't dress out last night). "Which is a real positive for this game. You look at the stats, he might not show up there but it's all the other things he does in the kicking game, as a blocker, as a receiver. He's missed in our offense because he does so many of the small things well."
And what's a State loss without quarterback gripery? Though as we all saw and Mullen repeated today, there were some long strikes last night that showed what the Dog passing game is attempting to accomplish now. The two very best tosses, sadly, were broken up at the literal last second by a defender who I'll now vote on my all-conference club; what a heckuva game he played, though also we still see traces of trackman-turned-receiver tactics from O'Neal Wilder. When he learns to battle for a ball and not just wait for it, the sky is his limit. I give no such cushion to Brandon McRae for not fighting on his goal-line chance, as a senior should. Gad, can we get the ball to Chad Bumphis more, please?
Anyway, as for the throwers. Mullen shouldn't have to remind us by now but it seems necessary still, that "A lot of things get lost in the quarterback position," he said today. "Throwing and running are way down the list." Which is the coach's way of stating we observers oughtn't get carried away with the occasional impressive toss and look more intangibly for reasons why he plays who he does under-center and when. Speaking of which, Chris Relf—normally set in a shotgun—did line up under the snapper last night for a change.
"I think Chris gives you some play-making ability, a little more of a dual-threat," Mullen said today. "We were trying to create some miss-matches and get some openings." There weren't many numbers to show for it of course, as Alabama absolutely wasn't going to let Relf run free as he has in package-situations previously. No, the Tide told him to throw and none of his balls were caught; well, one was, by the wrong team. Starter Tyson Lee had a pair of his throws picked, too, though the coach defended one as due to the receiver letting it carom off the target.
"We threw some good balls during the game. Obviously the first interception should have been a catch, it tipped off his hands and (the defender) is in the right place at the right time. The other two were on the quarterback. Chris over threw, he didn't look anybody off. And Tyson was really, really late on the throw. You can't make timing throws and be a second late, he took too many hitches on the play."
Mullen also noted that the game's opening play and pass was there for the making, had Lee led Wilder down the sideline "Get the ball thrown out a little farther and it's a 70-yard touchdown instead of pass interference. If we complete a few more deep balls then its 400 yards offense instead of 200." By bitter contrast of course Alabama, not noted for longballs, had almost half their offense come only four out of 57 plays.
"That's the type of team they are," said Mullen, the obvious implication being that's the type of team he wants to have. Whether senior Lee or third-year soph Relf are capable of making MSU that type offense is sorta beside the November point. All that matters is having both of them—because State needs to use both of them—do what they're capable of doing at the 2009 moment in the two remaining matchups. I don't and can't buy into the annual frustration-notion of just going with the younger guy and riding him the rest of the way as a head-start on next season.
Not now especially since this isn't just a case of two chances left to play; it is two steps required for bowl eligibility. So stay in the MSU moment, please. Mullen is. "Here we are, it's November 15 and we're still in contention to get a bowl game. So we have to find a way this week and keep our bowl hopes alive."