Special Saturday

I call my dad after every Ole Miss game. Without fail.

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He's the biggest Ole Miss fan I know. Our postgame conversation, when we diagnose what just happened, my dad and me, has become our thing. The highs and lows. His euphoria. His disappointment.

He expects my call, and I know he'll always pick up, no matter the hour.

He's an emotional guy, my dad. Not in the sense that he cries or something after a win or a loss, but he has so much built-up hurt, so much disappointment and ever-so-close-but-not-quite with Ole Miss that he preemptively expects the worst. And in our years and years around Ole Miss football, he's been right far more often than he's been wrong.

I'm sure there are many more like my dad out there. You're probably one of them. These words are familiar because you've ridden the emotional rollercoaster of sport, too. The ups. The downs. Oh, the downs.

He almost gave up after Eli. The prodigal son returned home wasn't able to get Ole Miss to Atlanta. If Eli couldn't do it, who could? He's still awaiting the answer.

He stopped caring under Ed Orgeron, opened himself up for a letdown with Houston Nutt, and celebrated a 7-6 finish in the first season of Hugh Freeze as if Ole Miss had won a national championship. Really. The Compass Bowl might as well have been the Rose Bowl. Well, except the Rose Bowl isn't surrounded by rundown public housing and nothingness.

I digress.

I mean, my dad bought 16 season tickets on the 50-yard line for this season, his expectations through the roof. This is my dad, the biggest Ole Miss fan I know.

Andrew Ritter
Associated Press

I hadn't called him yet after Ole Miss lost another game in the final minutes, a 41-38 disappointment at the hands of Texas A&M a week ago today. The game didn't finish until the late-night hours, and I was caught up in the Ole Miss locker room gathering quotes. So, he sent me a text.

"This is making me consider quitting after this year," he wrote.

I couldn't blame him. In 2012 alone, he'd suffered through close losses to Vanderbilt and LSU and Texas A&M, all stacked on top of some 40 whatever years of complete investment - emotional, financial, etc. - in a school with little payoff to speak of.

He'd seen the movie before. He knew the ending.

My response was simply "Sports aren't fun." Keep in mind, I was still reeling from the Braves losing yet again in the NLDS. My dad, my brother and I were in attendance for game one and game two. The hopelessness and the emptiness and the scars were too fresh.

He's in his 50s now. My daughter, Gracie, is his first grandbaby. His second, a boy, will arrive in November. His priorities have changed. The sting never leaves, mind you, but sports aren't what they once were.

That is, until a game like Saturday night comes along. When it all comes rushing back. When all the pain of fandom seems worth it for the moments of genuine and uncontrollable joy.

"This is the biggest win of my life," senior defensive end Cameron Whigham would say afterwards, a 27-24 Ole Miss upset of No. 6 LSU. His words could have easily been said by my dad.

I was on the field as Andrew Ritter connected on a 41-yard field goal. I walked behind the Ole Miss bench, looking to the stands for him. I waved to try and get his attention. Nothing. He had a blank look on his face, eyes turned only to the field, as if he was taking in every last minute of an improbable win he never expected.

Still, I wanted to talk to him.

I was alone as I walked from the Manning Center back to the press box. I had some time. I pulled out my cell phone and gave him a call.

"What's up?" I asked, and he paused for a second. "I'm just excited, son," he said. We talked for about 10 minutes, the sportswriter son and the Ole Miss fan of a dad. But tonight was different, Ole Miss finally closing out a close game against a top-10 opponent.

I'll call him again next week, too, and he'll answer.

But few nights will be able to beat this one. Because nights like tonight don't come around very often. Because Ole Miss delivered, the Rebels beating a top-6 team for the first time since 2008. Because 61,160 fans, the ninth-largest crowd in Ole Miss history, packed Vaught-Hemingway Stadium to see it happen.

But more than anything, because I got to talk to my dad. That's sports.

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