It's Time

ATLANTA – The last time Ole Miss opened a football season in this hub of southern cities, this megaville of the new south, Georgia’s capital wasn’t nearly the urban sprawl it became over the next several decades.

Of course you know how I take my Rebel sports, and that’s with a little historical perspective thrown in. How could I not this week? Yesterday’s tour of the new College Football Hall of Fame facility with executive director John Stephenson, Jr., and I’m well into history mode.

Although the time is now for this Ole Miss football team, let's recap a bit, shall we?

The Rebels haven’t played a football game of any kind – regular season or postseason – here since beating Georgia Tech in its hometown in the 1971 Peach Bowl. The game was played in the now-demolished Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the final score was 41-18, the game was played in a torrential downpour, and Ole Miss completed the season with 10 wins.

Stadiums don’t last long anymore. Fulton County Stadium was the home of the Falcons and the Braves when they arrived here in the mid-1960s – the Braves from Milwaukee and before that Boston, and the Falcons from birth as a new NFL franchise. No moments proved the rise of the new south hub this city has become than those two sports franchises finding a home here.

Both moved into new homes in the 1990s. Now both are moving again as a new baseball stadium is planned north of here on the metro perimeter, and dirt work, according to Stephenson, has already begun on a new retractable roof football stadium near the Georgia Dome.

Ole Miss has waited a long time to play a football game here. Its rivals and others often mention who hasn’t yet played in the SEC title game. The struggle to get to Atlanta has been noted and quoted about as often as getting back to Omaha was for the baseball Rebels – until this summer, that is.

The quest for another December date here since that 1971 Peach Bowl continues. Maybe playing tonight’s game will change some mojo or something in that regard. What could it hurt, right?

This game, Ole Miss and Boise State, was supposed to be the season opener in 2011 in Oxford, a one-game meeting between the Broncos and the Rebels. But some ESPN influence and behind the scenes movement shifted this one three years down the road to tonight.

Ole Miss indeed opened 2011 in Oxford but against BYU, in what turned out to be a 14-13 loss to the Cougars that set a tone for a dismal failure of a season, the only 10-loss campaign in school history.

Three months later, Hugh Freeze came home.

He and his staff had an immediate impact, and two bowl win seasons later the Rebels are a team that has the attention of everyone who follows college football. A top 20 ranking heading into this season by most polls and pundits has even the lobby bellmen at the downtown hotels here talking.

“Y’all cover Ole Miss?” we were asked by one upon arrival.

“Yes,” we affirmed.

“Ole Miss is gonna beat Boise. Ole Miss has a good team this year,” said one.

“I tell you this,” said another, emphatically, standing nearby. “I tell you another game Ole Miss is gonna win.”

Then the self-proclaimed Florida State Seminole fan paused and asked us a question before making his bold prediction.

“Where does Ole Miss play Alabama?”

“Oxford,” we responded.

“Ole Miss is gonna beat Alabama. Nick Saban’s more worried about Ole Miss than he is LSU, Florida, Auburn....”

One thing’s for sure. That 2-10 season three years ago would not have produced any such talk.

And while Saban is likely only worried about West Virginia at this moment, it does show where some casual observers here – I assume you would call them casual observers although they did have some knowledge of college football for sure – feel that the Rebels are at this point in time.

“Ole Miss has been recruiting good in Georgia, too,” said one of the hotel guys, showing again that he keeps up with the sport. “Those Nkemdiche brothers and some others from over here....yeah, Ole Miss is going to be good this season.”

So here we are at the start of a new season, and the Rebels are in Atlanta. They want to finish the season in the SEC Championship game. They’ve wanted that since the “extra” game was added to an expanded conference in 1992.

Tonight won’t count in the SEC standings, but it could be a decent barometer of how this Rebel team stacks up. Boise State, 8-5 last season just like Ole Miss, is used to winning. But Ole Miss has gotten a taste of winning the last two seasons as well and is a program headed into this one with not only confidence but the talent to make a move this season – if they stay healthy and win the close ones.

Seems like that’s the case every year, huh.

Oh yes, before closing. I didn’t tell you what happened that season the last time Ole Miss opened here. I guess you might be wondering.

Final score in the season opener of 1955 – the Ole Miss Rebels 26 and the Georgia Bulldogs 13. Ole Miss won 10 games that season and the SEC Championship.

Let’s tee it up at 8 Eastern tonight and see what happens. Football season is here.

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