COLUMN: Bounce Back

There's not much difference in athletics and life. When life deals you a bad hand, how do you play it? How do you respond? The same is true in competitive sports. When the bubble is burst, how do you bounce back? Reaction to adversity is often the difference between success and failure, in life and in athletics.

"It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up." - Vince Lombardi.

It's a short quote from one of the greatest football coaches of all time, but it speaks volumes and it's exactly what the Ole Miss Rebels are facing right now.

Not to get too serious, because this is, after all, about a game, but it is serious business for the participants and athletics teaches many life lessons that athletes take with them the rest of their lives.

No tutorial in life or sports, it says here, is more important than learning how to deal with adversity.

The 7-1 Rebels got their first 2014 taste of adversity, which in sports basically translates to losing, in Baton Rouge Saturday night in a hard-fought, 10-7 setback to LSU.

At this point, it does little good to rehash the events of the game. Suffice it to say the Rebs - for a myriad of reasons, some self-inflicted, some opponent and environment-driven - came up short and leave it at that.

Because now, none of that matters. The whats, whys, who-done-its are now inconsequential other than for team self-analysis and even that can only be reflected on briefly with the time constraints they are dealing with as they move forward.

So the only question with any substance at this point is how will the Rebels deal with the loss? As the old saying goes, the fall from the top is a lot farther. . .

That is the question yours truly asked over and over at Monday's press conference, to coaches and players alike. What is the temperature and the demeanor of the team?

It would be easy to look back to last year, with many of the same players, to the 2013 LSU game when the Rebs were coming off a three-game losing streak and were depleted by injury to defeat the 6th-rated Tigers, as a comparison of how to deal with adversity, but the current situation isn't the same.

The stakes are much higher this time around. Last year, the end of the rainbow was a decent bowl game and a winning record. This year, well, the whole bag of marbles, cat's eye shooter and all, are there for the taking.

But it all depends on how the Rebs, knocked down a peg and pushed off the perch by LSU, respond against another set of Tigers, the 4th-ranked Auburn variety.

Countless words have been written, when they were undefeated and riding high in the saddle, about this team's maturity, this team's leadership, this team's approach. All glowing, and rightly so. They deserved the accolades.

But now they are staring at the boogie man in the closet. Their invincibility has been disrupted, their confidence has taken a hit. They have realized being the hunted is more difficult than being the hunter.

In this humble opinion, the Auburn game - at least for now - will be the game that defines them as a good team or a great one. This is a crossroads game if they are to keep their ultimate goals alive, but it's more than that. It is a test of character that will transcend winning and losing.

Certainly, winning is the objective, the one that means the most, but the only way to achieve victory is to face this challenge boldly.

Having watched the development of this program, and this team in particular, it would be surprising, if not shocking, to see anything less than a focused, driven, hell-bent Rebel team on the field Saturday.

This team has pride. This team has the attributes writers and talking heads have been bragging about incessantly until last Saturday night's aftermath.

But it's also much easier to exhibit those attributes when the water is calm and the sailing is smooth, more difficult in rough seas.

"Success in the affairs of life often serve to hide one's abilities, whereas adversity frequently gives one an opportunity to discover them." Horace.

Come out swinging, Rebs.

It's the only way.

Win or lose, only then will there be no regrets.

Only then will adversity be conquered.

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