Being a real fan again from the stands

Basketball comebacks and Deuce runs wild - Rebels in the spotlight from Richmond to Memphis to New Orleans.

It must be the FedEx Forum. At least it appears that way for me.

So I'm sitting (in the stands) at the Grizzlies game Wednesday night waiting for either Justin Reed of the Celtics to get in the game, or for the Grizzlies to wake up and play better since I now pull for them on a fairly regular basis.

I once was a Celtics fan. Now I'm a Grizzlies fan. That kind of thing happens when they move a team into your area.

Truth be known, I wasn't really a Celts fan before the Griz arrived in Memphis. Just kinda liked 'em through the years because they won so much. They've won more NBA titles than any franchise.

I actually only followed the NBA like a lot of other folks I know - at playoff time. Then the Griz relocated in 2001 from Vancouver to just over an hour from home, and being a basketball fan.....well, I've seen 11 of 12 Ole Miss men's basketball games live this season, and I've been to seven NBA games in Memphis at the new FedEx Forum since mid-October.

But that'll be about it for the NBA and me this season. I'll be too busy with Ole Miss men's and women's hoops and baseball (as well as other sports here) to head up to just off Beale many more times between now and whenever the NBA season ends.

Or does it ever end?

So as the game rolled on, it didn't appear Justin was ever going to get in. He had played a little off and on so far this rookie season.

And it also didn't appear the Griz were going to get off the mat and start playing well.

Then I heard the Rebels were leading VCU by four at halftime. So I felt some better about things.

But then at halftime of Memphis-Boston, with the Grizzlies losing by nine, I heard the Rebs were behind 12 with three-something to go. This wasn't turning out to be a very fun night of hoops.

As the visitors from New England continued to show out like Celts teams of old, I got a call that Tommie Eddie had just nailed a 3-pointer to give the Rebels a one-point lead with some 3 seconds left. Moments later it was over as VCU missed on a last-second effort.

Now I was feeling much better, thank you. Ah, it appeared we'd "Valpoed" somebody. OK, it wasn't quite as dramatic a turn of events as the fateful afternoon in March, 1998, in Okie City.

As if the spirit of the Rebels found its way to Memphis all the way from Richmond, Va., the Griz started to play better. And better. And better. Their 13-point second-half deficit gave way to an eight-point victory. And the 18,000 in the FedEx Forum rocked and rolled as if they'd won a playoff game.

As was the case for the Rebels at VCU, you never know when a December game might mean the difference in making it into postseason or not making it. Wins in the first half of the season count just as much as those in the second half.

By the way, Justin did get in. For all of 5.4 seconds at the very end. But he appeared in the box score just the same. Congrats to the latest Ole Miss Rebel in the NBA. Here's hoping for a long and productive career for the Jacksonian.

Don't discount what I wrote above about some FedEx Forum magic for the Rebels - even if they were not actually there. It was indeed in the NBA's newest basketball palace that this Rebel run of six straight wins started. Since beating the Memphis Tigers 65-53 on Dec. 11, these Rebs have had a new swagger about them.

They exude confidence, but it isn't any form of arrogance. They can't afford to be that way. They know what has gotten them to this point.

It's been about hard work and team work. It's been about sharing the glory and the basketball. It's been about not caring who got the praise or the headlines. It's been about chemistry and listening to their coaches and accepting challenges.

Tommie Eddie. Now there's a story. All of the players on this team have theirs, but none quite like his. From Brooklyn to Kansas to Oxford. From overweight and out of shape to as dedicated a Rebel as we've seen in a while.

No wonder he was rewarded when the game-winner went in Wednesday night. He earned it. His "team" earned it.

But there's so much season left. As a matter of fact, it's only beginning.

Southeastern Louisiana, Friday, New Year's Eve, 2 p.m., Tad Smith Coliseum. That's where the season continues.

The Rebels can be 9-4 with victory as they head into Southeastern Conference action next Wednesday at Arkansas. If they beat the Lions, that would be seven straight wins after a shaky 2-4 start and a road date with the Memphis Tigers up next at that point.

Maybe there is something about the FedEx Forum. It's kinda where this thing all got started three weeks ago, and as of Wednesday night it hadn't stopped yet.

Postseason possibilities? Some in Rebel fandom have begun to think about it. A few have even dared to mention it. Long way to go until then, but you can actually feel some momentum now from this team as 2004 turns into ‘05.

Now it's on to Friday and the end of a sports week which started for me in the Louisiana Superdome the day after Christmas.

You see, this time of year I try to hit a game or two, sit in the stands and be a fan at some events, just like you. At times I miss getting to do that.

I can even clap and cheer if I want. Can't do that as a member of the working press. They'll show you the door if you do - or tell you to buy a ticket for the game and sit with those who pay to clap and cheer.

So I watched Deuce run for more than 100 yards as the Saints beat the Falcons to keep playoff hope alive. I felt a lot of Ole Miss pride when they announced he became just the third Saint ever to rush for more than 4,000 yards in a career.

Many of you have attended Saints games. They're always a party. As Deuce and his teammates were putting the finishing touches on the victory, the "Who dats" started to rattle off the Superdome walls.

The Saints. With one playoff win in their history (which began in 1967), what is it that makes those of us who have an affinity for them stick with them? There were 60,000 there Sunday for a team that was 2-5 at home coming into the Atlanta game.

I was there because, like the Griz in Memphis, they're my local team (not giving up the Saints for the Titans), and because of Archie. He taught us all, in some way, shape or form, to love the Saints. Or to try to. Or to at least not hate them.

And now there's Deuce, the current Rebel of significance in the big round building down on Poydras.

I heard a new rendition of an old familiar song as I left the game Sunday. There was a guy outside singing on the street, like you often see in New Orleans. He had come up with his own version of the song of the Saints.

"Oh when the Saints win the Super Bowl. Oh when the Saints win the Super Bowl. Oh Lord I want to still be alive. When the Saints win the Super Bowl."

Far-fetched? Maybe.

Then again, we're already talking just a little bit about post-season possibilities for Ole Miss men's basketball this season. Who'd have thought that a few weeks ago?

In the Bluff City or the Crescent City, sometimes it is great just to sit in the stands again and be a fan.

Happy New Year, Rebels.

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