When relief pitcher Will Kline - dominant in two outings in the SEC Tournament - got the final Vanderbilt batter to ground out and the Rebels had won their first SEC championship of any kind in the "Big Three" sports of football, baseball and men's basketball in over two decades, pandemonium broke loose in the Hoover Met Stadium from the unbelievably large throng of Rebel fans.
I saw Rebels cheering wildly, I saw Rebels crying from joy, I saw a team "dog pile" in the middle of the field, I saw a sweat-soaked athletic director rush onto the field, I saw a chancellor beaming with pride, I saw fans doing the alligator in the aisles, I saw fans embracing total strangers, i.e., a scene from the movie Major League.
Their reaction wasn't just that we had finally, finally become the bride rather than the bridesmaid, although that was most of it. It was HOW the Rebels picked up their first championship since Ronald Reagan (I think - who can remember that long ago?) first took over the White House.
They didn't just win the SEC Tournament - they owned it. Lock, stock and barrel. No back door, no luck, no quirks from the baseball gods, nobody second-guessing who was the best team - by far - in Hoover for that stretch of baseball lore.
The tournament was the Rebs' from the first pitch of the event to the last. Never in doubt. After two games, as far-fetched as this sounds, the games seemed predestined, almost a formality to picking up the trophy on Sunday afternoon.
I have been an Ole Miss fan since my Dad held my hand into the entrance of old Crump Stadium in 1960 at the age of seven. In all those years, I have never been more confident of what I would witness - Rebel victory.
Sure, there was a "nervous" moment around the seventh inning yesterday when Vandy cut the score to 5-3 in the title bout. They had had a fairly dominant run to the winner-takes-all game too and have a good, solid baseball team, but I quickly shook those feelings off because I realized that it was finally in the cards. We were holding the Royal Flush. It was our turn and there would be no denying it. Raise, re-raise the limit.
As soon as the ball left Tournament MVP Mark Wright's bat in the top of the ninth inning for a mammoth three-run homer to centerfield, you knew it was gone, you knew the game was over and you knew the Rebels would be collecting their first significant hardware in a long, long time.
The sigh of relief could be heard throughout the stadium. Bedlam followed.
Before I go any further, let me say emphatically that I am not discounting the accomplishments of the other sports at Ole Miss who have won titles in the past years - men's tennis, women's basketball, some individual track champions, soccer, etc - and I am not making light of the fine run we had in men's basketball that produced a few SEC West titles in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I am very, very proud of all involved in each of those.
But in college sports these days, on a national basis, we have to be honest - the three sports that garner the most attention are football, baseball and men's basketball. Like it or not, that's the way it is and to get a respectable amount of recognition, you have to win championships in those sports.
And we all know that has not been the case, unfortunately.
Now, that monkey has been lifted off our backs thanks to the 2006 Baseball Rebels, the undisputed kings of the 2006 SEC Baseball Tournament.
To put this in perspective, at least from my view as a staunch Rebel who believes the sun rises and sets on Oxford, I liken this outstanding feat to Phil Mickelson finally winning a major golf tournament. It's been a plague, a barrier, a carbunkle that wouldn't go away. It marked us, just as not winning the "big one" marked Mickelson.
But now that is over. Once that stigma was lifted from Phil, he started doing even more remarkable things. Now he's got three majors and will get several more.
What the Rebel baseball team did could raise the curtain for much more in Rebel athletics as well. For years, "we can do it" was our thought process. "We have done it" is a different mindset.
This performance will spread throughout the athletic department. We all know what is happening in football - good things are taking place, piece by piece. Coach Ed Orgeron is building the grid program the same way Mike Bianco built the Rebel baseball program - via recruiting and on-the-field consistency. Bianco has a system he believes in and has stuck with, through thick and thin, knowing the results would manifest into something special, even when some of us wondered. Ditto with Orgeron.
Andy Kennedy has the same look as those two. It's all about recruiting and having a proven plan. He will work his magic here too, but the same patience afforded Bianco will have to be given Coach O and Andy.
Rambling back to Hoover, I have covered college athletics for nearly 30 years.
I can say this without hesitation. No Rebel team in any sport has ever faced the kind of competition the baseball team did over the weekend and completely dominated the field from start to finish like this Rebel team did. I wasn't around to watch the dominance of the 1959 football team, but now I know what it must have felt like when they outscored opponents 329-21 in the course of 11 games.
The baseballers steamrolled "home team" Alabama - who is one of the best teams in the country. They toyed with Arkansas, who is hosting a regional. They jumped all over LSU, who has one of the most storied traditions in college baseball. They capped it by jumping on Vandy early - and late - in a game that wasn't competitive except for three or four middle innings.
It doesn't get any more thorough than that.
The reviews from other media sources are sparkling. Opposing coaches were at a loss for words in their praise. Opposing players didn't know what hit them. They just saw a Red/Blue/Grey blur and it was over.
The Rebs hit with authority, they pitched masterfully, they fielded as cleanly as you will see in a four-game stand and they ran the basepaths with abandon.
There was no phase of the game where they lacked something. They hit home runs, they struck out the most feared batters in the league, they ran on some of the best catchers in college baseball, they bombed some of the best pitchers anywhere.
Complete. Thorough. Dominant.
Certainly, there is more to do. This baseball team, if it continues playing like they did in Hoover, can go a long, long way the remainder of the season, beginning with hosting and winning a regional this weekend.
But pardon me if I savor what happened in Hoover over the weekend just a couple of more days.
It's been a long time coming. The sweet taste of a title couldn't be sweeter.
OM Spirit Top Stories
RYH: Bill Armstrong Talks Ole Miss BasketballIn this edition of the Rebel Yell Hotline, Chuck Rounsaville and Yancy Porter are joined by Ole Miss assistant basketball coach Bill Armstrong to discuss the upcoming season. Plus,…
OM SpiritYesterday at 8:12 PM
Ole Miss Searching for Defensive LeadersWhen asked if he felt his team was pulling apart, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said he would never let himself believe that at his weekly press conference on Monday.
OM SpiritYesterday at 4:40 PM
Playing On An EdgeOle Miss entered the 2016 season with high expectations. Entering the season the Rebels were ranked #12 in the AP Top 25 and were favored by many to compete with Alabama for the…
OM SpiritYesterday at 4:01 PM
Freeze Pleased With Strong, HibblerDespite struggles at the linebacker position this season, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has seen some positives from two backups.
OM SpiritYesterday at 3:27 PM