Ole Miss still gets healthy respect down here

Games between the two flagship universities from Louisiana and Mississippi make headlines every year in the bayou state.

NEW ORLEANS - It's not the Sugar Bowl. It's not even a national headliner. But it's still Ole Miss-LSU, and for many it means something every year no matter what.

Kinda makes you feel good to know that can still be the case, doesn't it? Even as the last couple of games in football between the two haven't drawn the attention of say the games in the 50s or 60s and certainly not the one in '03, this one still means something. Reading the New Orleans paper this morning made that clear once again.

I'll get some disagreement from some who live in Bayou country, who have to put up with LSU fans 24/7/365, but it's my contention Ole Miss still gets more respect in Louisiana than any SEC state outside Mississippi. Heck sometimes it feels like even more than inside Mississippi to some degree.

It arguably doesn't happen in Alabama or Arkansas, maybe even Tennessee (Memphis might be an exception) or Florida or other southern states.

But to me it still happens for us in Louisiana, in New Orleans and in Baton Rouge and in Shreveport. There are any number of reasons.

Ole Miss has spent more bowl time in this state than any other - eight times in the Suger, five in the Independence. That's pushing nearly half our 31 all-time bowl appearances.

There are many other connections here that keep the fires burning between these two schools in these two states. Make a list. Take your pick.

Start with Archie. Continue with Eli and Deuce and John Fourcade and Sean Touhy. Louisiana Governor Blanco's nephew, Charlie Babineaux, helped this era of Ole Miss baseball rise to national prominence. Mike Bianco had a chance to ponder a return to Louisiana but chose to remain in northern Mississippi instead.

Coach O and his staff with a south Louisiana flavor. The host of players from Louisiana and metro New Orleans they've brought to Oxford lately to try to get us back down here for a bowl game during the holidays.

"Our goal every year is the Sugar Bowl," the current head coach of the Rebels said on his inauguration day at Ole Miss back in December 2004. Has it really been 37 seasons since that last visit to the big game?

One thing's for sure and for a lot of reasons. Ole Miss ought to play Tulane again in football and other sports. Not everyone will agree with that, but most will, especially Rebel fans south of Jackson, in southern Alabama, the Florida panhandle and west toward Houston.

"Tigers-Rebels still pass the rivalry test" said the headline in the Times-Picayune today. "Tradition, rankings, and recent close games resonate for many" read the subhead.

What follows is probably a 1,000-word story on all things Ole Miss and LSU - basically all positive.

It's been my experience you won't get that very often in Birmingham or Mobile, Nashville or Knoxville or Little Rock, at least not without some form of "putting Ole Miss in its place" like we read and hear from time to time.

No, even being a four-touchdown underdog as the Rebels find themselves tonight, coming to New Orleans and Baton Rouge, hyping for the big game, and then watching the Rebels trot out on that historic field brings a sense of hope with some nostalgia. Sort of a duty, honor, college situation where the past and present and future meet and all things old and new mesh for those players, coaches, games, and fans on both sides of the border.

"I don't think the student body would let us forget this is Ole Miss," a current LSU football player was quoted in the paper today, obviously having been asked if this one means much to anybody and if the Tigers are looking ahead to Arkansas next week.

To me it's just different here for Ole Miss. From the players to the fans to the media, there's something special about Ole Miss to these people and this area, as it should be.

Of course, as with every subject we discuss and debate, there's room for argument and the taking of sides in some form. And I'm sure there'll be some.

Tonight, this weekend, we live it all again.

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