Commentary -

The 2008 Rebels have not only won eight games this season as today's Cotton Bowl game approaches, they have restored the fun in Ole Miss football for all of us.

I'm going to make a preemptive strike here.

No matter what the rest of this column says, I want the Rebels to win today's Cotton Bowl match with Texas Tech badly. Let's get that straight.

The cherry on the pudding. The icing on the cake. The finishing touch.

A loss today would be like painting your living room walls and ceiling and not getting the baseboards. It would look good, but it wouldn't look as good as it could.

Having said that, I want to give thanks to all involved to this point in the transformation of the Ole Miss football program.

Speaking selfishly, and candidly, from a professional standpoint, I'm not sure I would have lasted through another year like the previous three prior to 2008.

Personally, I'll always be a Rebel, a diehard Rebel, but professionally, I had just about had enough.

When you dread doing something, it's time to move on. When you feel unwelcome, it's time to depart. When you cringe at the thought of doing your job, it's time for a change.

I had reached those levels of frustration in the prior years. And I'm sure some of you felt the same way, as ticket sales indicated.

I can remember walking into the IPF two years ago on eggshells, dreading being in a building I, along with all the rest of you, had a small hand in helping to build. What an awful feeling.

You could cut the paranoia, dissension and failure with a knife. It was thick and demoralizing.

Life's too short for this crap, I thought.

Then came the breath of fresh air that, frankly, saved my professional life.

Houston Nutt was hired and there was an instant transformation for me.

He brought it all to the table and I knew the first time I talked to him, even wth him still hurting from being run off at Arkansas, that he would revive Ole Miss football for all of us.

Instantly, the journey was fun again. Each step meant something. I was no longer a zombie just getting through one dreadful work day after another.

Houston is infectious. His enthusiasm, his optimism and his power of positive thinking sink into your pores.

When I left his office after that first meeting, it felt as if Jerrell Powe and John Jerry had been lifted off my back and I knew he would have that affect on everyone in the program.

All the old heads who had been through several coaches regained the spring in their steps. Things were lighter. Things were refreshing. The tension was totally gone.

Rowing the boat, no matter how strong the current seemed to be, was uplifting.

And while it was Nutt who brought that demeanor back to Ole Miss football, it took, as they say, a village to really get it done. Everyone followed his lead.

Nutt's staff is just like Houston. Energy, enthusiasm, treating people the right way, caring and positive thinking are all hallmarks of their methods of operation.

Even knowing that, I did not envision a turnaround as significant as the one we got this year.

I'm not someone who tries to predict records - there are too many variables involved, but what I was hoping for was six or seven wins and some kind of bowl appearance. To be honest, that would have satisfied, not quenched but satisfied, my thirst.

As the season unfolded, however, I started seeing the possibility of more, despite some early bumps in the road.

The players started getting it. Not the X's and O's, but the team unity thing. The fact that Nutt and his staff really did care about them as human beings first and football players second. That the staff knew what they were doing. That they could win if they all got in the boat and rowed in the same direction.

They knew their health, being fresh for games and life beyond and outside of football was important to the staff.

They started to trust again. I started to trust again. The fans started to trust again.

I don't have a clue what is going to happen today in the Cotton Bowl.

Bowl games to me always come down to who has maintained their edge and shakes off the rust the best through four or five weeks of not playing in a real game.

I believe the Rebels will play a crisp game, so that is half the battle. Will it be enough? We'll see.

As I said, I want the Rebels to win this game badly and believe with all my heart they are capable of beating their Top 10 opponent.

But win or lose, this team has invigorated me and the Rebel nation.

Win or lose, I'll wake up tomorrow exctied about the 2009 season.

Win or lose, I'll be looking forward to yet another journey with the Rebels.

Win or lose, Ole Miss football is fun again.

And that, to me, is the essence of this whole deal.

Thanks Houston. Thanks football staff and support personnel. Thanks team members. Thanks Rebel fans.

Deep down, I really didn't want to sell real estate for a living.

**************

So let's look at the game for a minute.

There are many intriguing "games within the game" that will be worth watching.

The Rebel defense against a dazzling Tech offense has to be number one on my list. How will the Reb secondary contain Michael Crabtree and a boatload of dynamic wideouts they run in and out liberally? Tough gig, for sure. . . How will the Rebel DL, that leads the SEC in QB sacks, attack a Tech OL that has only given up 11 sacks on the year? They have to rattle, disrupt, hit and sack QB Graham Harrell, no ifs or buts about it. Mr. Harrell needs to get real acquainted with Mr. Jerry, Mr. Lockett, Mr. Hardy, Mr. Tillman, et al. . . This match is going to come down to the Rebs being physical, SEC style. If Texas Tech can hold up, more power to them.

The Tech defense also has a major chore on their hands. The Rebel offense, averaging over 30 points a game and really coming of age the last five games of the year, present a style of play the Red Raiders are not used to. Buckle up TT, we're coming right at you, but the Rebs have balance too, which Tech has not seen much of. Again, physicality will play a major part. Can Texas Tech's DL and LBs withstand the heat? And if they can, do they have the people in their secodary who can stop a potent air attack with our own fine QB and our own bevy of effective wideouts? I will put Jevan Snead throwing to Mike Wallace, Shay Hodge, Dexter and company against anyone.

This game has all the characteristics of a humdinger.

Hold on to your hats, folks. This could be one for the ages.


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