DALLAS - I noticed there are not as many folks on the Spirit message board as usual. That's because so many of the regulars are out here doing other things, mainly getting ready for the big game.

The Cotton Bowl stadium era of the Cotton Bowl Classic closes its 73-year run Friday before a packed house of nearly 90,000. Only the Rose Bowl will top the Cotton in attendance among all the bowls this season.

Impressive. Just as the number of Ole Miss fans here is impressive. At the parade and pep rally, there must have been 30,000 people along the route's last mile, and in the American Airlines Arena area.

I am still amazed how many Ole Miss people are here. Rebel fans are hungry. It's been five years since they've had an experience like this one. More are taking advantage this time around than did so back on New Year's Day and the day after in 2004.

Why? Because Ole Miss won its last five games this season. Players bought in. Fans bought back in. Gas prices went down. Folks gave bowl trips and game tickets to family members for Christmas.

Ole Miss has a large alumni and student base in Dallas and in much of Texas. It's a seven-hour, give or take, drive from the two largest UM fan bases in Memphis and Jackson.

There are plenty of Texas Tech fans here. We'll know more at the game, but there appear to be just as many or more Ole Miss fans in town.

This one is about all ages. There are kids everywhere wearing their red and blue. No. 4 is the jersey of choice. I mentioned to somebody there were a lot of Jevan Snead jerseys all over. The response, in jest, was "I thought they were Armegis Spearman jerseys."

The mood among Ole Miss people gathered in Big D is light and happy. Winning will do that.

In the hotel lobby today, I witnessed a Cotton Bowl photo op of fairly major proportions as Mrs. Charlie Conerly, just Perian to most, posed for a picture with Pat Summerall, here to do the broadcast for Fox. Pat and Charlie played for the New York Giants 50 years ago.

I heard not too long ago that Coach Vaught actually had plans to attend the game here in 2004 but at the last minute did not feel up to it. Can you imagine had he been here?

For guys like Snead now and for Vaught in his era as a player at TCU and a coach at Ole Miss, the Cotton Bowl is hallowed ground. It's hallowed period.

It does appear we'll ring out the old stadium's marriage with the Cotton Bowl game on a football-perfect day weather-wise. In the new, retractable-roofed stadium that won't be a factor. For Ole Miss' last two trips here, playing outside has been just fine.

So the buildup is over. The game is at hand. A five-game win streak under Houston Nutt and staff has given not only this program new life but also re-energized the fan base. That's never been more evident than in Dallas this week.

This game is icing on a memorable cake of a season. Nine wins would mean a big boost for the Rebels into offseason work and spring practice. It would be another positive for recruiting. It would help season ticket sales come spring and summer.

But truthfully no matter the outcome of the game here, the foundation has been rebuilt. And it's been going on since late November, 2007.

However you slice and dice it, evaluate it and dissect it, it's special to be bowling again. By the number of Rebel fans here this week, a lot of other folks feel the same way.

Hotty Toddy! Here's to a great (and winning, of course) Cotton Bowl!

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