Media Days and Years

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - It is good to be so highly thought of. Ole Miss at SEC Media Days, that is.

I've attended these gatherings starting in 1991. The first one I made was Jackie Sherrill's first one at Mississippi State. I still remember him walking into the ballroom of the Wynfrey Hotel at the Galleria where the print media was seated, large briefcase in hand, and an entourage of Bulldog folk with him.

It was a new day in Mississippi football, and we all knew it. Billy Brewer Ole Miss teams had just beaten State seven times in eight years. Sherrill had been hired to change that. He did, to an extent. MSU won seven of the next 13, just barely above .500. But a change in Bulldog fortunes nonetheless.

Who were the other SEC coaches besides Brewer and Sherrill 18 years ago? There were only eight others since the league had just 10 teams at the time. Steve Spurrier was still fresh on the job at Florida and about to change the face of SEC football. The Mighty Gators, as he liked to refer to them, won the league title that season.

Spurrier is still in the league, now at South Carolina after that short stint with the Washington Redskins in the play for pay league. He's the only one still an SEC head coach in 2009.

Back then, Johnny Majors still led Tennessee. Ray Goff was the head Georgia Bulldog. Pat Dye was on the downhill side of success at Auburn. Curley Hallman had just left Southern Miss to take over at LSU.

Gerry Dinardo, who would replace Hallman at LSU in 1995, was in his first season as head man at Vanderbilt. Bill Curry was heading things up at Kentucky, two years after leaving Alabama. Gene Stallings was in his second year at Alabama after replacing Curry, and the Crimson Tide would finish that season second behind the Gators.

Just for good measure, future SEC members Arkansas and South Carolina were led by Jack Crowe and Sparky Woods respectively. Crowe got fired after the first game of the '92 season when the Razorbacks lost to The Citadel. Woods ended up coaching with Sherrill at State after he got the ax from his job as head of the Gamecocks.

The format was the same back then. Head coach and two players from each school. Not long after the '91 session, the event moved downtown to the Sheraton when the SEC office was built across the street.

It was there I heard the most memorable quote of all concerning Ole Miss. It came from a Tennessee quarterback.

When Peyton Manning was asked as a senior Volunteer before the 1997 season if he'd have gone to Ole Miss had older brother Cooper not had to give up football because of injury, Peyton replied that he would have.

As I said, memorable.

The SEC office is still downtown, but this event moved back to the Wynfrey just in the last few years. It seems to work better here, although the Alabama fans are always in the way in the lobby of the hotel the day Coach Nick Saban and Tide players are on stage.

That was Thursday, and it was also the day Georgia, Florida, and Ole Miss were the featured schools. That means it was the most important day of the three, since those four teams are considered the best in the league this season by most accounts, along with LSU.

The media paid attention to the Rebels like few other times in recent years, except when Eli Manning was in attendance. A Manning at SEC Media Days always creates a stir.

But those several hundred in attendance know Ole Miss is in most national top 10s and a real threat for a trip to Atlanta in December. Gator QB Tim Tebow was even asked by one scribe if he was looking forward to a possible matchup with Ole Miss there, since the two do not meet in the regular season.

He said revenge against the Rebels for last year's 31-30 loss in Gainesville wasn't on anyone's mind, at least not at this point. But getting to Atlanta to represent the SEC East? Yes it is, and they plan to be there again.

Tebow was also asked many other questions, including the now-well-publicized one about saving himself for marriage.

Yes, a lot of things have changed since that first SEC Media Days I attended back in 1991. Questions like that one, and the Rebels being among basically everybody's top 10 national picks.

The former could probably be considered a little disturbing, at least on some levels. The latter a welcomed change indeed, offering hope for not only this Rebel season but for future ones under the current regime.

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