Most of you remember the old Spirit weekly we used to print back before the summer of 2004 came along. Some of you remind us from time to time how much you miss it.
Times changed, and we went with Scout.com. We kept bound copies of the old Spirits. Some of you kept copies, too, stacked up somewhere around the house or garage.
Not too long ago I had somebody tell me they had a copy of every Spirit since Chuck started. That was 1982. That's a lot of Spirits.
Wednesday I picked up the bound book dated Sept. 2001 through Aug. 2002. That first month was a mess. The Rebels beat overmatched Murray State 49-14, Eli Manning's first QB start. Then the Rebels went to Auburn and stunk it up early before rallying late. But too late. Down 27-0 in the third, Ole Miss lost 27-21.
We dated those old Spirit magazines a week later than we actually printed them. The one dated Sept. 15, 2001, had a pregame story on Vanderbilt, the Rebels' next opponent. But on Sept. 15, there was no Ole Miss-Vandy game. There were no sports at all in America.
On Tuesday of that week, the event simply known now as "9-11" occurred. The Rebels, who had a scheduled open date on Sept. 22 anyway, wouldn't play for three weeks. The Vandy game would be played Dec. 1 in Oxford to wrap up the season.
There was no Spirit with a print date of Sept. 22. The one dated Sept. 29 had as its cover an empty Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Then came Kentucky. A trip to Lexington the last weekend in September meant that for the first time in three weeks, the Rebels were playing football. It had been quite a month.
Chuck wrote this about the Rebels' 42-31 win against the Wildcats on a beautiful fall day in the bluegrass.
"After a three-week layoff, I didn't know how we were going to fare against stubborn Kentucky – historically known to give the Rebels fits – on the road in a game they considered and said publicly was "critical" to their season. . . .While I was certain the Rebs were a little better than the Wildcats, I knew an emotionally charged Kentucky team would await. . . .From the opening bell, it was apparent the Rebs meant business. The defense stuffed the Wildcats, not once, but twice, after a roughing the punter penalty gave UK new life on their initial possession. . . .On the Rebs' first offensive possession, Eli Manning was 5-5 and before you could say "Rebel Yell" three times after having a little of the Kentucky elixir, it was 7-0 Rebs. . . .Pretty much from that point on, despite a couple of defensive lapses, it wasn't "if" but "by how many." A loss was out of the question. Give Kentucky credit for making a game of it, but the better team won and did so because they played a solid football game."
Ole Miss would finish that season 7-4 and was left out of the bowl picture. You remember. Alabama at 6-5, a team Ole Miss had beaten in Oxford, got the Independence Bowl bid over the Rebels. It was a tough pill to swallow, but the Rebels weren't all that highly thought of in the preseason. They were picked sixth in the SEC West.
After the trip to Kentucky, I wrote:
"There's no question Saturday's win at Kentucky was big not only for this team but also for the program. If the Rebs were indeed everybody's pick at the bottom of the SEC West preseason, and if they had any hopes of finishing much higher than that, then a win in Lexington was critical."
Eli said after his third start he was getting better, especially now that he had been around the program for a while:
"It was important to me to be able to have two years to prepare for my turn (redshirting in 1999 and playing behind starter Romaro Miller in 2000). I know all the plays and how the system works. Now it's just a matter of being a player and making plays."
Center Ben Claxton said of the win at UK:
"We were very well prepared, but I thought it would take a series or two to knock the rust off. We can't complain about 42 points."
CB Syniker Taylor didn't like the defense giving up 31 points:
"I'm not too happy about that. Anytime you win on the road in the SEC, it's a good win. We gave up more points than we wanted to, but we shut them down at the end when we had to."
WR Chris Collins caught seven passes for 119 yards and a touchdown:
"I was just glad to be a big part of the gameplan. I was glad to see us as sharp as we were for most of the game."
After an unsettling three weeks, all associated with Ole Miss were just glad to finally play another game. And win it.
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