Published on September 26th, 2014 | by Red Cup Rebellion0
A Begrudging Welcome Back
Over the two weekends covered by this issue of your favorite independent, local newspaper, the Ole Miss Rebels will come off of a bye week to host the Memphis Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide. The latter matchup is one that has a fair bit of history in the Southeastern Conference, occurring as regularly as any other pair of meetings between the schools of the SEC’s Western Division since the league moved to a division format 20 years ago. It is a matchup we can only enthusiastically welcome to Oxford with two top-10 teams facing off in a game that could have significant ramifications in the hunt for both the Southeastern Conference and national championships.
The former matchup though, that’s one we Rebel fans have mixed feelings on at best. Until recently, the University of Memphis—or “Memphis State” to Rebel old timers and modern day football trolls alike—was a prominent fixture on the Ole Miss Football schedule for several decades. Games at the continuously crumbling Liberty Bowl were traded for games on the Ole Miss campus in an effort to play a team in our backyard while catering to a metropolitan area that arguably has more Ole Miss Fans than any outside of Jackson. The games were never particularly fun, and were usually victories even when the Rebels weren’t worth a damn (even Ed Orgeron was a mighty 3-0 against Memphis), although the Rebels did suffer some embarrassing head-scratcher losses to Memphis in the early 2000s.
But after the wins and the convenience, the matchup offered very few positives. First, a trip to Memphis isn’t exactly out of the ordinary or exotic for Ole Miss Fans, so why waste a week of our football season with it? Furthermore, the biannual Liberty Bowl visit for the Rebs virtually funded Memphis football, with a nearly sold out stadium, packed full of red-clad fans having paid almost what they’d pay for an Ole Miss home game, serving to offer a financial windfall for a program that otherwise gave tickets away.
Then there was the unpleasant prospect of actually having the Memphis faithful, whose wardrobes seem to have all been purchased at gas stations (with tastes in food and music to match), spend even just a few hours of an otherwise pleasant fall Saturday in our fair Oxford. If you don’t remember what this was like, just imagine having your football fan experience interrupted by the unpleasantries of a group of people who can only best be described as a combination of Mississippi State fans and Dwight Schrute.
“So dump ‘em,” we figured. “What’s the use in continuing to play Memphis anyway? Can’t we do things like play Texas in Austin and stuff?” We can, and we did, but even then we added Memphis back to the schedule for reasons which, while not good enough to make this an event to look forward to, do make sense for Ole Miss.
First, did I mention that it’s a pretty likely win for Ole Miss? The Rebels have an all-time record of X-Y-Z against the Tigers, and that will only improve after this season. Second, Memphis is our territory. Consider how many Ole Miss students, fans, and alumni are from the Memphis area, and consider how keeping the Ole Miss presence in the city will only serve to strengthen that relationship.
Third, it’s valuable to the football program to be able to continue pulling talented players (and coaches —Hey former Briarcrest Christian School Head Coach Hugh Freeze) to Oxford from Memphis. Having the team and its fans as a regular fixture in the Liberty Bowl certainly won’t hurt in this regard.
And, finally, it’s cheap. Yes, we’re paying them to come here and our ticket sales up there do help fund their program a lot, but it is far from expensive, both in terms of time and hours spent, for our team and its fans to play in Memphis. Because of this, athletics director Ross Bjork has described away games in Memphis as “another home game” for Ole Miss. And look on the bright side—you’ll at least get to eat at Central Barbecue and hit up the Flying Saucer once the game’s over with.
So even though it is a longstanding “rivalry” that the lot of us would rather see quashed in favor of something else, it is a matchup that does provide some real benefits to the Ole Miss Football program. Considering that, let’s begrudgingly welcome the Memphis Tigers back to Oxford on a biannual basis and offer reciprocating trips to their neck of the woods. No, we don’t have to particularly enjoy it, but being as how they are most certainly not escaping Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with a win any time soon we can most definitely make sure they don’t like it either.