I grew up very much an “Ole Miss kid.” I caravanned to football games on fall Saturdays. I had an autographed picture of Eli Manning hanging up in my room, and I really must’ve pissed off my parents when I threw the remote at the TV following his Heisman loss to Jason White (seriously … Jason White?). I once actually paid money* to watch us lose to Wyoming on Dish Network pay-per-view. The phrase “Ole Miss Rebels” is engrained in my subconscious, and to this day, if ESPN is on in the background, my eyes instinctively snap to the score ticker at the bottom whenever an “OLE MISS” score pops up — I’ve trained myself to spot it out of the corner of my eye from 50 yards.
So don’t wag your Colonel Reb seat cushions at me and call me a commie Lib Arts longhair for what I’m about to propose.
Ever since I’ve arrived on campus, a strange mix of embarrassing, politically-backwards gaffes from certain students and better-than-usual athletic successes has people thinking a little differently around here. This may just be an imposition on my part, now that I find myself actually attending classes here after all these years, but something feels different. You can sense that people want to turn a page.
It’s been a long time coming; from the banning of the stars and bars in the stadium just before I was attending games, to the long, awkward phasing out of Colonel Reb, to the adoption of that bear (that nobody I’ve ever spoken to ever voted for ever), we seem to be trying to remold our public image as a university and an athletics department. These things are not as unimportant as some may claim: athletics are probably the most prominent PR that a university has with the general public. The public image of a university and its athletics are, for better or for worse, inseparable and cross-influential.
That said, I can see the day coming, down the line, when we will want to shake off the phrase “Ole Miss Rebels” altogether.
The name “Ole Miss,” as you may be aware, is derived from plantation language, not from the word “Mississippi.” And as noble as the namesake University Grays might have been, the name “Rebels” carries an obvious and awkward connotation. If you’re like me, you’re tired of constantly defending these things. Besides, a lot of people from, say, Iowa seem to think that “Ole Miss” is a nickname for Mississippi State University. This will never do.
However, I’m not going to propose a new name. In fact, I say we go really old school, back before “Ole Miss Rebels” was a phrase that meant anything to anyone.
Let’s call ourselves the Mississippi Flood again.
Until 1936, this was the name that our teams went by. It serves not only as a reminder of the devastating Mississippi River flood of 1927, but for our generation, it also calls to mind the havoc wrought on our state by Hurricane Katrina; many of our parents may also remember Camille.
The word “Flood” also denotes a bodiless and intimidating force of nature. It works for the Alabama Crimson Tide. It works for the St. John’s Red Storm. I mean, even if it’s just your grandma worrying about having to re-do the carpet in her den, nobody wants to deal with a Flood. Oh, I can hear you now: “But Alex, Oxford is a landlocked town without a major river! And Sardis is miles away from campus! This makes no sense.” Look, when the Tulsa Golden Hurricane are re-labeled in the name of geographical accuracy, then we’ll talk. I mean, we don’t even have to change our colors. Tides aren’t crimson, and hurricanes aren’t golden. Floods, however, tend to be blue (get back to me on the red part, I had this idea, like, 15 minutes ago).
Besides, here’s my favorite part about a landlocked Flood: it’s an excuse to un-ironically and wholeheartedly embrace the Landshark.
The Landshark: Our long sought-after answer to the mascot dilemma. A mascot that is totally unique. A mascot for a 21st century student body, rivaled only by our brief flirtation with Admiral Ackbar in terms of postmodern eccentricity. Our athletes already throw up this symbol as a rallying cry, or in Marshall Henderson’s case, he throws up some weird sort of floppy rooster-headed tongue gesture. I mean, I’ve never seen a Landshark, and I can’t tell you what one looks like, but I’m pretty sure that ain’t it.
I can picture it now: Instead of bowling in the north end zone to make room for additional seating and building a new basketball facility, who among us would not storm up to Ross Bjork’s office this very second, demand an immediate hold on the construction and immediate re-routing of that allotted budget to install a massive shark tank with a live, in-stadium mascot? We could feed him real-life versions of the other teams’ mascots after each successful scoring drive.
Okay, the Tad Pad needs replacing, I’ll give you that. But I’m all for a slight hike in tuition in order to bolster the live-bulldog-and-tiger-stadium-sacrifice budget.
Your grandpa can still bring his Colonel Reb seat cushion. Just make sure he can attach a shiny new Landshark fin atop that massive FM headset he’s been lugging around since 1978.
* Yeah, so, technically my parents paid for it. I was twelve. Lay off.
Alex Thiel is a junior film major from Jackson.