After the Mississippi State Bulldogs captured the program’s, and the university’s, first NCAA National Championship Wednesday night, sportswriters, radio hosts, and others that follow collegiate sports started to realize just how much it meant to Mississippi State fans.
Of course, the MS State fanbase is known to be one of the most supportive of its programs. The record crowds at Omaha throughout the CWS proved that.
And like any fanbase who has never had one of its teams win a National Championship, the celebration was as you’d expect.
However, I still think there’s something else. Some intangible factor that made it evident to those outside of the fanbase….that this championship means more to MSU fans….and to the state of Mississippi as a whole.
After pondering for most of the day, I’ve arrived at my conclusion: connection.
Mississippi is a small state.
I jokingly told a good friend of mine from Tennessee when he moved here that the state is one big high school.
And by that I mean, no matter where you go across the state…you’ll likely run into someone that you know. EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYONE.
Now this might be more true for my hometown, because Kosciusko people just seem to be everywhere.
But because of the small nature of the state, we all feel connected, especially to our college teams.
Think about bigger programs like Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State. etc. All bigger programs in bigger states with bigger fanbases. A lot of these schools also have their fair share of bandwagon fans that just attach themselves to a winning program.
And NO SANE person would ever be a bandwagon fan of a Mississippi program, unless they just loved having their heart broken.
However, in Mississippi, our programs literally are our family. Oh, and I’m paraphrasing Dak there…..not Dominic Toretto.
But back to the Mississippi Connection.
One of the things I love about our small state is that you probably know somebody who knows somebody from your hometown.
I like to pride in being that guy that probably knows someone you do, but my pal Steve Azar, the Music and Culture Ambassador of Mississippi, blows me out of the water in that respect.
He literally knows someone from every corner of the state. When I first met him and introduced myself and where I’m from, he said “Oh, Freddie George is my cousin.” Freddie was a former mayor here.
But it’s that connection that allows us to be close to our teams, because with the state being as small as it is, most fans probably have some sort of close connection to their team. Whether that be MS State, Ole Miss, USM, Jackson State, etc.
I can give three examples of connections I have to the MS State team that just won the National Championship:
- Luke Hancock – The very first baseball games I broadcasted on the radio was a series between Kosciusko and Houston. Hancock was Houston’s starting catcher….in the 8th grade and he was already committed to MS State. And he had to have hit over .500 in that series because he was a wrecking ball against our guys.
- Logan Tanner – His grandmother was my 10th grade English teacher.
- Brayland Skinner – Skinner’s grandmother broadcasts a church service on one of our radio stations (WKOZ) every Sunday morning. She’s been coming in to record her program for close to 40 years. A few times, I’ve had to set her up and help her record. During those times, she and I have had a lot of fun conversations about wrestling. She’s a big fan of John Cena. She also read the lines in my palm and told me I was going to have 7 kids and that I better find a wife soon so I could get started.
It’s the little connections like this that you only get in smaller state like Mississippi.
“God, here I am… …spilling my guts… …to one of my archenemies. But the truth is… …you’re the closest thing to a friend I got.” Eddie Blake
The above quote from the movie “Watchman” has been running through my mind today. It’s a scene where The Comedian, an aging vigilante “hero,” is having a mental breakdown, so he breaks into his arch nemesis’ home just to have someone to talk to.
That just embodies the MS State/Ole Miss rivalry to me.
It’s as heated of a rivalry as you can get. And probably has been the most heated rivalry over the past 5 years.
Yet once again, because our state is so small, in a weird way, the entire state can take pride in a championship, because you have good friends and family that are fans of the team that won.
For all the vitriol between MS State and Ole Miss fans, and there is PLENTY, I have seen way more Ole Miss fans congratulatory of MS State’s championship than the alternative.
I personally have had a number of Ole Miss fans text and message me, congratulating and being very gracious about the Bulldogs’ championship.
I think that speaks to the gracious nature of most Mississippians for one.
But also that the fanbases are connected, no matter how much they may try to prove otherwise.
Because for all the negative press (which is warranted at times) and stereotypes the entire state has to put up with, I think most of us are Mississippians first….and Bulldogs/Rebels/Golden Eagles second.
And it brings to mind another movie quote:
“I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you?……You… you… complete… me.” -The Joker