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Before we were the Ole Miss Rebels

A sense of place: oxford & ole miss history

An editorial in the Oct. 19, 1929, issue of the MISSISSIPPIAN, the student newspaper stated, “let’s call our athletes something.” For some time the athletic teams had been called the Red and Blue. These were the colors that were worn by the football team on Nov. 11, 1893, when the first game was played against Southwestern Baptist University of Jackson, Tennessee. The first football coach, Dr. Alexander J. Bondurant, a Latin professor, had gone to both Harvard and Yale and these colors were taken from these teams.

The closest approach to a catchy team name had been the “Mighty Mississippians.” The writer went on to state, “A&M has its “Bulldogs,” Millsaps its “Majors,” Southwestern its “Lynx,” Vanderbilt its “Commodores,” Tennessee its “Vols,” Florida its “Gators,” Georgia Tech its “Yellow Jackets.” What does the University of Mississippi have?”

The name Ole Miss fitted the institution as a whole but the athletic teams needed a nickname.

On Nov. 2, 1929, the MISSISSIPPIAN announced a contest to name the Ole Miss athletic teams. The Cardinal Club, a campus service organization, would offer a handsome, engraved, silver loving cup and Coach Hazel offered five $3 Ole Miss-Mississippi A&M football tickets as a prize to the person that could come up with the best nickname for Ole Miss athletic teams.

The contest, sponsored by the MISSISSIPPIAN, would run until midnight on Nov. 29, 1929, when the names suggested would be turned over to the selection committee. The committee consisted of Coach Hazel; Chancellor Alfred Hume; Judge L.A. Smith of Holly Springs, the president of the Alumni Association; and Noel “Mally” Malone, president of the Associated Student Body. The committee was anxious to select a name that “symbolizes the spirit, traditions and ideals of the University of Mississippi. It should embody the very essence of Ole Miss — courage, loyalty, and quality.”

In every issue of the campus newspaper until Nov. 19, articles were written asking for names to be submitted and listed names that had been already submitted. Some of the names suggested were the Confederates, Mississippi Flood, Cardinals, Rebels, Mississippi Torrent, Red and Blue Devils and The Magnolians. Names came from all parts of the country. The MISSISSIPPIAN reported that “many of the names are exceptionally good, others are medium and still others are really laughable.”

On Nov. 23, 1929, the MISSISSIPPIAN reported that a name had been chosen. The “Mississippi Flood” was the name chosen by the selection committee. It had been submitted by Dick McCool Jr. of Canton, an Ole Miss student about 30 years before. Ed and Joe Dalstrom, current students, also were given credit for submitting the same name, but McCool was awarded the prize since he first suggested the name.

The second choice was a tie between the “Rebels” and the “Democrats.” The third choice was the “Old Masters,” a name that would surely caused uproar in today’s era of political correctness. The names that had been used before, such as the “Mighty Mississippians,” were considered to be “rather arrogant and were inappropriate because they called no definite conception to mind.” The “Mississippi Flood” filled all requirements of the committee. They were unanimous in agreeing, “There could hardly be a better name than the one selected.”

In 1927, Mississippi and a large area of the lower Mississippi Valley had experienced a great flood along the Mississippi River. In his letter of submission, former student McCool stated, “In view of the fact that Louisiana has its “Wolves” and “Tigers;” Alabama its “Panthers;” Tennessee its “Lynx” and “Moccasins;” Texas its “Steers,” “Mustangs” and “Ponies;” Georgia its “Yellow Jackets” and “Bulldogs;” and Arkansas its “Razorbacks,” — why not let Ole Miss have its “Mississippi Flood,” and in due time, course, and season, drown out the whole, blooming S.I.C. (now the SEC) menagerie? You know you can sometimes stem the tide, and very often ride the waves, but, as yet, none have been able to successfully control the flood.”

The “Mississippi Flood” never caught on, and Ole Miss continued to be called the “Red and Blue.” In 1936 this would change when a sportswriter referred to Ole Miss as the “Mudcats.” The MISSISSIPPIAN would again call for a new nickname for Ole Miss teams, and I’ll write on this change next week.

Jack Lamar Mayfield is a local Oxford historian and can be reached at jlmayfield@dixie-net.com.