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Glad Rebels defeated national champs

By Melvin Arrington

Ole Miss fans have had visions of Sugar Bowls dancing in their heads for the last 45 years. I can remember about 30 years ago walking through the Ole Miss Bookstore and seeing a poster depicting several Rebel football players striking the iconic Iwo Jima pose hoisting the flag atop the Superdome, with the caption reading “We Shall Return.”

Finally, as everyone knows by now, the Rebels did indeed return to the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, and they did it in style with a lopsided win over Oklahoma State. Now there’s even more to cheer about because Alabama’s victory over Clemson last night gives the SEC another national title, and more importantly, it means that the Ole Miss Rebels are the only team to defeat this season’s national champions. 

This is the third time in my memory that the Rebs have pulled off this feat; the other two occasions were 1977 against Notre Dame and 2008 versus Florida. The 1977 contest took place in Jackson in brutal heat and humidity. Recently, one of the Rebels who played in that game described to me in graphic detail the sweltering conditions on that long ago autumn afternoon. At that time my wife and I and our 3-year-old daughter were living in Hickory, North Carolina, deep in ACC country. I frantically tried to find a TV broadcast of that game, and when that proved unsuccessful I went up and down the radio dial searching for an Ole Miss radio affiliate, but there was none to be found. Personal computers, smartphones and online access to scores were decades away. The only thing I could do was sit and wait for an announcer to give the score. I can still remember vividly the one and only Howard Cosell declaiming in that trademark voice of his: “I have just been advised of a major upset in college football . . .” Somehow, I just knew that the Rebels had defeated the Fighting Irish, and that’s exactly what they did, by a score of 20–13. Notre Dame went on to win the championship that year, and that loss to Ole Miss was the only blemish on their record.

In 2008 when Ole Miss upset Florida in Gainesville, I was watching on TV like most Rebel fans. That was a matchup that, if you believed the experts, our Rebs had no chance to win, or rather, as ESPN’s Lee Corso might have said, they had “two chances, Slim and None — and Slim has left town.” It was the Tim Tebow-led Gators’ only loss on their run to the championship that year. I still see bumper stickers around Oxford proclaiming “Ole Miss 31, National Champions 30.”

So that brings us to the 2015 season, the year of the big win in Tuscaloosa, a victory that seems like only a mild upset, since it was a repeat of the outcome of the previous year’s contest. Thanks to all our players and coaches for giving us a season like no other in recently memory. Also, congratulations to the Alabama Crimson Tide. Thank you for making our 10–3 record look even better. Now, bring on those new bumper stickers:“Ole Miss 43, National Champions 37.” 

Melvin Arrington recently retired from the University of Mississippi. He can be reached at marringt@olemiss.edu.