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The landshark — the unofficial Ole Miss mascot

What’s is the landshark and how did it come to Ole Miss?

Back in 2006, University of Mississippi Head Football Coach Ed Orgeron was looking for a linebacker to replace Patrick Willis, who had graduated to the NFL. He found a linebacker way out in Arizona who was about to finish his two years at Scottsdale Community College.

Antonio D. “Tony” Fein had graduated from South Kitsap High School in 2000 and had taken a different path to college football. When in high school, he had played quarterback and linebacker in the small naval shipyard town of Port Orchard, Wash. After high school, he decided to serve his country and joined the U.S. Army at age 19. He would do a tour of duty for four years — 15 months of which he was stationed in Iraq — before setting off to Scottsdale Community College.

Coach O, who was known for his ability to recruit anywhere in the nation, got word of Fein’s ability as a linebacker and sought out the 25-year-old. While at Scottsdale Community College, Fein was voted a junior college All-American. Coach O thought he would be a great replacement for Willis, but no one knew then that he would introduce a whimsical sign of celebration which would become an unofficial mascot for the Ole Miss Rebels.

Fein made his way to Oxford and onto the Rebel team in the summer of 2007. That same year he was awarded the Pat Tillman Patriot Award by the Military Order of the Purple Heart. This award is given to a college player who shows a willingness to serve one’s country while still taking part in college sports.

Origin of display

It has been reported the whimsical sign of putting your hand to your forehead in the shape of a shark fin emerged as a celebratory sign after a big defensive play. It may have first occurred in summer practice of the 2008 football season when Fein sacked Ole Miss quarterback Jevon Snead, but it would not be done in a game until Sept. 27, 2008, when the Rebels made their way to Gainesville to play Florida in the Swamp.

It was also reported in local media that Fein may have picked up the idea during his service in the deserts of Iraq. Fellow defensive linemen Jerrel Powe and Greg Hardy also thought the celebratory sign of a great defensive play was something that would be good for team spirit. Coach Tyrone Nix thought the “landshark sign” was unique and helped rally the team and the fan base. Coach Houston Nutt, who replaced Coach O in 2008, said of the fin-sign, that Fein “really invented the sign for our guys.”

“I thought he came so far in academics, weight room, attitude, team, the whole thing. It was beautiful,” Nutt said.

Florida – 2008

Fast forward to the game with Florida in 2008, when the “landshark” first appeared in an Ole Miss game. Tim Tebow and the Gators were 4-0 when they met the Rebels in the Swamp on Sept. 27. The Rebels, coached by Nutt, were 2-2 at this point of season. No one really gave the Rebels much chance of beating the Gators on that hot September afternoon in Gainesville. The Gators were on their way to winning a national championship that year and the Tim Tebow-led team was picked to “swamp” the Rebels.

Late in the fourth quarter with the Rebels giving the Gators all they could handle, we had them beat 31-30 at the time and Tebow was making a drive to the goal line. When the Gators called the same play they had scored on earlier in the quarter, Fein made a defensive play that called for the landshark sign.

Fein did not make the tackle on Tebow, but he did rush across the field to hit the Florida center, Maurkice Pouncey, making him fall back into Tebow on his way to a first down. Fein jumped up from the field and put his hand to his brow, giving the landshark sign. It did not go unnoticed by the Ole Miss faithful, and a new legend was born for the Ole Miss Rebels.

Ole Miss’ sign

That day in 2008 the landshark became a sign, much like the Gator chomp or the Mississippi State cowbells, that will be recognized as something purely Ole Miss Rebels. In 2010, the landshark even made it into the running for a new school mascot here at Ole Miss. We all remember Marshall Henderson using the “fin-sign” on the way to the 2012 win in the SEC Basketball Tournament. We also saw the “fin-sign” used in 2013 in our win over Vanderbilt.

Let’s all hope we will see many more “landsharks” throughout the 2016 football season. We owe a debt of gratitude to Tony Fein.

The Rebel Nation lost Tony to an unfortunate accidental death in 2009, but he will always be remembered by Rebels everywhere as the one who gave our athletic teams a sign to show just how great we are.

Jack Mayfield is an Oxford native and local historian. You can reach him at jlmayfield@dixie-net.com