Take a breath, Ole Miss fans.

Published 11:48 am Wednesday, October 26, 2016

It’s hard not to be a little jealous of Chicago Cubs fans right now.

Don’t get me wrong — I like the Cubs, and their season-long domination has been a thrill to watch. Even in the wake of Tuesday night’s Game 1 loss to Cleveland, there’s still a palpable buzz surrounding the team’s first World Series appearance since 1945 and the possibility that they just might break the curse.

But as an Ole Miss fan, one of those long-tortured types raised to support the team in good times and bad, I admit it would be nice to know what Atlanta’s like in early December, to see the team go for a legitimate run at a national title and for our long, agonizing wait to be over.

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Preseason is a time of such sweet, simple innocence for fans (and journalists, for that matter), when you can make informed predictions based on depth charts, spring practice outcomes, and schedule strength, because, well, it’s easy.

If you’re right, you get to gloat about being right. And if you’re wrong, you can blame it on the countless tiny details of which championships are made. Injuries, bad calls, average players coming into their own, stellar players falling into an inexplicable slump — all of it contributes to the outcome. And the hard truth is when you form predictions based on those controlled variables and put them into the hands of extraordinarily talented, yet fallible humans, nothing is sure.

Unless you’re Alabama, apparently, but I digress.

Time for some perspective.

Let’s rewind a few years to the 2012 season, Coach Hugh Freeze’s first at the helm of the Rebels when expectations were varied, at best. No one knew what Freeze would be able to do with the team following a nightmarish 2011 season, so there was no bar to reach (or miss), and certainly no widespread expectations of a bowl bid at the start of the year.

The Rebels were a win away from bowl eligibility heading into the Egg Bowl and going up against a solid 8-3 Mississippi State team that had every reason to expect to win that game. As most of us remember, the numbers weren’t in the Bulldogs’ favor that night, and a 41-24 win over MSU sent Ole Miss to the BBVA Compass Bowl to cap off the season.

Birmingham erupted into a city-wide party as Ole Miss fans poured into the city to celebrate the team’s first bowl appearance in a handful of years, thrilled to have a bowl game to attend at all.

It didn’t matter that the game was played on a cold, cloudy day at Legion Field in all its dilapidated glory. It didn’t matter that the tailgate zone designated for fans left much to be desired compared to the Grove’s comfortable opulence.

Fans were energized, thanks in part to the warm cans of Miller High Life sold outside the stadium, but also in knowing they’d get a reprieve – at least for a year – from the frustrating narrative that seems perpetually tied to Ole Miss football: Will the Rebels ever overcome the obstacles standing in their way to reach national prominence again?

Under Freeze, the team has improved steadily, and the bowls have only gotten bigger and better in terms of prestige, peaking in New Orleans last year at the Sugar Bowl, which, for many fans, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Of course, it’s disheartening for many who’ve grown used to hitting the next level every season Freeze is at the helm.

Even seasoned Ole Miss fans who were brought up on disappointing seasons get nauseous at the thought of beating Alabama for a third consecutive year only to watch it slip away in the second half.

College football is a brutal business. Coaches are hired and fired, quarterbacks beloved and beleaguered. But chances are the outcome of this season won’t stop you from spending your fall Saturdays praying your chosen team scores more points than the other guys, and it never will. Whether the goal is to win games or win parties, you’re still going to be there, touting tradition and team loyalty above all else.

And that’s OK. It doesn’t make you less of a football fan. It makes you more of one, because you know no matter what happens, that’s still going to be your team. That’s the foundation of why college football means what it does to its faithful fans.

I’m not saying anyone should willfully ignore their passion for college football in favor of glossing over reality. However, given we only have a few more games left to enjoy a sport we continue to follow and watch and ravenously absorb year after year, it might help to take a breath and enjoy ourselves for a few more Saturdays.

Regardless of the season’s outcome, I can’t help thinking about how many of the same fans who followed the team to the Superdome this year also followed them to a rundown Birmingham stadium nearly four years ago and had the time of their lives.

Focusing more on the following and less on the destination just might be what every Ole Miss fan needs right now.

Of course, a cocktail wouldn’t hurt either.

Alex mcdaniel is editor of the Oxford Eagle. Contact her at alex.mcdaniel@oxfordeagle.com

Alex Mcdaniel is Editor of the Oxford EAGLE. She can be reached at alex.mcdaniel@oxfordeagle.com.