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Final Four: MSU’s women took us on a journey of pride, hope and joy

By Sid Salter

I’ve been a Mississippi State Bulldog all of my life. Old Main Dormitory burned six days after I was born in 1959.

We never set foot on the MSU campus that my father didn’t mention Old Main. He was among the estimated 40,000 State alums who lived in Old Main and cherished the stories of “Polecat Alley” and the legendary students like John Stennis, Sonny Montgomery, Jim Buck Ross, and others who lived there.

After the devastating fire claimed the venerable old building and took the life of one student, the university marshalled some key donors to design and construct the Chapel of Memories on the campus utilizing bricks salvaged from the Old Main dormitory fire that was dedicated on Oct. 8, 1965.

The old building and the chapel it spawned became symbolic of the university — old and new, rising from tragedies and evolving into something newer, better and more enduring.

My father, my mother, both my sisters, my daughter and most of my extended family are all MSU alumni. The first of his family to earn a college education, my dad swept floors in Lee Hall and worked in the stables on South Farm to pay his way through State during the Depression.

I worked and studied in that building in the 1970s. My daughter taught English there after earning her masters degree at MSU.

Over the years, MSU has seen more struggles that success in athletics. To be sure, there were great exceptions. There was the great football victory over Army in 1935 and an Orange Bowl bid in 1937 under Major Ralph Sasse.

Allyn McKeen brought State an undefeated season and an Orange Bowl win in 1940 and an SEC title in 1941. Emory Bellard led the Bulldogs to the historic 6-3 win over Alabama in Jackson in 1980. Jackie Sherrill led the Bulldogs to a 1998 SEC West title.

Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs rose to No. 1 in the nation behind Dak Prescott in 2014 and a string of seven straight bowl games.

In basketball, Babe McCarthy led MSU to dominate SEC men’s basketball in the late 1950s and early 1960s, along with four outright or shared SEC championships. Richard Williams took the MSU men to the Final Four in New York in 1996.

MSU baseball? Well, we’ve had nine College World Series appearances, 12 NCAA regional titles, and 17 SEC titles. All that and the Left Field Lounge to boot.

But for my money, there has been no single moment in our history that electrified Mississippi State fans quite to the degree than Friday’s real-life David-and-Goliath basketball victory by MSU’s women over the mighty University of Connecticut women with their gaudy 111-0 record. When “Itty Bitty” Morgan William’s dagger of a clutch buzzer-beater went through the net at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, it was a moment of pure, unadulterated joy.

As I said, being a State fan is a character building experience. The victory over UConn and the euphoria it cast on our fan base and over much of the nation on Friday represented uncharted waters. I wasn’t sure just how to feel. Laughter. Tears. Shouts of triumph. Pride. Wishes that my parents were still with us — Dad would have loved it.

For so many years, the last shot never went in for MSU. The miracle never came. Some other university in some other state was doing the celebrating. But not this night. This night belonged to the people in Maroon and White and it was wrapped as tight as Jack Cristil used to tell us it should be.

Two days later, the magic run for MSU’s women and Coach Vic Schaefer ended against a fine South Carolina team. That night, the Gamecocks were simply the better team. On Twitter, I said: “I hate losing and particularly on this Final Four stage. But I love this hustling MSU team, this fine coach, and our great university.”

And that’s the truth. But like the charred bricks from Old Main, these young ladies will rise. The memory of their historic win over UConn captivated the nation and will endure. And in Dallas, those MSU women felt the support of people all over Mississippi and the nation who don’t normally root for the Bulldogs — and they appreciated it.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.