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A mascot all Rebels can love

Ole Miss mascots have been providing drama, water cooler conversation and news stories for 15 years now.

You would be hard pressed to find an Ole Miss fan who doesn’t have an opinion on what the University should and shouldn’t do regarding the figurehead for Ole Miss Athletics.

We admit that we’ve watched the drama unfold for over a decade with no small bit of head-scratching; after all, a mascot is just someone dressed up in a costume. Mascots do their part in showing team spirit and pumping up the crowd during games but, on the whole, how integral are they to the fabric and day to day of an athletic program?

Don’t get us wrong, we love a good mascot, but we also don’t understand the ire that came with the removal of Colonel Reb in 2003 and the subsequent reaction to the unveiling of Rebel the Black Bear in 2010.

However, with hindsight being what it is, we do think that removing Rebel has been the right move for Ole Miss. The bear was perfectly serviceable, but aside from the children who were eager to run up and hug the animal, the fanbase never truly got behind it.

Putting aside the debate about resurrecting Colonel Reb, it can’t be overlooked that in 2010 there really wasn’t much to cheer for when it came to Ole Miss football. That season marked a two-year span where the Rebels won six games and just one conference matchup and, at the end of the 2011 season, then-head coach Houston Nutt was shown the door to make way for Hugh Freeze.

Clearly, the six years that followed under Freeze now leave a bitter taste in the mouth of most Ole Miss fans, but with an impressive defensive and an explosive offense giving people reasons the cheer, the landshark began to take a life of its own.

Marshall Henderson took the “Fins Up” gesture to the basketball court to incense opposing teams and, over the course of the 2012-2013 school year, the movement and the motto became almost as integral to the Ole Miss faithful as Hotty Toddy.

It only makes sense that the University and Ole Miss Athletics officially adopt the movement and give it permanence.

Being journalists, we also have to admire a good story, and the history behind the Landsharks and the new mascot is a pretty good one.

As you’ve likely read on page one, former Ole Miss linebacker Tony Fein nicknamed the Rebel defense the Landsharks in 2007 and coined the “Fins Up” phrase and signature gesture. Fein was a veteran who chose to join the U.S. Army after high school rather than continue his football career.

After three and a half years of service, Fein got his shot at collegiate football when he enrolled at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona, gaining the attention of several Division I programs.

Fein played for Ole Miss as part of two of the most successful teams in recent memory, and then he got his shot at the NFL, playing as a free agent in the 2009 season before his death in October of that year.

Fein was only 27.

Now, Fein will be remembered for (hopefully) decades to come as the Ole Miss mascot will bear his name and his Rebel jersey number: 47.

If mascots are supposed to unify a fanbase and make use want to cheer, this is a decision we can get behind.

Finally – and thankfully – Ole Miss got it right.

Let’s hear it for Tony.