By Seph Anderson – Contributing Writer
As published in the January/February 2015 Issue
What a special year it was to be an Ole Miss Rebel in 2014.
From an epic Saturday in October, to a trip to Omaha, to ground-breaking on the new basketball arena, to celebrating the life of Chucky Mullins on the twenty-fifth anniversary and to crushing the school down south, this past year provided Ole Miss fans with momentous moments to rejoice both what was and what’s to come for Ole Miss Athletics.
A Day to Remember – October 4, 2014
From the moment the 2014 football schedule was released, Rebel fans everywhere began to think, “If we can just beat Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, then we have a real chance to be undefeated going into the Alabama game.” Well, that’s precisely what unfolded ahead of the Crimson Tide’s first trip to Oxford since 2011. The stage was set for an epic Saturday in God’s Country.
At 4-0 for the first time since 1970, the No. 11 Rebels were set to host No. 1 Alabama in one of the biggest games to ever be played at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Merely in year three of “the journey,” Hugh Freeze had his team poised for a shot at not only a signature win, but a program-changing win.
And oh yeah, that Saturday morning fall staple known as ESPN College Gameday finally decided it was time to descend upon The Grove for what would turn out to be arguably the greatest Gameday production to take place since the show first aired back in 1987.
Having waited on the chance to grove for years, Gameday Producer Lee Fitting and his staff hit a home run in Oxford, “This week, there is a huge pack of us sticking around, tailgating in the Grove, going to the game, hanging out after the game. This is a big deal for us. I’m not in here just to say that for a quote in the newspaper or TV. This is a big deal. This is fun. I’m excited, and the guys are excited. This is more than Oxford. This is a chance to introduce and explain to the country in further detail what the Grove is about.”
Gameday provided advertising of a magnitude that no amount of money could have ever purchased.
And for an institution (unfortunately) still thought of by some across the country for how it may have looked in the 1960s, Fitting and co. cast Oxford, Ole Miss and everything she stands for in a light that not even the staunchest of University brass would have done different.
It was Ole Miss, at her finest, broadcast live in living rooms across the country. It was big-time.
Lest we not forget one worldwide pop star with just a tiny Twitter following (60 million) who would be the guest picker on Gameday: Katy Perry. Rumored throughout the week to be the guest picker due to her manager’s Ole Miss ties, not to mention being around for a concert in Memphis that same weekend, Perry’s eventual appearance on the show was simply epic.
Corndogs were tossed at the camera as LSU jabs were made, Perry led Hotty Toddy to tens of thousands spread across the Grove on live TV, the elephant head was pulled from Corso’s head and the crowd went wild (over and over again). It was classic. It was an unforgettable. It was a party unlike any other.
Well, that is until the Rebels proceeded to upset a No. 1 at home for the first time in school history later that afternoon on CBS. After a number of “near wins” since the Rebels last beat the Tide in 2003, a late Senquez Golson interception with thirty-eight seconds left on the clock (coincidence, I think not) cemented the red and blue’s first win over the perennial power in over a decade. Fans stormed the field, goal posts came down and there was a post-game party in the Grove that will go down in lore.
The October 4, 2014 win over Alabama led way to one of the most memorable seasons in Rebel history.
We’re Going to Omaha! – June 10, 2014
For the first time since 1972, after knocking off No. 1 Louisiana-Lafayette on their own turf, the Diamond Rebs punched their long-awaited ticket to Omaha for the 2014 College World Series.
Having dropped the opening game of the Super Regionals to the Rajun’ Cajuns by a score of 9-5, Mike Bianco’s club was faced with having to win two in a row to keep its postseason hopes alive.
In game two of the series, a hotly-contested pitching duel, both teams were tied after the seventh inning of play. In the eighth, a combination of a dropped fly ball by ULL (leading to a run) and a two-run Colby Bortles pinch hit helped the Rebels even up the series at one a piece.
On June 10, 2014, in a place they had been countless times before over the last decade or so, the Diamond Rebs were once again faced with a deciding game three in which they would either come out victorious and finally earn that trip to Omaha or come up one game short at yet another Super Regional.
Mounting a large lead in the final innings, Ole Miss would go on to win 10-4 and secure the school’s first appearance in the CWS since 1972. In doing so, one of the most loyal, dedicated Ole Miss Rebels of all-time (Bianco) accomplished a feat that had so cruelly escaped him time and time again as a head coach.
After the game, Bianco said, “The road to the College World Series is one that’s bumpy and winding. I didn’t expect it to take this long to get there, but you have to have a special group to do that and this is certainly a special group. We talked about it in the fall and then in the preseason. I’m really proud of this team.”
A special group they were, the Rebels mettle would be tested after dropping their opening round game of the CWS to No. 1 Virginia by a score of 2-1. In the face of adversity, the Rebs rallied with a game two win over Texas Tech (2-1) before knocking off TCU in game three (6-4). Once again, Bianco’s young men persevered with that same indefinable, indelible drive to never give up.
In the end, the Diamond Rebs would drop an elimination game to UVA (4-1) to conclude what was a truly memorable, magical run towards a national championship in 2014. Having finally gotten a taste of Omaha, there’s little reason to believe the Rebels won’t make a return trip in the near future.
If You Build It, They Will Come – July 31, 2014
Renovation projects galore on the Oxford campus, one of the most highly anticipated is the new basketball arena, The Pavilion at Ole Miss. On July 31, 2014, ground was officially broken on construction of the new $85 million arena set to open December 2015 and seat 9,600 (900 more than the Tad Pad).
A major focus of UMAA’s Forward Together campaign, of the $150 million campaign goal, $85 million will be set aside for the new arena.
As unique and intimidating a college basketball atmosphere as the Tad Pad has created for opposing teams since it first opened in February of 1966, the Tad Pad has seen its better days. Named in honor of Ole Miss alumnus and legend C.M. “Tad” Smith, the Rebel great excelled on the football field and baseball diamond at Ole Miss, served as head coach for the freshman football team and spent 15 years as head baseball coach before eventually becoming Director of Athletics at Ole Miss.
Taking full advantage of momentum and buzz created through the 2012-2013 Rebels’ SEC Championship and NCAA Tournament win, the time was perfect to unveil plans for a new arena in late 2013.
For Andy Kennedy to build upon the level of success the Rebels have enjoyed under his tenure, being able to show recruits just how committed the University is to basketball through such a state-of-the-art arena is paramount. Moreover, the same goes for what Lady Rebels Head Coach Matt Insell is building with the women’s basketball program.
However the 230,000 square foot arena will not just be the new face of Ole Miss Basketball beginning with the 2016 season, additionally it will serve as a defining symbol of the Ole Miss campus.
Athletics Director Ross Bjork commented at the ground-breaking, “Our students, faculty, staff, alumni, family, friends and visitors love being on this campus, and so our vision was to create a front door along All-American Drive that would be a capstone for Ole Miss Athletics. It’s a destination point for many things that can happen on this campus, and it’s also close to the heart of the campus. The Pavilion at Ole Miss will be a reflection of its name as a large building used for public exhibit and sporting events for the Ole Miss family.”
While the stadium will be enjoyed by basketball fans at men’s and women’s games, The Pavilion will also be a place for Ole Miss students to frequent throughout their time on campus. Chancellor Dan Jones noted, “We’re going to have a lot of excellence here. We’re going to win a lot of basketball games. We’re going to have a lot of good convocations here for students. Parents are going to see their children graduate from this university. Students who come here to look at the university are going to have a great place to convene to begin their campus tours.”
Chucky Mullins Remembered – September 26, 2014
Twenty-five years after No. 38 suffered an unthinkable, paralyzing injury playing the game he so loved, Chucky Mullins was remembered by Ole Miss officials in way that will endure and be visible to all.
On September 26, 2014, what was most notably known as Coliseum Drive was officially changed to “Chucky Mullins Drive” in a special ceremony on campus.
While the new name appears on both campus street signs and along highway six, there are also special plaques representing all that Chucky stood for along the streets. Whether a first-time campus visitor or an alumnus returning for the millionth time, everyone that steps foot on the Ole Miss campus will now be exposed to the plaques at both ends of Chucky Mullins Drive that tell the story of No. 38.
Chancellor Dan Jones said, “Chucky’s spirit has been, and continues to be, a unifying force for Ole Miss like no other. The naming of this drive will be a reminder for all of us and generations to come of Chucky’s desire to be given an opportunity. He wanted an opportunity. It’s a reminder of his commitment and dedication to excellence. He wanted to get everything out of himself that he could get. And it’s a reminder of his love for Ole Miss. He did love Ole Miss and he demonstrated that.”
In addition to introducing Chucky Mullins Drive, Ole Miss Athletics had special helmets for the Memphis game. While the navy helmet adorned with a white “38” had been announced as being team helmets for the Memphis game over the summer (which the team wore in warm ups), Ole Miss fans were given a huge surprise when the team came out of the tunnel wearing the beloved “powder blues.”
Not to be forgotten were the 20,000 “Chucky Mullins 38” buttons that were given away to patrons entering the stadium before the Memphis game. Proudly worn that night, many Ole Miss fans continued to wear their buttons each and every game of the 2014 season and likely will again next season.
A player that exemplified what it meant to be an Ole Miss Rebel from the day he sat in Billy Brewer’s
Office to sell himself worthy of a scholarship until the last breath he took, Chucky Mullins’ never quit
Attitude, positive spirit and love for all things Ole Miss will live on in eternity.
This is OUR State – November 29, 2014
Coming off a crushing 30-0 defeat to Arkansas the weekend before, the No. 19 Ole Miss Rebels hosted No. 4 Mississippi State in a regular season finale that most national pundits felt would be a Bulldog runaway.
With literally “everything” to play for, from a College Football Playoff berth to an SEC Western Division co-title to an 11-win regular season to a legitimate Heisman contender to simply winning the Egg Bowl over hated in-state rival Ole Miss, Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs looked to put icing on the cake to what was a legitimate dream season.
With everything hanging in the balance, how could State possibly fall to those same Ole Miss Rebels that got trounced in Fayetteville just days earlier?
The answer: Ole Miss wanted it more. And they played that way for 60 minutes.
Freeze said after the game, “I was willing to throw everything we had at them. And we had some more if we needed it.”
On senior day, with the likes of Bo Wallace, Vince Sanders, Serderius Bryant, Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt taking Jerry Hollingsworth Field for one final time, Hugh Freeze, his coaches, players and every single Rebel fan in the stands of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium were set on sending out such a memorable, special senior class the way they deserved.
A potential 9-3 season in only Freeze’s third season, highlighted by a monumental win over No. 1 Alabama in Oxford, a chance to boost their bowl resume, a chance to ruin State’s dream season, a chance to reclaim the golden egg and silence the maroon and white for the next 365 days, the Rebels played inspired, passionate football for sixty minutes and proceeded to crush the Bulldogs 31-17.
Wallace said after the contest, “I knew this game would define my legacy. I had to win this game to be remembered like I want. I hope they’ll remember as a guy who gave his all ever single game and won a lot of games.”
From a lengthy Jaylen Walton touchdown jaunt to Jordan Wilkins’ touchdown pass to Cody Core to Evan Engram’s 176-yard receiving performance to 532 yards of offense in Bo’s home finale to watching Dan Mullen walk off the field in utter disgust, it was a night to celebrate a great group of kids and a great season of Ole Miss Football. – RR
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