OXFORD, Miss. — The Magnolia state was close to a civil war.
The state can barely handle the one time per year Ole Miss and Mississippi State meet in football’s Egg Bowl. A whole weekend of the baseball version, an NCAA Super Regional for a berth in the College World Series? Twitter wouldn’t have been able to handle the 140-character assaults.
The in-state Internet attacks — some of which are spectacular, other downright embarrassing to the common Mississippian — would have gone countrywide.
Ole Miss won its Oxford Regional, a 3-0 weekend capped by Monday’s 3-2 win in 10 innings against Washington. If Mississippi State had beaten Louisiana-Lafayette, it would have set up what some thought could have gone down as the biggest story in the history of the storied and hatred-fueled rivalry.
It’s not the most known rivalry in the country, but in Mississippi, it’s in full-fight mode 365 days a year. The towns, 104 miles apart, share a disdain that extends well past the football stadiums. Ole Miss loves to make fun of MSU’s agricultural roots, with plenty of cow and overalls jokes. Mississippi State labels Ole Miss as "The School Up North", TSUN, brought on by football coach Dan Mullen, who refuses to utter, "Ole Miss."
Bulldog fans call Ole Miss snooty, Sperry-wearing frat boys in Range Rovers. They buy billboards — once in Oxford — to chronicle wins against their foe.
But ULL saved its northern neighbor and with Monday’s 5-3 in in the Lafayette Regional, surely saved a few people from Twitter embarrassment.
So Ole Miss goes on to higher goals. But I’d unpack those suitcases and hold off on planning those vacation days. The Rebels have been to the College World Series four times, the last time in 1972. Ole Miss went to Super Regionals in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009. All four times, the Rebels won the three-game series opener. All but 2007 were at Swayze Field.
There’s a reason no one asked Rebels coach Mike Bianco after Monday’s win about being two wins away from Omaha. No one expects it. Expectations have now been met.
To expect Ole Miss to beat Lafayette twice at home is asking for the moon. It could happen. Ole Miss was picked to finish sixth in the SEC West this season and proved that wrong. This team has been able to overcome any obstacle, but beating the No. 1 team at their hostile place is the biggest obstacle yet, an obstacle the Rebels have proved not very good at under Bianco.
Bianco has spent his 13-year Ole Miss coaching career winning and winning and winning, and losing in Super Regionals. Ole Miss has made the postseason in 11 of his 13 seasons, but the whispers won’t begin to subside about his extension through 2015 and nearly $600,000 salary until Ole Miss gets to Omaha. It’s not about winning in Omaha. It’s about getting there.
Ole Miss fans had to watch last season as Mississippi State went to Omaha, all the way to the championship series. Mississippi State has gone twice in Bianco’s tenure, once in 2007 as the Rebels were blowing another shot at the trip.
No Ole Miss fan really wanted to see Mississippi State come to Ole Miss for a Super Regional, nobody in Oxford anyway. Because there is only one way it could have ended, with Mississippi State sticking the Rebels in the heart with the most painful Super Regional dagger they have ever been stuck with.
And that’s been often, so often that OMAHA has taken on ‘Ole Miss At Home Again’ among Mississippi State fans.
Ole Miss may sweep the Ragin’ Cajuns, but if not, anything is better for the already bruised history of a program that has been good, but not good enough, than to give its hated enemy a chance to add a scar to the bruises. Ole Miss wanted more home games, but honest Rebel fans will admit that going on the road is a much better option this season.
Two wins against Lafayette would be just as sweet to fans as winning two against Mississippi State. The Rebels just need to get to Omaha, no matter who they beat. Losing at Lafayette won’t hurt nearly as bad. And unless this Bianco team can rewrite the past, losing tends to come pretty naturally at this time.
Any Ole Miss fan who said they were cheering for their home-state school in last year’s College World Series is lying — to someone else or themselves.
And any Ole Miss fan who says they wanted to see Mississippi State at Ole Miss for a berth in the College World Series is lying. Until this team can prove otherwise, there was only one way for that to end, with Mississippi State in a dog pile on Ole Miss’ mound … with a picture of it on every billboard on every highway that drives into the state’s borders.