Those faithful readers of Small World know that we changed things up recently. Because we’re heavily committed to academia and the use of GIS tools in the classroom, the focus of this article series switched from sister cities to college campuses bound by one random thing or another. When we moved away from the original format it landed us in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home to a University with a football problem. I (erroneously) speculated that they would solve their problems by going back to the ‘well’ (and they did, just a different well) to hire one of their own. So we traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, home to a school with a pretty sturdy football program, the LSU Tigers. Well, I was wrong, and now that particular connection between those two schools is lost (though I’m sure there are hundreds of others), we’ll try to right the ship and make some logical jumps from here on out (hopefully).
As I write this article, we are in the days between the first Division I-A (FBS for you PC newcomers) semifinals and the first “championship” game (don’t get me started on why it really isn’t). So, you might say, we must be getting ready to hear about Ohio State or the Quack Attack’s hometowns, right? Nope, that might make too much sense. We’re going to keep it Southern and talk about the next football season.
The frequently touted heavyweight conference known as the SEC had a rough go, especially in the West, this bowl season, going just two for seven in their postseason affairs. Two particularly large butt whoopings came in the “New Year’s Six” games on December 31 to Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Earlier in the season the two were undefeated and in the top five. The Magnolia State had dug itself up from the trenches of forgotten programs and made names for themselves. Well, what have you done for us lately?
Since I got us off track and ended up on the campus of LSU, I’m going to get things back on line. An obvious (and one last football connection for this season) link is to a fellow school in the aforementioned fading glory (for now) football conference of the SEC: Ole Miss. The two schools home states have many similarities, one of them being a shared state flower, the magnolia. The two squads first met on the gridiron in 1894, and have met annually since 1945. It wasn’t until 2008 that the rivalry was given an official name, the Magnolia Bowl, most likely to keep up with all the other nicknamed rivalries and conference trophies that dot the country. It was at its height in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and died down considerably after for a few decades largely due to a slip in play quality by the Rebels. It appears that Ole Miss is once again pointed in the right direction, so maybe it will be a game to watch every season. We’ll find out next Fall.
The University of Mississippi, better known as Ole Miss (or just Mississippi if you’re a State fan), was founded in 1848. Its alias came about just before the turn to the 20th Century when the school solicited name ideas for its yearbook. One student submitted Ole Miss, and though it wasn’t adopted for the year in review, it was informally so for the school itself. A University, and a region, steeped in history, tradition and some unfortunate accounts (See ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, Ghosts of Ole Miss for more on that topic), it is known for many things – parties and debutantes to name just a few. I had the privilege of attending a party (and football game) at The Grove when the football team wasn’t quite what they are today, and it was something. Ten acres of splendid wooded cover and green pastures that are decked out delicately and extravagantly the night before each home game. Evening gowns and jackets preferred, chandeliers in pop-up tents and open-invites to strangers to come and party, The Grove is quite the site. The Walk of Champions, another tradition rich in pageantry, occurs every Saturday when the Rebels are at home. The team walks through The Grove on their way to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on the brick path that splits the heralded grounds in two. When I was there the common saying was, “We might not win every football game, but we will win every party.” They proved that to be so on that Saturday.
Ole Miss is more than extravagant parties (I better not leave out the Square in downtown Oxford!); it is also home to some legendary literary figures such as William Faulkner and John Grisham. But what it is most known for to people outside of Oxford is the rich southern culture associated with fall Saturdays. Football means a lot to this school, even if they haven’t always fielded the best teams. In fact, their patriarch of the gridiron, Archie Manning and his prodigal son Eli both receive highest regards in this idyllic little town. So much so that the speed limits on campus is 18 mph; the jersey number of Archie when he roamed the fields in the late 1960s.