I went to two major functions on Signing Day, the Ole Miss Quarterback Club’s get-together at Oxford Conference Center that began at sunrise and lasted until after lunch. Then later to the IPF for the UMAA Foundation’s post-Signing Day/pre-basketball game dinner.
The Quarterback Club’s function was terrific in every way, as far as I could tell, and I was there seven hours. The UMAA Foundation dinner was one of the classiest events I’ve attended at Ole Miss on that grand a scale. I told those in charge at both just that. And those I didn’t tell, I’m telling you now.
I know. I know. Winning Egg Bowls and Compass Bowls and having a ranked basketball team, and a Signing Day that was the talk of the nation will do it. But this was more than that.
This was everyone having hold of the same rope and pulling as hard as they could in the same direction.
That direction? Upward. How high? Ole Miss has never tried to find out how high. Not in my adult lifetime.
Until now. Now it is.
It’s leadership, administratively and from the coaches, telling fans what they want to hear. What they want to hear? That statement always carries a negative connotation, doesn’t it? Not this time.
What Ole Miss people have wanted to hear from their administrators and coaches for years is what Ole Miss “can” do and not what Ole Miss “can’t” do.
Others outside the Ole Miss family have for years said what Ole Miss shouldn’t do or can’t do. In some cases you’ve heard it from those inside. You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. It was the easy thing to say.
It’s not easy anymore. More fun, surely, but not easier. Mediocrity comes easy. Rising above, not so much. There’s a price, and money is only one part of it.
For example, just the two events I am talking about above. If you were there you know this. A lot of people spent a lot of time and effort and money to make sure those events were the best they could be. And as far as I could tell, Ole Miss people appreciated them. And they should have.
Signing Day at Ole Miss has always been an event. Historically speaking there are some who will tell you, as far back as the Archie Manning era, that it was Ole Miss fans who were as responsible for this recruiting madness that sweeps across the south as much as any school.
Then it was mostly husbands, fathers, and grandfathers who followed it, many of them coming to Oxford for Signing Day and hanging out in the lobby of the old athletics building.
Then it grew and grew, and women and children were also arriving in Oxford for Signing Day, and it was apparent the lobby of that building wasn’t going to house everyone. So they tried it a couple of other places, like the south end zone club area, then the Inn at Ole Miss, and now the Oxford Conference Center.
The perfect scenario of yesterday, with a late tip hoops TV game against Mississippi State, allowed the UMAA Foundation and athletics department to plan an event that took up the entire field of the IPF in a setting any school would have envied.
But there are reasons, moments you have to be watching for, to know why these things are happening with the success they are now.
WR Donte Moncrief
I stood at the back of the Conference Center ballroom right before Ross Bjork was scheduled to speak. Bjork. Always listening. Always thinking. If you observe, you can tell.
Right before he was introduced, he walked to the back of the room. I wondered why, and then I saw why. There was a grade school child back there with who appeared to be his father and others. Bjork leaned over and talked to them for a minute or so.
Then early in his speech to the group, Bjork mentioned kids, his own kids, and how this was a school day, but that (name excluded here) back there had made good grades and got a day out of school to come to Signing Day.
The kid, overjoyed, obviously, with the recognition, got a round of applause from those in the room.
See, that’s so good on so many levels. And yet it’s so simple. It’s about people. That kid, already an Ole Miss fan, will remember that for the rest of his life. It brought that entire event down to a personal and individual level for not just one but for everyone.
Bjork told the group to help them build on this momentum and to bring others with them to Oxford when they come and to help sell out the venues by encouraging others to buy season tickets.
Wednesday wasn’t just recognition of a spectacular signing class. It was a continuation of this methodical push, a TSUN-ami as some have coined it among the fanbase, from Ole Miss that begins with no one in particular but involves and includes everyone.
Everyone. Let that sink in.
Mostly it’s passion. That’s what this is really all about. The time, effort, and money that men, women, children of all ages are pouring into what’s happening here now starts with passion.
And I still believe the tweet that made me smile the most Wednesday morning came from friend Peter Ross of Oxford.
Tweeted Peter Ross to the Twitter world: "This ole miss tv network that espn started is great! #espnu"
But there were comments I got from others outside the Ole Miss family. Couple of examples.
I got to know the guy from the Pitt Scout.com site at the Compass Bowl. Early yesterday morning his tweet to me @spiritjeff - "I do have to say Hotty Toddy to that" after the Robert Nkemdiche announcement on ESPNU.
And a text I got from a Texas alum and avid Longhorn fan that I know - "Thank goodness we only have to play those guys as freshmen."
You’ll be hard pressed to find many Ole Miss people who today are complaining about anything. They’re seeing their passion being taken good care of by those who are charged to do so.
You’re also seeing this. You’re seeing other SEC fans complaining about Rebel success or some national media curious as to how the Rebels have done it. Because this is an Ole Miss moment. This is Ole Miss doing what it could have and should have always been able to do.
If you listen to those in charge, from the Chancellor and Athletics Director to the UMAA Foundation to the coaches and the student-athletes themselves, you’ll hear it. Rebel Nation, as it’s called, has been swept up in it, and not too long ago it had become either get swept away or rise above.
The latter happened. Wednesday was proof of that more than any one day I can recall around here, maybe ever.