COLUMN: The bathrooms on the press box level of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium weren’t functional at halftime of Saturday’s Ole Miss football game against Texas A&M, so I rode the elevator down to the ground floor to use the facilities with 60,000-odd folks braving the unseasonably cold and unfortunately wet night.
And there I saw them — streaming in steady numbers: An almost unbroken chain of shambling student spectators leaving the stadium at halftime of a 17-17 conference game. A press credential allows for re-entry during a game (something a ticket does not), so I wandered out to talk to them.
“Just like, crazy. I know they’re going (expletive) it up so we’re all going back to the Grove.”
So in summation, it’s safe to report that the future of the University of Mississippi is in as bored and spoiled a set of hands as it’s always been.
There is no excuse to leave the stadium, short of a fire, and even then it might be contained to someone else’s section and play could resume. There’s simply no excuse, at least not for able-bodied teenagers and 20-somethings, to brave cold, drizzly weather in hopes of seeing Ole Miss’ first SEC win in two years (over 700 days).
The evidence was apparent at the start of the third quarter — a noticeable, sizable hole in the South End Zone where students were supposed to be. Meanwhile, in the uninviting, butt-numbing bleachers of the north end zone, Texas A&M fans were legion, never leaving, never waning in their support (despite falling behind dramatically in the second half) and at times making more noise than the home crowd. If you don’t believe, watch the replay at WatchESPN.com. It’s alarming.
For all the various rehabilitation campaigns Hugh Freeze and Ross Bjork are overseeing, the decades-long sense of entitlement and malaise from fans might be the toughest ailment to cure. Sure, there was a lot of initial promise — the color-coded stadium dress for specific home games seemed to find traction early — but the Texas game might have ruined fans. Weeks after the Longhorns arrived and summarily blew out a fragile Rebel squad best described as “in training,” fans are still pining over that game for all the wrong reasons.
A football fan — as in, a fan who is focused solely on football — would tell you that A&M was a far more important game. After all, the Aggies are a division and conference opponent, and the Rebels were an audacious 0-15 in the SEC entering the night. If anything, Texas was just a wart of a previous, hubris-filled era that couldn’t be removed.
Yet it’s the pomp and circumstance, the celebrity and the slick magazine appeal of seeing and being seen that Rebel fans are still chatting about. Never mind the football.
Not just the students
I’m usually in a different stadium every week. I’ve been to games in every SEC stadium (minus the two newcomers) at least twice, if not five or six in some cases. Ole Miss consistently fails to show up early, create noise during crucial times and find a reason to stay through halftime. I watched the Vanderbilt student section fill to capacity on a Thursday night in August and stay that way — all clad in matching black t-shirts (shudder to think!) — until the bitter end of a tough loss.
It’s not just the students, but it starts there. I’ve been told about incentive programs drawn up by the marketing departments, that students who arrive early get points they can use for merchandise or the erasure of parking tickets. I’d strongly encourage that any student leaving before the end of regulation have to swipe their ID to exit so those points could be removed.
You can take this as bitter alumnus ramblings, cranky journalistic nihilism, or you can affix your own two eyes on the student section this coming Saturday morning when the Rebels kick off early against Auburn. Count the empty seats and judge for yourself.
(Godfrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org) (October 11, 2012, Page 9)