Thursday, October 27, 2005

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

‘Soft spot’

Last week sports editor Claude Vinson accused me of having a “soft spot for Ole Miss.”

I took some kidding about that one.

But to be honest, he’s right.

Saturday, for the second straight season, my family and others were invited to be Chancellor Robert C. Khayat’s guests in his suite above the south end zone at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium/Hollingsworth Field.

Needless to say, the enjoyment of watching the Rebels from the sky box the past two seasons has helped create the “soft spot.”

I’ve never been invited to the chancellor’s suite at the University of Alabama.

Last year the Rebels lost to Auburn in a night game. This year they knocked off Kentucky in a day game.

We let my son Andy pick the home game he wanted to attend. He’s the biggest Rebel fan in the family, still with the bedroom decorated with Ole Miss stuff.

There are many reasons the suite is the best seat for watching a game.

First and foremost, the company is good.

There’s Khayat himself - who has led the University of Mississippi to great achievements the past 10 years. His tenure is described as a renaissance at Ole Miss.

He’s first class. He’s down to earth. He’s a wonderful leader.

There’s Congressman Roger Wicker - who I first met when I was a young publisher in Aberdeen.

This year I visited with Bill Renovich, longtime banker, who I discovered has recently moved to DeSoto County from Laurel. Bill and I were fellow Rotarians in the club at Laurel, where he resided for more than 30 years.

And the food in the suite is some of the best. I’m a seafood lover, and this year there were some delicious shrimp with bacon, plus tasty favorites like chips and dip, chicken fingers, cookies and cobbler.

The view of the entire field is the best.

It’s easier to see the open receivers from the sky box than it is for the quarterback to see them on the field with those big defensive players in his face.

There are lots of “armchair quarterbacks” in the south suites at Ole Miss, I’m sure.

The sound of the fans, particularly the student section, is loud - very loud. You’re right above the Ole Miss students.

And I always knew The Pride of the South band was one of the best. After seeing it and hearing it perform from up high, I have the proof of its talent.

The game itself this year wasn’t the most exciting - 13-7 in favor of the Rebels. The defenses dominated, as they seem to be across the SEC this season.

It was a beautiful fall afternoon in Oxford for football and tailgating.

We also visited The Grove Saturday. You have to love The Grove.

The Sporting News ranked it among college football’s greatest traditions and described The Grove as “the Holy Grail of tailgating sites.” In listing America’s top sports colleges, Sports Illustrated named Ole Miss the nation’s No. 1 tailgating school.

It was good to visit with good friends Joel and Lisa McNeece, fellow newspaper folks from The Calhoun County Journal in Bruce. They were enjoying the fellowship and festivities in The Grove.

My trips to Ole Miss are always special, be it for sports, Mississippi Press Association meetings, speaking to journalism students, whatever, and it’s a fun place to be. There are lots of good people associated with the University of Mississippi.

Chancellor Khayat and Jeff Alford (assistant vice chancellor), I appreciate the invite, and I’m already looking forward to next season. Don’t forget me when the invitations go out.

And yes, Claude Vinson, there’s a “soft spot” for Ole Miss.

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