Thursday, September 7, 2006
Good football in Oxford
I made the short trip to Oxford Sunday afternoon for the debut of the 2006 Ole Miss Rebels, and the big game against rival Memphis was as entertaining as ever.
The game is always highly anticipated by both institutions. It’s for bragging rights. It’s for perhaps an advantage in recruiting wars.
This one was long awaited because of the debut of a couple of new quarterbacks in each camp – Brent Schaffer at Ole Miss and Martin Hankins for Memphis.
Schaeffer displayed his versatility. He was seven-of-16 passing for 97 yards. On the ground, he carried 11 times for 48 yards and scored an all-important touchdown in the final four minutes.
Hankins was on target all afternoon. He was 21-of-27 passing for 213 yards and two touchdowns.
But to tell you the truth, the player who impressed me the most was a freshman for Ole Miss. Dexter McCluster’s name was called time and time again. He rushed for 60 yards on just five carries and scored the Rebels’ first touchdown on a 31-yard run. He also had six catches for 86 yards. And he had 122 yards on five kick returns. That’s 268 all-purpose yards for a guy who’s 5’9” and weighs 157 pounds.
Not a bad day at all for the freshman from Largo, Fla. It was a superb day for any college football player – period.
Both defenses, Ole Miss and Memphis, need work. I’m sure they’re busy focusing on the “D” this week in practice.
Next up for the Rebels is Missouri on the road this Saturday, Sept. 9. Next up for Memphis is its home opener versus Chattanooga.
The game itself Sunday afternoon was great, and so was the college football atmosphere in general in Oxford (even though I’m not crazy about college football on Sunday). For starters, the weather was wonderful. It simply could not have been any better.
From the chants of both groups of fans to the music of the bands, it was lots of fun. Nothing compares to the pageantry of college football in the South.
Jesse Phillips and I arrived at the stadium early. We enjoyed eating, good conversation and watching the Rebels and the Tigers warm up. I particularly kept an eye on Holly Springs’ own Seth Adams. The former Marshall Academy Patriot, who wears number 19, is the back-up quarterback to Schaeffer. Adams has made plenty of headlines himself with his performance in preseason drills.
It was interesting, from our great seats, watching the stadium fill - seeing the flock of folks coming from the Grove and their tailgating. More than 55,000 attended.
In the pregame, Ole Miss retired the number 38 worn by the late Chucky Mullins. Chucky is from Russellville, Ala., close to my hometown of Hamilton.
I will always remember watching Chucky play, but more importantly I will remember how classy an individual he was. He was truly a special person, an inspiration to everyone.
I will also never forget that game back in 1989 when Chucky broke his neck making a tackle against Vanderbilt. It left him paralyzed from the neck down. He died two years later.
He’s just the second player in school history to have his jersey retired. The other being former quarterback Archie Manning.
It’s a very deserving honor for Chucky and his family.
Ole Miss won the football game Sunday 28-25. It was a very entertaining opener by both teams’ offense.
I realized another thing on the trip home – what Ole Miss home games mean to the Holly Springs economy, and particularly when the Rebels are playing Memphis. Cars were lined up on Highway 6, and our restaurants, convenience stores and others no doubt enjoyed the weekend business.
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