Up and down the great state of Mississippi, from Biloxi to Holly Springs, there’s been much wailing and gnashing of teeth of late about the ouster of the longtime Ole Miss mascot, Colonel Rebel, a moustache-sporting old Confederate with a string tie, cane and planter’s hat.
The Colonel got the boot a few weeks ago because a faction of students, administrators and alumni decided that, like the use of “Dixie” as a fight song, a practice already discontinued, an old Rebel soldier was at best an awkward symbol for a school looking to national standing as a serious haven of learning. And then there’s that little matter of a football roster that is now overwhelmingly made up of young men whose ancestors got to America by way of the slave trade.
To another faction – the Stars & Bars, states’ rights, “Forget, hell!” folks — the Colonel’s forced retirement is the worst indignity the University of Mississippi has suffered at the hands of progressives, Communists, outside agitators and scalawags since a small army of federal marshals invaded the campus to register a student of color, James Meredith, in 1962. On a blog I saw the other day, a die-hard Colonel Rebel supporter said, “They might as well be spitting on the Confederate flag.”
Only one thing seems to unite the two camps to some degree: unhappiness with the new mascot recently chosen from a field of three run-off nominees.
Mississippians ultimately got to vote for either Rebel Black Bear, Land Shark or Hotty Toddy. Given that a Land Shark is a fictional creature people associate with a famous old “Saturday Night Live” sketch, not a school hundreds of miles from the nearest salt water, and that Hotty Toddy is a cold-weather cocktail, it’s not surprising that the Rebel Black Bear carried the day.
But, I mean, come on? The Ole Miss Bears? Nobody associates Ole Miss or the state of Mississippi with bears. If it’s bears you want, you should go to Alaska or Colorado, even New Jersey. Mississippi is better known for its literati than for its bears. The Ole Miss Faulkners would make more sense.
To suggest alternatives to Colonel Rebel or the Bears at this juncture may seem pointlessly after the fact. But given the hostility festering in the Magnolia State – I’ve heard talk of alumni letting season tickets lapse and holding back donations to the school – I don’t think this is settled.
To stir the pot a little, I’d like to suggest some other possible mascots for Ole Miss. Unfortunately, the most state-appropriate and fierce animals are taken. For instance, the bobcat, both native and fearsome, is the proud property of Jones County Junior College, one of my alma maters.
Here are some others to think about:
The Faulkners – I wasn’t kidding. Ole Miss is in Oxford, and the all-time most-celebrated product of Oxford, if you don’t count Archie Manning, is William Faulkner, a hunter, a drinker, an eccentric and the Nobel Prize-winning writer of novels, stories and screenplays. His mascot incarnation could be a student with a growth of stubble, wearing pajamas and a bathrobe, wandering the sidelines with a drink in one hand and a book in the other. An alternative Faulknerian possibility: The Ole Miss Sound and Fury. If there’s a Miami Heat and an Oklahoma City Thunder, why not?
The Integrationists – Firmly rooted in school history, its mascot manifestation would be a determined-looking young black man in a dark suit, white shirt and skinny black tie carrying a briefcase in one hand and a court order in the other.
The Grove – Named for Ole Miss’ fabled, 10-acre tailgating tract, its mascot embodiment would be a mighty oak or elm. Don’t laugh. If it’s not silly for Alabama to be a Tide, it’s not silly for the University of Mississippi to be represented by a stand of grand, enduring trees.
The Bluesmen – Mississippi produced more famous blues artists per capita than any other state, so why not honor that tradition with a mascot? Blue is one of Ole Miss’s colors already.
The Bluetick Hounds – Let them have their English bull in Starkville. Ole Miss will have the huntin’ dogs.
The Boll Weevils – If hornets can be mascots, why not an insect that is part of Mississippi history and that is sly, relentless and damn near unstoppable? And think what a great story it would be if the Weevils got invited to the Cotton Bowl.
I know there may be Ole Miss loyalists reading this who think I’m making fun of their sacred institution. Not so. I feel their pain. I have been through what they’re going through.
I was a student at the University of Southern Mississippi in early 1970s when the school, just then welcoming its first black football recruits, decided that it was bad form to have General Nat – Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and KKK co-founder – as its mascot.
Southern’s transition wasn’t as traumatic as what Ole Miss traditionalists are going through right now. General Nat had not been around that long, and he was, truth be told, a blatant knock-off of the older, more prestigious state university’s dandy old Colonel. Still, there was a lot of hissing and groaning about the change and what an affront to Southern heritage it was. And there was a contentious election which led to the adoption of USM’s current mascot/symbol: the golden eagle.
I disagreed at the time, mainly because in my then 21 years as a Mississippi native, a woodsman, hunter and fisherman, I had never once seen a golden eagle in the wild. Blue jays, hawks, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, yes – trees full of ’em. But no eagles.
I nominated and led a campaign for USM to replace General Nat with an animal that was quick, quirky, hard-shelled and pervasive: the armadillo.
So, attention all bear-hating Ole Miss fans: Armadillo is still available, and I relinquish all claims.