Back to the Future: 2019 Rebels invoke memories of another Ole Miss team with heart, determination
OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss beat Vanderbilt last Saturday at Homecoming in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
It brought back memories.
The Rebels also lost the season-opener at Memphis. Again, my memory was jogged.
Since that season-opening loss, there has been a win over Arkansas, a loss to Alabama and a weird ending in a non-conference loss. It was eerily familiar.
Suddenly, I was in a lyric from a Harry Chapin song from long ago.
“It seems like I’ve been here before, I can’t remember when, but I’ve got this funny feeling, that I’ll be back once again.”
Then I knew where I, and the 2019 Ole Miss football team, had arrived. We were in 1983.
That was then
It was my sophomore year at Ole Miss. I lived in Kincannon Hall, and “The Voice of the Rebels,” David Kellum, was my journalism instructor. My best friends were Patrick, Ruth and Caron—and that year the Ole Miss Rebels showed the college football world they had heart and determination.
It didn’t start well for Ole Miss back then. The ’83 team actually got off to a worse start than the current Rebels.
After a loss at Memphis to start Billy Brewer’s inaugural game as head coach of Ole Miss, a weird loss followed the next week at Tulane.
In the Superdome and trailing late, Ole Miss rallied and was poised to take the lead as the seconds melted away on the clock. With the Rebels at the Tulane two-yard line and no time outs, the offense still had time to run the game-winning play.
Yet, as quarterback Kent Austin pulled away with the snap, the center stepped on Austin’s foot and he went down with the ball as the final seconds expired.
It was not a non-instant replay review defeat like in the Cal game, but still, an uncommon way to lose a heartbreaking game.
But then there was a win against Arkansas in a home game in Jackson, the blowout loss to Alabama and finally the homecoming win versus Vandy.
In 1983, Ole Miss started 1-5 after losses to Southern Miss and Georgia in Oxford. Many had counted the Rebels out for the season.
Does this sound familiar yet?
Back then I would see players around campus each day. To a man, guys like Jamie Holder, Bob Blakemore, Bill Smith, Freddie Joe Nunn and Barry Wilburn would always say they had a good plan and a chance to win against anyone.
Not many believed them, but they did.
Suddenly the Rebels went to Fort Worth and beat TCU. The next week, Ole Miss took care of Vanderbilt at Homecoming. Now at 3-5, the Rebs just needed to knock off a few teams they weren’t supposed to beat in order to earn a bowl bid.
The 2019 team has more margin for error than the 1983 team did.
After the wins over the Horned Frogs and the Commodores, Ole Miss shocked LSU in Jackson, 27-24, to move to 4-5.
That was followed by a midweek 13-10 upset of Reggie White and the Vols in Knoxville on national television to even the record. All that was left to earn a trip to the postseason was a sixth win—and it would have to come in the Egg Bowl.
In one of the most surreal games in rivalry history, Mississippi State got off to a great start and held a 23-7 lead on the Rebels. But in the fourth quarter, with tornado warnings all over the Jackson area, the Rebels mounted a comeback.
Every Ole Miss fan knows what happened to end that game and thanks Mother Nature for the assist and the 24-23 win.
(Highlights from the 1983 Ole Miss team.)
A few moments later in their emotion-filled dressing room, the Ole Miss Rebels (6-5, 4-2 in the SEC) accepted an invitation to play in the Independence Bowl on Dec.10 against Air Force.
The Rebels earned their first bowl bid under Coach Brewer and were on their way to relevance in college football again after a brief absence.
This is now
Now, Ole Miss is looking to rebound in its first season of bowl eligibility since hit by NCAA sanctions.
It can be done. Three more wins are attainable starting Saturday at Missouri. If the Rebels earn their fourth win of the season in Columbia, and regardless of what happens against A&M, LSU and Auburn, Ole Miss will be heavily favored against New Mexico State and could get a fifth win then. (Truthfully, though, I don’t discount this team from winning any of the games against A&M, LSU or Auburn.)
That could put a bowl bid on the line when the Rebels visit Starkville on Thanksgiving.
Just imagine Ole Miss needing one victory to get to the postseason with only the Bulldogs in the way.
It has happened before — a mere 36 years ago.
That Harry Chapin song was entitled, “Circle.” It tells of a phenomenon where time is cyclical and always comes back to repeat itself.
Could that concept be real for the 2019 Rebels and their brothers from nearly four decades ago?
That question will begin to be answered in Columbia, Mo., Saturday. My bet is this team of young Rebels absolutely has the heart and determination of the ’83 Rebels, but only time will tell.
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.