Nine Days in Omaha with My Father
There are countless stories of Rebel fans’ trips to Omaha with friends and family. There are many others of people being together to watch the games on television. I’ve read about them and watched the videos— choking up more times than I can count. They are all special. This is mine.
My Dad is 80 years-old and an Ole Miss Rebel. He received an undergraduate degree and a masters from the university in the early 1960’s. He taught accounting there in the late 1970’s and after retirement from Southern Miss, he came back to teach at least one semester a year in the graduate program for most of the past twelve years, with his final class ever coming this past fall. He taught many of my friends’ children during these years.
Dad has always wanted to attend a College World Series. I made the trip in 2014 but was unable to make it. He’s mentioned many times over the past few years that he was running out of chances, since we continued to fall just short. After the Rebels won their regional, my brother Craig (a USM grad) and I made a pact that one of us was going to take him to Omaha this year. Dad would have certainly enjoyed going and rooting for the Golden Eagles given his sixteen years working for the university. Of course, things worked out in my favor this time and I was the one who got to take him go see his alma mater play. (I would be thrilled if he goes back next year with my brother.)
I really didn’t have to think twice about taking him. This is a man who spent hundreds of hours during my childhood throwing the baseball and football or shooting basketball with me in the backyard. I cannot recall a single time I asked him to do one of these with me that he declined.
The Southeastern Conference resumed its basketball tournament in 1979 after twenty-five years of not having one and my dad took me to the first two. He went again in 1981 but I was unable to join him because I was beginning the high school baseball season my freshman year. The Rebels won the championship that year but he did not attend the finals because he didn’t want to miss my opening game. I told him he was crazy then and I stand by that today.
Two years later he was going to miss one of my football games after conducting an accounting program in Nashville so a friend of his sent his small plane to pick him up and try to get him back in time. They ran into storms and had to make an emergency landing at a closed airport in Monroeville, Alabama—only able to see the runway when a big lightning flash illuminated things enough to get the plane on the ground. Dad missed my game that night. I could never repay him for these and so many other things he’s done for me over the years. Taking him to the College World Series would be a pleasure.
On the road to Omaha
We left Oxford the morning of Friday, June 17, not knowing how long we’d be gone or where we’d stay after the third night. (When all was said and done I’d stay in nine different rooms in ten nights.) I created a Spotify playlist of almost fifty songs that I named “Omaha”. It included Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Charlie Rich, Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens along with his favorite—Tom T. Hall and many others from the era. I heard their albums throughout my childhood and listening to them on the drive up brought back many great memories. The playlist and the opening game of the World Series passed most of our time on the drive to Kansas City that day. We arrived in time for dinner.
Opener vs. Auburn
We made the rest of the drive to Omaha on Saturday and made it in plenty of time for the opener against Auburn. Neither of us really knew what to expect but we felt like the Rebels had as good a shot as anyone in the field.
We just hoped Dylan DeLucia would maintain the same level of excellence he’d demonstrated in recent weeks. He did and the game was never in doubt. I was thankful that Dad got to experience at least one Ole Miss victory. We know knew we’d be playing through at least Tuesday and it was time to make another room reservation.
Winner’s bracket game vs. Arkansas
Monday rolled around with its winner’s bracket matchup with Arkansas. The stakes were tremendously high—understanding how difficult it would be to win three straight in order to advance to the finals should we suffer a loss—but we felt good about our chances with Hunter Elliott on the mound. DeLucia had already proven he was still on. Why wouldn’t Elliott?
To that point in time, the Monday win against Arkansas was the most enjoyable experience I’ve ever had watching an Ole Miss baseball game. The Rebels jumped on them early, and despite the Hogs battling back a time or two, the outcome was never really in doubt. Dad and I celebrated with Rebel fans and I was also around some good friends to witness the final outs. We were one win from a date in the championship series.
With no game for our team the next day, Dad and I decided to go to the afternoon contest between Notre Dame and Texas A&M. I can tell you that few things are more relaxing than watching a loser’s bracket game when your team is in the winner’s bracket. We stayed for about six innings before moving to our new hotel. Tomorrow was going to bring an opportunity for our Rebels to advance to the championship.
Two more games against the Razorbacks
The loss to Arkansas the next day was disheartening—certainly given the opportunity the Rebels had in the 9th—but it was not deflating. We knew we had DeLucia ready to pitch again the next day and were both calm. That is not unusual for Dad, but it is for me. I can’t explain why I felt the way I did. Well over 40 years of being an Ole Miss fan should have given me cause for alarm. Yet somehow, I believed we were going to be alright. Dad and I moved to our next hotel and prepared for another game.
DeLucia delivered his epic performance as Dad and I watched from ten rows up behind the Ole Miss dugout, and I had a new all-time favorite Ole Miss baseball experience.
More family arrives in Omaha
My two sons, Will and Wes, had been discussing the possibility of coming should the Rebels make it to the championship series. They finalized them that night.
You should know how much my dad loves his grandsons. He’s taken my boys along with their first cousin Brandon, who we lost almost twelve years ago, on countless road trips over the years. They’ve been to a number of major league baseball games, Mount Rushmore, the Corn Palace (You apparently need to visit), and multiple trips to Europe including another one to England, Scotland and Wales coming next month. We’d have three generations together to watch Ole Miss try to win a national championship. It was beyond comprehension.
Dad and I passed the time between Thursday and Saturday moving rooms again and finally enjoying our first good meal of the trip. We’d primarily subsisted on hamburgers, chicken tenders and polish sausages to this point.
Will left Nashville Friday night and picked up his brother Wes in Clarksville. They drove to St. Louis and as they were pulling into the city they discovered that the Cardinals were playing the Cubs that night. They decided that since this was a baseball trip they might as well get it started early and made it into the stadium just in time for the opening pitch.
Game one vs. Oklahoma
Saturday brought game one of the championship series against Oklahoma. It also brought my boys the rest of the way to Omaha. When they arrived, Will was wearing a powder blue Ole Miss cap that had belonged to his fiancé Catherine Hughes’ father Dan, who was an avid Ole Miss baseball supporter who passed away earlier this year.
Our excitement level, along with thousands of other Rebel fans in Omaha and all over the world, was high. Still, it was somewhat of a strange feeling—knowing that your team was playing for the national championship that day, but they couldn’t win it that day.
The crowd was unlike any baseball crowd I’ve ever been a part of. It was essentially a college football-like experience, as anyone who was there will attest. Jack Dougherty delivered more than could have possibly been asked of him and the back-to-back-to-back home runs will live in Ole Miss lore for as long as Rebel fans walk the earth.
We needed one more.
The opportunity to win it all
Given the years that my dad attended Ole Miss, he experienced the glory days of Ole Miss football. He also got to see some really good baseball teams as well. In fact, he had a book published by University of Mississippi Press this past year, Rulers of the SEC: Ole Miss and Mississippi State 1959-1966, in which he tells the story of how the two Mississippi schools won half of the SEC championships in the three major sports during that eight-year period.
We woke up Sunday morning with an opportunity to win a national championship and Dad already had his next book in mind.
I was excited that morning and thankful it was going to be an afternoon game. That meant less time waiting. My dad, the boys and I felt good about the Rebels’ chances with Hunter Elliott on the mound. After the biggest replay reversal for Ole Miss since Senquez’s interception against Alabama, and Jacob Gonzalez’s home run, it felt like a win was imminent.
Two Sooner runs got me contemplating an early start to the next day in search of tickets for a game three, along with the sickening feeling of adding another hotel night (I was out of points by now.) I still believed we were going to win it even if it took another day. We had Dylan DeLucia.
Then the greatest 8th inning in the history of baseball occurred. I thought I was going to have an aneurysm. Then Brandon Johnson came in and closed the door in the ninth and it was bedlam. Tears were shed as I celebrated an Ole Miss national championship with my dad and my boys.
For the drive home on Monday, I pulled up the recording of the television broadcast on my phone and we listened to the entire game as we relived each moment. After over eleven hours of driving, I dropped him off in Tula, where he has a log house. We had been gone for ten days—one in Kansas City and nine in Omaha. Dad and I have never been ones to hug each other—a firm handshake typically sufficed—but we shared a warm embrace before I headed out the door to get home to my wife Janna.
Hotty Toddy, Dad. We are the champions.
Clint is a native of Pensacola, Florida with a BA and MBA from Ole Miss. He’s a season ticket holder for football, baseball and basketball who has made countless road trips to watch the Rebels play over the years. He’s witnessed the highs (2016 Sugar Bowl), the lows (Bryce Drew), and everything in between. He has three grown children (Will, Wes, and Reagan) and currently resides in Oxford with his wonderful wife Janna.