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Why Ole Miss is Ole Miss: A GIF exhibit

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Salt, acid, fat, and defeat: These are the four elements at the heart of Rebels football.

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images. Banner Society Illustration.

It is easier to show someone what makes Ole Miss so strange than it is to say it. It requires illustrations, preferably in motion. It needs something to capture all the little moments, to sum up even just the most recent absurdities of a team that has only one consistent identity: a refusal to be anything consistent.

It needs GIFs — archived, analyzed, and broken out for case study. Each GIF is judged to be essential to understanding the Ole Miss experience and includes a list of basic elements of Ole Miss-ness.

Join us as we hope to understand college football’s most volatile team, one blessed image at a time.

1.

Begin here to understand to illustrated soul of Ole Miss. This is Breeland Speaks in the 2017 Egg Bowl. Mississippi State came into the game ranked #14. Ole Miss, serving a bowl ban due to NCAA violations, had nothing to play for but spite and a brass trophy shaped like an egg.

Speaks recovered a fumble to kill a Mississippi State drive. He is not waving at the cameras, which he didn’t even see, but at Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen. When asked later what he was thinking during the wave, Speaks said: “I got your ball.”

Speaks later committed a personal foul in the end zone, got ejected, waved to the booing Starkville crowd, and gave Mississippi State a short field after a kickoff. An ensuing easy touchdown brought the Bulldogs within a tying field goal of the Rebels and almost cost Ole Miss the game.

Instead, the Rebels won a game to heroically finish 6-6, dent Mississippi State’s bowl prospects, and claim one of the most bitterly contested rivalry trophies in football. It’s all there, and it’s why it’s the first case study in Ole Miss-ness: a pointless victory with little gained but temporary emotional satisfaction, peppered with absurdist comedy. (Yes, Ole Miss maintains levels of absurdity above and beyond even those of your baseline college football absurdity.)

2.

Chad Kelly had the greatest season in Ole Miss offensive history in 2015, throwing for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns, rushing for 509 yards and another 10 TDs and leading Ole Miss to a 10-3 record and an epic, 43-37 road upset of eventual national champion Alabama.

Along the way to his peak season, Kelly’s journey included:

  • Committing to Clemson, and talking smack about his fellow quarterbacks before he ever got there
  • Calling himself “The white Michael Vick”
  • Releasing his own theme song in which Chad Kelly says “Chad Kelly” 32 times
  • Getting kicked out of Clemson for, among other things, a football facility parking lot dispute following a fender-bender and a blowup on the sideline during the spring game when the staff chose to punt on fourth and three
  • Winning a JUCO championship at East Mississippi, aka Last Chance U
  • Getting kicked out of a bar in Buffalo four days after signing with Ole Miss, trying to re-enter that bar later the same night, punching a bouncer in the face when refused re-entry, and getting arrested after threatening to “go to my car and get my AK-47 and spray this place”
  • Beating Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M, and in the same year losing to Memphis, Arkansas, and Florida

Kelly followed up his brilliant 2015 with an injury-shortened 2016. During a visit home, Kelly charged the field during a high school football game at his alma mater, fueling a brawl following a late hit on his brother Casey. John Elway drafted Kelly with the last pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. The highlight of Kelly’s tenure in Denver? Getting arrested for criminal trespassing when he wandered into a house that was not his at 1 a.m., sat down on the couch mumbling incoherently, and was beaten into retreat by a vacuum hose-wielding resident.

He is now on the Colts practice squad and is somehow only 25 years old. In summary: LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

3a.

Regular college football: A ref throwing a flag.

Ole Miss college football: A ref throwing a flag, hitting a player in the eye with it, and getting it stuck in his face mask.

3b.

PREMIUM SPECIAL TOP SHELF OLE MISS: The player angrily tossing the flag away during a miserable 25-0 loss to Alabama while wishing everyone would just leave him alone. (For the record: He was fine and returned to the game a few plays later.)

4.

The terrible wig. The red solo cup and formal wear not seen in mainstream America since the Truman administration. Likely the kind of Southern accent used by English actors playing evil, sweaty plantation owners in antebellum dramas. The unfairness of this, and also the accuracy.

5.

A former Memphis high school girls’ basketball coach who resigned in order to keep from getting fired over the morals clause in his contract is trying to do the Whip on the sideline.

6.

The plaid coat. The pencil-thin mustache. The lady in huge sunglasses. The yelling of what might be random words. The celebration of an upset, which happens when no one expects you to win, which is the usual assumption at Ole Miss. That guy in the coat having a flask built into his tie. That guy being the guy who looked exactly like that in a plaid coat who poured bourbon straight into my mouth in the stands out of a tie flask during the Rebels’ upset of LSU in 2014. The security guard seeing this and not caring at all.

7.

The context here is that some SEC fans claim LSU fans smell like corn dogs.

The superior truth: Katy Perry showed up to College GameDay in Oxford in 2014, brandished a corn dog on air even though Ole Miss was playing Alabama and not LSU that day, and went 7-2 as the celebrity picker. Later, she had to flee the field through the Ole Miss locker room to escape an onrushing crowd following the 23-17 Rebels’ upset of Alabama. She finished the night drinking straight from the bottle at an Oxford bar before crowdsurfing her way home.

Perry has no degree from Ole Miss, did not attend Ole Miss, is not from the state of Mississippi, and had no other connections to the school other than her manager being an Ole Miss grad. She is governor of Mississippi for life. Whoever procured the corn dog is Commissioner of Agriculture.

8.

Marshall Henderson went on to play professional basketball in Iraq. The guy entering from stage left shooting the double birds went on to study at a seminary and plan on working in the ministry.

9.

Seeing the first touchdown by the opponent hit the board, shaking your head, and preparing for the worst. A normal person feels a bump in the air and assumes the pilot merely experienced a bit of turbulence. The Ole Miss fan, torched by years of teams reaching great heights, only to be followed by immediate descents into the unforgiving earth, immediately finishes their drink while bracing for impact.

10.

The inability to process this much joy. The blue golf shirt. The very specific degree of the hair flop. The ballcap, infused with years of beer thanks to attendance in the outfield of Ole MIss baseball games. One of them definitely being named “Josh.” (Both being named Josh on their birth certificates, one goes by “Chip.”)

11.

Being drunk, but very confidently drunk and well-dressed drunk.

12.

On Ole Miss’s first possession of overtime in the 2013 Egg Bowl, quarterback Bo Wallace fumbled away the ball and the game into the hands of Mississippi State’s Nickoe Whitley, who later became a rapper. It’s fine, because Wallace also threw three interceptions to go with zero touchdowns. He looked like the worst football player in the world that night. The next year, he would lead Ole Miss to an upset of Alabama ... and also lose a 30-0 laugher to an Arkansas team with a 2-6 conference record.

There is a theme, and it is that all of this horror and glory exists at once forever at Ole Miss, all the time, without ceasing.

13.

GIF from @cjzero

Giving such a big, sturdy man a tiny, flimsy chair.

14.

Cooper Bateman does not appear to realize he is about to be in a car wreck, or even seem that concerned about the possibility of anything bad happening on this play, and this is how all losses to Ole Miss go.

15.

The dancer appearing to be an extra from O Brother, Where Art Thou? One of the people captured here working as a successful attorney in the Oxford area. Being this thrilled over a win against Vanderbilt.

16.

The basic, creeping, bone-deep horror of it all, a hundred faces draining from fulsome joy to blank despair all at once.

It is impossible to pick out one unique tragedy here. Some are watching their house burn down while the fire department pulls away for the safety of the crews. Some are being told their pets need to be put down. Some are experiencing for the first time the sensation that if the asteroid comes tomorrow, it will not feel a thing as it obliterates all life on the planet, because it is not a villain but instead a symptom of the universe itself, a rounding error in the amount of blunt force in the universe.

All of them are watching Ole Miss football do something very, very bad and thus losing a little of their sense of safety in this world forever.

17.

The absurdity of not even being able to celebrate properly. The moment when both huge men realize they have gone from being jubilant victors and are now just toting a heavy barrel of salty sugar water around a football field for no reason. The expenditure of effort for no gain.

This is Waiting for Godot if Waiting for Godot was a Gatorade commercial. God is not getting a Gatorade bath today. He will not be getting one tomorrow. One will have to wait until the next day, and there are no guarantees or even indications God will show up then, either.

18.

A botched snap. A terrible decision to throw the ball under intense pressure from the pass rush. The ball caroming off an Alabama defender and directly into the hands of Quincy Adeboyejo streaking towards the end zone. All of this happening on third and one, resulting in a stunning upset of the best team in the country. The coach being gone a year and change later due to scandal. This team, again, somehow losing to Memphis in the same year.

19.

Wearing tactical sunglasses on Croakies to a night game. The haircut. The gingham button down with rolled-up sleeves almost certainly so he could have the room to move and make a surrender cobra. Expecting to have to do that very move at an Ole Miss football game ahead of time.

20.

THE SASSY SHAKE. That haircut that only exists either on precocious boys in movies, or on white, college-aged men in the Mississippabama region. The shirt, which has a collar because he left the house. His mother believes t-shirts go under real shirts and are not to be worn by themselves in public by gentlemen of proper grooming.

21.

I love this GIF most because it explains so much about the Ole Miss experience. The shaky camera can’t quite find what to look at, and then it zeroes in it finds an injured Laquon Treadwell turning up in an injury cart. That is all by itself a metaphor for Ole Miss football, but there are layers still, because Treadwell injured that leg a yard away from scoring the go-ahead touchdown against Auburn in 2014. Instead of putting Ole Miss ahead with a minute and a half on the clock, a bad angle on a tackle dislocated Treadwell’s ankle and broke his leg, ending his season and causing him to fumble the ball for an Auburn victory.

He’s still pumped, though, despite the horror. Oh, and a year later, Treadwell caught the game-winning touchdown in a 27-19 victory over Auburn. It’s not all heartbreak and discarded bottles for Ole Miss all the time.

22.

Celebrating a score sarcastically and visibly mouthing “WE SCORED” in a 42-3 blowout in a bowl game. That score coming with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. That being the only score of the game for Ole Miss. Still being in the stands to watch it happen, for reasons no one needs to ever fully explain.