Monday, June 08, 2009

When It's Over

In my lifetime as an Ole Miss fan, I’ve seen more games involving an Ole Miss team collapsing than I care to remember. I’ve seen more meltdowns than care to remember. I’ve seen more epic meltdowns than I care to remember. And, on rare occasions, I’ve seen a how-the-hell-did-we-win-that game. All of these are part of the experience of being an Ole Miss fan. A few euphoric highs mixed in with a steady diet of soul-numbing losses.

But through all of these wins and losses there is one common thread that most Ole Miss fans know very well. We can tell you the exact moment when we knew the game would be won or lost. Usually it’s a single play, but sometimes it can be a series of plays. For instance, last football season when I saw Jevan Snead on one drive carve up LSU’s defense with three of the best passes I’ve ever seen, the last of which gave Ole Miss a 21-3 lead, I knew there was no way LSU had a prayer to get back in that game even though the game was still in the second quarter.

However, it’s most often the single plays that are the eventual cause of so much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Ed Orgeron’s decision to go for it on fourth and one while leading and dominating Mississippi State 14-0. South Carolina converting a third and goal from the 20 in Oxford last fall. Kendrick Lewis flying by Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner right before a big gain put Wake in field goal range to win the game. These are just a few examples of individual plays that the moment after they happened Ole Miss fans knew the game was lost.

This weekend Ole Miss fans saw another play get added to the ever-growing list of moments when they knew the game was lost, and in this case, when the next game was lost. On Saturday when second basemen Evan Button tapped his inner Chuck Knoblauch and threw a routine ground ball 50 feet instead of 60 feet to first, the Super Regional series against Virginia was over. Even with Ole Miss leading the series 1-0 and the game 3-2, it was done. The air was sucked right out of the crowd of over 10,000, and whether Ole Miss fans would audibly admit it or not, they knew they were about to watch a late rally from Virginia and would see the Cavaliers win on Sunday. I knew it. The friends I was with knew it. Hell, even the guy who can’t think knew it.

You don’t get within five outs of Omaha, make a crucial mistake and actually live to see Omaha. It just doesn’t happen. Unfortunately for Evan Button, his mistake was and will rightfully be remembered as the one play that ended Ole Miss’ chance at a trip to the College World Series. If he makes that play, which he said he normally makes 99 out of 100 times, Virginia is just about finished. Two outs, no one on base and four outs from elimination. That’s a tough situation from which to rally.

Instead, he choked. Of course, all the blame doesn’t fall on his shoulders, but that single play turned the series around. Last week, I wrote “[a]s for Ole Miss, they’ll have the home crowd behind them, which will be good as long as things don’t sour and help create a sense of impending doom.” Well, after Button’s error, the sense of impending doom couldn’t just be felt, it could be heard. The cries of “Why?!?! Why us?!?!,” the deep groans and the collective tightening of the sphincter muscle filled the stadium Saturday afternoon, preceding what we knew was coming.

The thing about the ability to know when the game is won or lost is that it can’t be taught. It can be learned, but not through teaching. Only through experience, and usually many painful ones, can an Ole Miss fan really develop and fine-tune this ability. I can’t remember exactly when mine started to kick in, but I know that what I have now is never wrong. I have to believe that on Saturday many Ole Miss fans either discovered this ability for the first time or sharpened theirs to a fine point. And to you newbies, it doesn’t make it any less awful.

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