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MISSISSIPPI RISING: Time to sell the image

Mississippi mapby Jack Weatherly
A Harvard professor said long ago: “Nothing happens until somebody sells something.”That was pretty profound, still is.Here’s something else pretty profound. Mississippi State is No. 1 and Ole Miss is No. 3 in college football. State has never been in that position. Ole Miss has been at the top of the heap a few times, but that was more than a half-century ago.Has there been such good and unifying news for Mississippi since the Civil War? Maybe, but nothing quickly comes to mind. Maybe it’s because I caught the fever rampaging across the state.

Talk to any marketing expert worth his salt. He’ll tell you that the best publicity is free. You can’t buy  this kind of PR.

The strategy would be to strike fast and pour it on. Sort of a hurry-up offense. Game plan? That’s for the experts to decide.

If history repeats itself — which it seems especially prone to do in Mississippi — the flame may go out with the next game.

Then all the street-corner prophets of gloom can say once again: I coulda told ya.

But for now State is No. 1 And Ole Miss is No. 3.

That can’t ever be taken away. It’s a historical fact.

Mississippi is rising. In football at least. Yes, the inevitable downturn will happen, as Arnold Toynbee, the famed historian, told us.

But the leap — the hang time a la Jordan — for the moment suspends our disbelief.

An expatriate blessedly back on the native soil these past few days — I hang with them.

It’s big sales for the news media. A diagonal banner was emblazoned cross the Sunday Clarion-Ledger’s front page proclaiming: “Second to None,” with State above the banner and Ole Miss below it. The Bulldogs had manhandled Auburn. Ole Miss did likewise to another SEC Western Conference contender, Texas A&M.

In the Tuesday paper after the polls came out, the newspaper’s prophetic banner was fulfilled: State No. 1, Ole Miss No. 3. (It goes without saying, so I’ll say it again: football is a religion in the South.)

A copy of the Tuesday Clarion-Ledger could not be found anywhere around Jackson.

Not that Sports Illustrated is The New York Times, but two consecutive issues of the magazine featured both schools (the first time) on its cover, State alone on the second

Not that The Times is SI, but it featured the Mississippi Miracle in its news columns. (“Discovering” Mississippi is a pet story for The Times at least once a year.)

It was my fourth or fifth stop on my way from downtown Jackson to my daughter’s house as I sought a copy of the paper.

What happened to all the papers? I ask the clerk. As if I didn’t have a clue.

“That game,” she says.

A middle-aged black man in workman’s clothes enters the convenience store in one of those shining suburbs north of Jackson.

No paper, I tell him as I leave in my white shirt and tie. As if he didn’t know.

A bond is forged.

Yeah, he says as he smiles and shakes his head in wonder.

That quarterback, we agree. That defense. That game. Those Bulldogs.

“They ain’t gonna lose a game in the SEC,” he says.

And he was not kiddin’.

(Full disclosure: Daddy played football for State back in the ’30s.)

Would that the late legendary Jack Cristil had lived long enough to call the play-by-play for his beloved Bulldogs on this momentous occasion.

He might have said from his lofty press box perch: “Wrap it in maroon and white and red and blue.”

Sacrilege, I know. On any other day.

Not this day, not this time.

» Jack Weatherly has worked for newspapers across the South, from small to the very biggest. Nearly half of his career has been involved in business journalism, including reporting and editing. Most recently, he was senior business writer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock. He is a native of Mississippi (Attala County). He was business editor at The Clarion-Ledger for the last three of his four years at that paper. He is a graduate of the University of Memphis.

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