Quote of the Day:
“I’ve been around a long time, and life still has a whole lot of surprises for me.” Loretta Lynn
It’s 5:09 a.m., Saturday morning, and pitch black outside in Oxford, Mississippi. The car fires and XM powers up, on the same channel my wife left it on last night. Lisa Loeb, “Do You Sleep” is playing. As if I haven’t been thinking, “Have I lost my mind?” for the last twelve hours already. I immediately switch over to my station, XM 60, Americana, where the radio will (mostly) stay until it’s time for pre game shows because I’ve got the car to myself today.
I was listening to Bulldog Sports Radio while exercising Friday morning and as the hosts of the B&B show talked about the game, I tuned them out, entertaining a continuous looping inner monologue that went, “We are the number 1 team in the nation. This may never happen again in my lifetime. I really should be there to see us play as number 1. And I’ve always wanted to go to Kentucky for a game. Hell, it’s now or never.” All this cycled through about 273 times.
And that’s why I’m driving to Lexington this morning.
I’m doing 80 in a 55 zone and I’m passed by another car and so I am now using him to good purpose as a blocker. I gotta make hay before the sun comes up. We pass a lazy pickup just before Holly Springs. My blocker is opening up holes and I take it as a good omen. “Pure Morning” by Placebo comes on Lithium and I feel good. Optimistic. My team, poor old whipped-down (to borrow a phrase), Mississippi State of all things, is Number 1. Anything is thusly possible. A cure for cancer must surely be only a matter of time. Peace in the Middle East? It’ll come. Fusion-powered, hyperspace-capable flying cars will definitely be available before my number is called for the final time.
That’s why I’m driving to Lexington today.
Crossing in to Tennessee I pass the National Bird Dog museum, ease up through Bolivar where I once got a speeding ticket with my infant daughter and Mother-in-Law in the car at one a.m., and on to Jackson and Interstate 40. I do not like waking up before dawn, but I absolutely relish the driving hours before sunup. Since I was a child, it’s always seemed like more of an adventure at that time. Inevitably, the sun must rise and there is consolation in it’s perfection as it inches upward behind the western Tennessee cotton fields.
There are worse reasons to drive to Kentucky today.
Hungry now, I see a sign for Loretta Lynn’s Ranch House. Why not, right? There’s an old tractor out front and a statue of a buffalo (of all things) and inside are lots of photos of Conway Twitty and Loretta, of course, and more. And you can buy an indian blanket featuring Loretta Lynn’s face because of course you can. There’s biscuits and they’re good, the bacon is burned, the ham is country and I’ll be dang–fried bologna on the buffet. It turns out this interstate exit is a designated scenic byway heading north toward Clarksville where I can connect east to Kentucky and I’m ahead of schedule so I go for it. Winding through the colorful Tennessee autumn, up to the steeple dominated town of Clarksville then over to Bowling Green and more back roads north to Lexington. I pass a horse and buggy outside a Shaker village, and eventually I begin to see the famous horse farms of Kentucky. The interstate would’ve gotten me there sooner, but I’m happy to milk this day for all it’s worth before turning my focus to the game, because we’re putting that top ranking on the line plenty soon enough.
In 1977 or thereabouts, I went with my Dad and some of his co-workers to my first Mississippi State football game in Auburn. I think we won, but I know if we did we later had to forfeit for some boosters giving a guy clothing discounts. I grope around for the memories of that day, but mostly I just conjure the sensations. I think about that day in 1980 when we Beat the Bear, and no–I wasn’t there. But I was in ’91, Jackie Sherrill’s first year when we beat LSU in Tiger Stadium and then took down Ole Miss in the first Egg Bowl back on campus in twenty years. I think about 98 when we beat Arkansas and then Ole Miss to win the SEC West. There was the great comeback against Auburn that I celebrated with Jack Cristil in the Grove. And, being a true Bulldog, I recall too the heartbreaks–The Stand, Tubberville’s two point conversion, the referee-assisted defeat to Tennessee in our one previous shot at glory, leaving Scott Field at the end of the first quarter, down 35-0 to Tulane during the Croom era.
You better believe those are reasons I’m driving by myself to Kentucky today.
I finally arrive, make some friends in Big Blue Nation and avoid making enemies. An old guy named Rodney tells me to stick with him, he may have a ticket for me. He does and he won’t accept a nickel for it. As I make my way into the stadium I exchange random fist bumps and nods of solidarity and understanding with fellow Maroons in a manner unlike anything I’ve ever seen either at home or on the road. My ticket entitles me to 12 inches of booty-room right inside the upper left corner of the Famous Maroon Band, and though they don’t really want me there, I squeeze in next to the trombone section. Or French Horns. I don’t know. Not the tubas. We’re in the corner of the end zone about twenty rows up. Glorious view. Dak doesn’t have a Heisman-caliber game but tailback Josh Robinson does. Between the third and fourth quarters Kentucky holds a little pep rally out on the field. A guy dressed in a Jared Lorenzen jersey leads the cheers and rallies the Wildcat crowd, exhorting them to cheer louder because they “are going to beat…..THE NUMBER ONE TEAM IN THE NATION!!!!”
But Robinson takes off on a scintillating 73 yard sprint/cutback touchdown run and Turtle Holmes ices it with a touchdown return of a Kentucky onside kick and the band plays the fight song over and over and the players salute the crowd and Dak jogs off the field last, after the interviews and for another mind bending week, MY Mississippi State Bulldogs will remain Number 1 in the Nation. I will forever treasure the fact I was there for it all.
And that, emphatically, is why I drove by myself, 22 hours over two and half days round trip, through the byways and backcountry of Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky, just to see the Bulldogs play.