Smells Like School Spirit

The kingdom of sports fandom is one that has long tolerated what you may call "the rebellious fan." While sports are in general designed to bring large groups of people together - it can be said, some of us definitely find a way to support our teams - yet sit apart.

In the Eighties, USM was very welcoming to students from Northwest Florida, South Alabama and nearby Louisiana. Because of this influx of different cultures, ideas and upbringing, I found myself with a large group of new friends. Having just crossed the first line to adulthood, we managed to get into a lot of trouble and most of it was from commitment to some truly bad idea. For example, after weeks of staring at the giant video wall on "Club MTV" where all the televisions beamed the disparate parts that then make one giant image, we were struck by an idea. "What if we were to make everything on TV resemble the monstrosity on "Club MTV?" So, we put strips of electrical tape in a grid down the front of 16" color TV and left it.

Needless to say, the novelty wore off quickly. But that desperate feeling of commitment kept us watching all TV like we were outside viewing through a sewer grate for weeks on end. We also committed to forming an intramural team and with that wholeheartedly supporting USM sports. We attended every sport there was and then some. When we finally worked our way up to football, we decided to venture into the lion's den and sit right in the middle of the Away side at a home game. Now, please understand dear reader, we had no intentions of ruffling the feathers, claws or any other appendages of the opposing team. It seems Southern was on a real hot streak, and naturally, the only seats available to goofy guys like us would be right in the middle of a pack of Memphis State fans. So, there we sat in a field of blue, one little gold speck barely visible from a telescope on top of the Johnson Science Tower.  The game was thrilling. With Brett Favre as quarterback, we were the winners of six straight games. If we could just win this game, Southern would lock in a Bowl. More importantly, this team and our school were starting to gain some respect again. 

Just one year later, I would attend a wedding in Jacksonville, FL and win one of the two times in my life I ever put-my-money-where-my-mouth-was as we surprised Florida State across town in the Gator Bowl. Two years before, Florida State was my first game as a USM student. Even though I could only stay for the first half because of work, we were soundly thrashed. I left dejected and looking like a sunburned mime as the blazing rays burned half my face. However, on this day, Southern played with the wind at their backs. This was Curley Hallman football and his derring-do was widley admired. Here was the man who stopped all of Lunch at the Commons his first day on campus to introduce himself and tell students grasping for food of his master plan on this day leading a team that played with fierce intensity and rabid excitement.

Well, it only took a few plays before our crew in the stands (sober, mind you) began to possess an exuberance that could not simply lie dormant. First, it was a few hearty yells and then just as our Three Stooges-level commitment made all TV stars look like they were behind bars for weeks - it escalated. By the time we were on our feet, the fans around us were starting to seeth louder than all the tires outside The Rock leaking out air at once. Something happened to settle us down, and we received a taste of that sunburn-level humiliation when Memphis State quickly scored a pair of touchdowns and took the lead 27-26. To paraphrase the great philosopher Ignatius Reilly, "What a low joke Fortuna was playing on us now." While Isaac Newton never played football, this group of mostly Science majors were quickly completing that lab assignment where every action yields an equal and opposite reaction. Without going into detail, let's just say they had not only every right to cheer as loudly, in fact louder than our band of blockheads. Also, punctuating each exclamation with shrewd Clint Eastwood-esque glances toward us as they slowly sat back down were admitted, since the sheer volume could not be ignored.

Then it happened. As you fans saw it happen for years to come. Favre, led that team downfield with all the confidence in the world. As they passed the midfield stripe, our volcanic activity bubbled forth once again. Marching down the green field, the blue around us began to fade away. Tension filled the air and we began to get the feeling that the next attack would place us in an untenable position.  Favre lofted a high, long pass. We leaped from our silver seats. Right there as we too were airborne with the spinning ball, it landed in Eugene Rowell's hands..and then bounced back up in the air. A loud gasp surrounded us, and Rowell pulled it back down in time for the referee to raise his arms and shout "Touchdown!" Memphis State fans started packing up around us. We were jubilant. Honestly, we had every right to be. We stopped for a second and instead of yelling any more, reached out to the people two rows away and shook hands. I remember at the time thinking it was the most individual thing we could do. Suddenly, we were all doing it. All of us as individuals, then left the stands with our excitement somewhat muted. Over the next year, our intramural team was handed loss after loss.  We stayed in it though. At the end of every game, despite bad calls, heightened emotions, bruises, sprains and cuts - our team walked to the centre of the field and extended our hands to the opposing squad. 

Mik Davis is the record store manager at T- BONE's Records and Cafe and a GED instructor. Davis came to the Hub City in 1987 to attend Southern Miss, earning a degree in American Studies. He worked as manager of WUSM for 18 years.