All Things Red and Blue
By Bill Rose
Walk through the double glass doors leading into the house from Jim Stephens’ driveway, and you are suddenly in the middle of everything Ole Miss.
The walls, the shelves, the chairs, the tables, the television; you name it, it’s Ole Miss. There are even two Christmas trees all lit up with Ole Miss lights and ornaments. As Stephens puts it, “Every day is like Christmas in here to me.”
There are many Ole Miss rooms in Oxford, but perhaps none as lovingly and meticulously put together as this one. There are shelves packed with figurines of football players, autographed footballs and baseballs. There are Sugar Bowl buttons and beer steins, 77 yearbooks, 15 Ole Miss Santas, two dozen Colonel Rebel figurines with the colonel skiing, golfing, sunning at the beach –– even a heavy pewter sculpture of the old guy.
There are century-old Ole Miss literary magazines (15 cents per copy) with vintage ads, including one for a vacuum cup that claimed to stimulate the scalp enough to grow hair. And if that’s not enough, there is tons more stuff – a storage cabinet full, 30 boxes of memorabilia, 125 framed pictures. Not even Stephens knows how many items he has. “I really wish I could have an Ole Miss house to hold everything,” he says.
On that wall, a chunk of the goal post torn down by delirious Vaught-Hemingway fans after the glorious 2002 upset of Florida. On this, vinyl records of “The Ballad of Archie Who” and “Here Comes Archie.” That’s Manning, of course, and the Mannings are everywhere — a Peyton figurine with No. 18 and a Colts uniform, an Eli figurine with No. 10 and a Giants uniform and Archie himself with old No. 8 and a Saints uniform.
On another wall, there are framed photos of the 1959, 1960 and 1962 teams, all of whom claimed national championships from various rating services. Nearby, photos of our three Miss Americas.
There are photos of all the chancellors, starting with George Frederick Holmes in 1848. There is a beautiful stained glass window with all the mascots of the SEC etched onto its surface. There’s a mammoth Ole Miss vs. LSU chess set with Vaught-Hemingway stadium as the setting for the chessboard.
The pawns are football players in a lineman’s three-point stance. The king is a quarterback and the queen is a cheerleader. There’s another replica of the stadium with Colonel Rebs looking down from the four corners “to keep the evil spirits out.”
“Every Ole Miss fan should have a Hate State table,” says Stephens. And his, loaded with game day programs dating back to 1942, sits right next to the television that plays back old games.
Now, Stephens is getting ready to expand into the yard. He’s erecting an 18 miles per hour speed limit sign near the entrance to his Oxford driveway. Further up the driveway toward the house, he’s planting a 10 miles per hour sign. If you don’t know the significance of those two numbers, you’re not an Ole Miss fan.
“If it has Ole Miss on it, I need to have it,” Stephens shrugs. “I don’t hunt or fish. There’s no boat in my driveway or gun in my cabinets. Ole Miss is my fun, my relaxation, and my hobby. It just grew and grew and grew.”
The thing is, the man seems so normal. He’s a genial, generous man, a retired sergeant major in the Army. He had a second career working in quality control at Ole Miss. Among other things, he helped clean up the stadium after football games. He had a brief stint as a university police officer. He has dabbled as a ranger at the Ole Miss Golf Course. He frequently volunteers for charity, helping out with the Red Cross, among others. Yep, he’s totally normal. Until the name Ole Miss is spoken. Then his face lights up and he goes into acquisition mode.
Funny, but this Oxford native didn’t like it that much when he spent one semester here in his youth. It took a return to the university later in life, when he got his degree, for him to realize just how special the place is.
“I suddenly realized what Ole Miss really is. It’s a special place, one of the best-kept secrets in America. Just ask anyone who comes here.”
For years, he traveled to every away game, hardly letting the football team out of his sight. He started a little business setting up tailgate tents in the Grove for home games. He’s stopped setting them up, but still maintains his own tent at the edge of the Grove just past the east end of Farley Hall.
For a long time, you could recognize it by the big cardboard cutout of Colonel Rebel. “It was the biggest thing made of wood in the Grove except for trees and the bandstand,” he says. Just like Colonel Reb himself, the cutout has been retired. But Jim Stephens has not stopped loving the old mascot.
“I just love Ole Miss. It’s hard to explain. It’s just an inner feeling. Like the sign says on the library, you never graduate from Ole Miss,” he said.
Maybe it’s something in the blood. His grandfather, Hubert D. Stephens, Sr., played guard and center in 1894 and 1895 on the second and third football teams to ever play for Ole Miss. A print of one of those teams has a special place on the wall of Stephens’ special room. And so does his grandfather’s M-Club certificate, signed by none other than Judge William Hemingway.
Maybe it’s the fact that he’s an Oxford native. That same grandfather was a U.S. senator from Mississippi from 1922 to 1935 and Jim Stephens’ father, Hubert D. Stephens, Jr., was the Oxford-based U.S. district court clerk for north Mississippi for 28 years.
Whatever it is, the years haven’t diminished Stephens’ ardor for collecting. He has purchased 475 Ole Miss items on eBay and continues to search it every day for more memorabilia.
People who know about his hobby also just give him things. A man he met working part-time at the university golf course gave him two footballs from an Ole Miss – Notre Dame game.
On one wall of Stephens’ room is a giant SEC insignia, beneath which are helmets of every SEC team except Texas A & M and Missouri, and he expects to add those after the first of the year. On a tabletop: Ole Miss football guides dating back to the 1950s.
And it’s not just football. There are 26 autographed baseballs and several game balls to boot. There’s a 1949 glee club album with songs of Ole Miss (the alma mater, “Forward Rebels,” “Dixie”). There’s his Ole Miss golf bag with his Ole Miss wood covers. There are Ole Miss course catalogs.
He doesn’t miss an opportunity. Once, when his son Kevin was 5, they were walking through the old Oxford Mall about two hours before a home game. The place was nearly deserted. Who should come walking down the concourse but legendary coach Johnny Vaught? The resulting photo of his son with Vaught hangs from his wall, near a photo of his son with former coach David Cutcliffe and another with Colonel Rebel.
In the Grove, Stephens used to be known as “Helmet Man.” In 2008, he grabbed a vintage Ole Miss helmet from his collection and took it to the Swamp in Gainesville as a good luck charm. The Rebels were 2-2 and the Gators were ranked No. 4 and quarterbacked by Tim Tebow. Ole Miss pulled off a major upset, whipping Florida 31-30 when Tebow was stopped on a critical fourth and one. For a while after that, Stephens would bring a helmet to every game.
He would also bring his autographed footballs. Once, his ball autographed by the 1959 team was sitting on a table in his Grove tent and a man walked up and examined it closely with a puzzled look on his face. Finally, he faced Stephens with a question: “Why is my name not on this football?” It turned out to be All-American fullback Charlie Flowers, who signed it on the spot.
There are glasses of all shapes and sizes, buttons, ticket stubs, schedule posters, plastic cups, an Ole Miss flag. There are three old wooden seats – 4, 5 and 6 — from the Tad Smith Coliseum. And three old seats from the baseball stadium. There is a huge 1983 aerial photograph of the campus.
“I have to just sit here sometimes and see what has changed, what streets have been closed off,” he says.
Stephens never tires of looking at this stuff. Sometimes, he will find photos of a friend in an old yearbook, reproduce them and send framed copies to him as gifts, one Ole Miss fan to another.
His 64th birthday this year fell on Sept. 1, the date of the sweetly successful Ole Miss opener with Central Arkansas. He celebrated it Jim Stephens style – with a big party in the Grove featuring the Rebellettes and Athletic Director Ross Bjork. “Couldn’t have been better,” he says.
“It’s like this poster says, if you live a good life, go to Sunday School and say your prayers, when you die, you go to Ole Miss.”