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Ole Miss Notes from the Past: Before We Were Rebels

All alumni are aware that the Rebels are going bowling. Some fans, however, may not know some of the names used for the team before Rebels came into use. I once wrote that “The first forty-three years of Ole Miss football may well be regarded as a near half-century search for a fitting and lasting name for the teams.” (By the way, it was exactly one hundred years ago that the football field was shortened to one hundred yards, and that the number of points awarded for a touchdown increased from five to six.)
When the team played its first game in 1893, Ole Miss had no official name. An article covering the game used such terms as “the elevens of the University of Mississippi,”  “the University boys,” “the University men,” “the home team,” and “our boys.” Later articles referred to “the Oxford boys,”  “the Mississippi team,” and “the Mississippians.”
By 1895, some writers were still using terms like “the University of Mississippi,” but the word “Varsity” came to be used as a kind of nickname for the team itself. Terms like “the Varsity Eleven” or “the Varsity team” were used often.
By the early 1900s, sports writers were obviously still looking for appropriate monikers. It appeared for a while that the colors would come to represent the team. Writers spoke of “the Red and Blue line,” “A&M Holds the Red and Blue,” “the Red and Blue met defeat,” and “uphold the Red and Blue.” As late as 1922, a commentator wrote about the season facing “the Red and Blue eleven.”
In 1923, a few writers, especially G. W. Healy, obviously wanted to try a new sobriquet —“the Southerners.” One sentence was, “The University of Alabama’s famous Thin Red Line (later Crimson Tide, of course) was entirely too thick for the Ole Miss Southerners last Saturday.” It would appear that even Blind Jim was using the term: “Blind Jim says his course in Bible taken last session will help him greatly when his Southerners go against the cowpunchers at Jackson.” One editorial concluded with the belief that, “our Southerners will take the Aggies (today’s Bulldogs) by air route.”
As the 1925-26 season began, it was clear that “the Southerners” was losing ground as a nickname. A headline was, “Sewanee Tigers Face the Mighty Mississippians.” One student newspaper article spoke of how the “fighting team” with its “indomitable courage and sheer plunk has won for itself the sobriquet of ‘the Mighty Mississippians.’”  It was later reported that Coach Hazel and others liked the name and that, “it is probable the words ‘Mighty Mississippians soon will be a household phrase.”
But by 1929, a student writer said the “teams have labored these many years under the handicap of not having a name. The closest approach that has ever been made toward a catchy name for Ole Miss teams is ‘the Mighty Mississippians.’” The writer added that it has been “an unfortunate name. The boastfulness and over-confidence implied by this phrase is not true of this student body or its team.”
Several people suggested new names, like “Happy Warriors,” “Ole Miss Gentlemen,” “Wampus Cats,” and “the Magnolia Tigers.” In 1929, a contest was begun. The person who suggested “a suitable cognomen by which Ole Miss athletes may be hailed in the future” would win a loving cup and five free tickets to the Thanksgiving game.
George Healy, often credited with being the person who had begun the use of “the Mighty Mississippians,” agreed “there should be a symbol or other appellation, but he did not like “Gentlemen” or the name of an animal. He wrote, “There are probably more Tigers and other ferocious beasts representing colleges on gridirons than ever were wild in the jungle of Africa.”
Frank Everett is the person who is given most credit for recommending a contest. Chancellor Hume appointed a selection committee. Many, many  names were suggested; the interesting list is still available. Dick McCool especially liked “the Mississippi Flood” or just “the Flood.”
A 1929 The Mississippian announced that “the Flood” had been selected. It was mentioned that in this contest also, even Blind Jim had contributed. While not every fan liked the new name, it was used immediately in such headlines as “Flood Preparing for Third Straight Invasion of Tuscaloosa.” “The Flood will be up against a mighty strong conference team,” and “Flood Battles LSU.” It appeared to many that the Flood would be the new name, and it was indeed used pretty consistently until 1936.
But by 1936, there was considerable unhappiness with the name, and another contest was scheduled: “The University of Mississippi football team needs a new name.  It is now like a man without a country, a child without a home. It has no real nickname with which to be properly identified.”
Billy Gates was disappointed that more names were not suggested. He added that the name “will help in making the team better known, and that it what counts.” The contest was continued. Coach Walker supported the continuation. On May 16, 1936, a letter from Ben Guider was published.
Among other things he wrote, “I herewith respectfully submit that the team be designated MISSISSIPPI REBELS.” He continued, “The name is short, musical, inspiring, simple for publication purposes, and should catch the eye of the sports public in newspaper accounts of Ole Miss football contests.”
In a lengthy and close contest, Rebels was the name chosen, and articles that fall made it clear: “Now known as ‘Rebels,’ Coach Ed Walker’s aggregation of pigskin players got down to serious practice,” “the Rebels run to Tulane,” “Rebels Get First Test,” “Rebels Favored This Year for First Time.” And so it continues to this day.

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