I am an Ole Miss Rebel. But before anything else, I am and always will be a Memphis girl.
I was born and raised in the Bluff City. My parents were raised in Memphis, and my grandparents were, too. I went to school there, I learned to drive there, and I became a sports fanatic there.
My first sports memory is sitting in my grandfather’s seats on the 50-yard-line as the University of Memphis Tigers pulled a major upset in 1996 to defeat longstanding rival and No. 7 Tennessee and beloved quarterback Peyton Manning. The Liberty Bowl collectively exploded — fans stormed the field, the goal posts were torn down, and my mother was terrified a vicious Volunteer fan would kidnap me. Pieces of those long lost goal posts still hang in iconic Memphis restaurants, and no victorious memory will ever surpass that day.
My dad went to Memphis, and when I was a middle school basketball player, we went to many Lady Tigers games in the Elma Roane Fieldhouse to marvel at their incredible athleticism. I even have a ball autographed by former coach Joye Lee-McNelis, who also led many of my childhood basketball camps.
My family was mostly split between two SEC schools: Ole Miss and Alabama. Unlike my mother, I chose Oxford for my college education.
When I became a student at the University of Mississippi in 2006, I was ready to get away from the city that housed and educated me for so long, but Memphis popped up soon after move-in.
My first home game as a student was against Memphis in Vaught-Hemingway. I had been to one football game in Oxford previously, but it wasn’t the same. This town and this campus were my home now. I lived a stone’s throw away from the Grove in Martin Hall, but I was still surrounded by the brilliant bright blue and Tiger stripes I always loved.
Soon after, the annual meeting on the gridiron was removed from the Rebels schedule, and my hometown team stopped traveling the hour down Interstate 55 to see me. Throughout college, I was in the Tad Pad during a snow storm when the men’s basketball team defeated Kentucky and coach John Calipari, an enemy of mine for so many reasons. I stayed through the rain and supporting the football team countless times from the student section for both thrilling wins and crushing losses. I even made it to a baseball game, despite my lack of interest in the sport, to watch the Rebels win the day.
Ole Miss and Oxford stole my heart, but it never erased my hometown pride.
Now, I’m back in Oxford, and the game is back on the line-up. The Tigers will storm into Oxford in full force Saturday, and even though this isn’t a conference matchup, it feels like one to me and many other Memphians.
During a press conference Monday afternoon, coach Hugh Freeze and senior quarterback Bo Wallace both insisted this was not a rivalry game, which is true — for them. Freeze, Wallace and the majority of the Rebel players and coaches have never faced these Tigers, except sixth-year linebacker D.T. Shackelford when Ole Miss defeated Memphis 45-14 on the road in 2009.
Memphis may not be in the SEC, but those boys know Ole Miss, and we know them. A number of Rebels call Memphis home, and a few Memphis players out of Mississippi and other Southeastern states chose the Tigers over us and Mississippi State.
It’s not a conference rivalry, but it’s a regional matchup that fans from both sides have missed dearly.
Freeze made it clear that he does not see this weekend’s game as a cakewalk, especially after Memphis held top-ranked UCLA to a tight game this season. It’s not a home game for the Tigers, but it’s not a long trip, either. Both teams should be well rested and prepared to face off at 6:30 p.m. for the first night game of the season.
Teams across the country look for chances to knock off SEC opponents, and Memphis can taste that chance now. The Tigers are on the upswing after transferring to the AAC, but the Rebels have proven to be a dominating force on the field this season at 3-0.
So, while everyone else is blowing off the Memphis game and prepping for Alabama (and hopefully College GameDay) Oct. 4, I have my sights set on the Grove this Saturday, filled with Memphians and Rebels, and watching my home team battle with my alma mater.
And I’ll be screaming Hotty Toddy all the way.
Amelia Camurati is managing editor of HottyToddy.com and can be reached at email@example.com.