Friday, December 2, 2022

Camurati: a Night on the Road in Death Valley

I’ve been a girl who loved football as long as I can remember.
As a kid, I went to countless Memphis Tiger football games thanks to my grandfather’s amazing tickets. I went to my fair share of high school football games at Christian Brothers High School, the brother school of my all girls alma mater. Almost every fall Saturday for years, I was in the Vaught.
IMG_4272But all of these were home games. I was surrounded by the people who also loved my Tigers, Purple Wave and Rebels. There was no animosity toward me. There was no nervousness.
This weekend, I took the long trek down Interstate 55 to Baton Rouge for my first road game. On the way, I was surrounded by students and the rest of Rebel nation, traveling down to cheer on undefeated Ole Miss as they take on the Bayou Bengals.
I wasn’t the only Rebel in my hotel, but I was one of very few. When I ran to a convenience store Friday night to grab some shampoo and conditioner (because my hotel thought giving me 2-in-1 was funny), I proudly wore my HottyToddy.com t-shirt and was promptly told “go back to your cave you dirty black bear.”
I was fully prepared Saturday to wear neutral colors as a media photographer, so I dressed in black with my red and blue press pass and walked the good mile from my $60 parking spot (that they wanted to charge me $80 for when the gracious students saw my Mississippi tags) to massive Death Valley.
IMG_5054Everyone knows Tiger Stadium is a behemoth, but to see it filled to the brim of purple and gold under the bright lights as the sun goes down with a little cluster of red Rebels in the corner — it’s an indescribable experience.
Death Valley is loud, and they encourage it to only get louder every play. They beat on bleachers. They scream until their faces are deep red. They throw things. All combined, it eventually turns into a deafening white noise, where all the sounds blend into one big wall of noise.
At Ole Miss, the fans are universally known for being hospitable hosts and welcoming all kinds of fans into the Grove. LSU is different. Outsiders are looked upon with disdain and annoyance. “Tiger bait” is screamed repeatedly at every person not clad in purple and gold.
The most unnerving part of the evening as a football fan wasn’t the final interception. When Denzel Nkemdiche went down and stayed there, their fans were not concerned for the well being of another human. If anything, it was as if they were excited to see one of our own hit the ground. I’ve seen countless opposing players fall live and on television, and every stadium has always gone dead silent until the player hobbles off to cheers from all sides.
But this is Death Valley, and it’s a world away from Vaught-Hemingway.
The game, as we all know, was a heartbreaker in the final seconds. I had to hide from the Internet to avoid the aftermath of stories picking apart every moment and how we could have changed that moment to bring home the Magnolia Bowl trophy. Facebook and Twitter filled with updates about firing Hugh Freeze, shunning Bo Wallace and an overall lack of respect for the 7-1 season the Rebels have earned thus far.
The mood in Oxford has shifted for the worse since the loss. The fans who once had faith that we would end the season undefeated now expect a 9-3 finish. In one of his weekly press conferences when asked about the future of the season, coach Hugh Freeze said that when you play in a division like the SEC West, you’re facing hard competition week after week. Unfortunately for most teams, someone has to walk away from the day with a loss.
Could we have cut down on some errors and changed some play calls? Absolutely. Should this loss define the season? Absolutely not.
I still have complete faith in the mighty Rebels to not let this game destroy their momentum to be one of the greatest teams in Ole Miss history, and I’ll be screaming my heart out when a different set of Tigers rolls into Oxford this weekend.
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Amelia Camurati is managing editor of HottyToddy.com and can be reached at amelia.camurati@hottytoddy.com.

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