Commentary by HottyToddy.com contributor Johnny Neumann
You’ve heard it many times before — but Saturday night’s heartbreaking Ole Miss loss to Auburn brought it to life painfully for all of Rebel Nation. Sports, in this case football, is a game of inches.
Think of the two long passes that Senquez Golson nearly defended with his amazing athleticism against a far larger opponent. One of the plays goes for a touchdown when Senquez misses deflecting the ball by his outstretched fingertips. On a similar play. Nick Marshall drops back on third-and-long and heaves the ball down the field. Again our should-be All-American cornerback is in perfect position to defend the pass, but is unable to jar the football from the hands of the towering wide receiver.
Two pivotal plays, two outstanding efforts by a talented Rebel defender playing all out with great heart quickness and determination. How many times can we say it’s a game of inches.
On another play, Auburn quarterback Marshall throws a poor pass right in the hands of a defensive back, but the football caroms off his outstretched hands — out of the likelihood of a sure pick-six — into the grateful arms of the first-down achieving Auburn receiver. Another game of inches within the larger game.
After stretching out on a previous play for a vital touchdown, Bo reaches for first down and loses the ball trying to make the extra effort.
Finally, the most tragic number of inches of all. One of the best college receivers in America , LaQuon Treadwell, uses every particle of his huge athleticism, his moves, his power, in a heroic attempt to take a short pass and storm into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. Only his superior ability even put LaQuon in the position of being inches (Some would say over) the goal line. A defender grabs LaQuon by the collar instead of the back of his jersey or his shoulder pads, forcing him backwards and instantly snapping his leg at the ankle.
Fingertips placed randomly inches from a spot that would have allowed LaQuon to speed into the end zone for an undisputed touchdown. Instead, a valiant young man lay on the field in agony, his teammates not fretting about the score but about the fate of their fellow warrior and friend. An average player would have been down at the three, but LaQuon is not an average player and the Rebels are not an average team.
They’re the kind of team and players who thought of their suffering teammate first, even before the score of the game!
They have accomplished amazing things by playing, winning and losing as brothers. They have resurrected a great football program as dedicated student athletes. I am inspired by their efforts — no less by their efforts in a devastating loss. I am inspired by what Coach Freeze and Coach Andy Kennedy and Athletic Director Ross Bjork are doing in their recruiting and coaching efforts to make the Ole Miss brand a nationwide symbol of excellence and integrity.
That class and success is expanding to sports like women’s soccer and volleyball that didn’t even exist when I was an athlete at Ole Miss. These teams are coached by impressive young coaches and feature wonderful student athletes.
But football is far from over! I’m inspired and optimistic about the rest of the Rebel season. No one in Rebel Nation needs to hang his or her head. We simply need to play hard against Presbyterian, go into Arkansas and play our best football, then take out Mississippi State at home. We are an elite football team and we will continue to play like one.
It’s a game of inches and those inches are due to line up in our favor soon.
Johnny Neumann, from Memphis, has been voted one of the top college basketball players of all time for his achievements during his brief tenure at Ole Miss. Neumann was a High School All-American at Overton High and brought his talents to Ole Miss in 1970. The statistics Neumann compiled over just ONE season at Ole Miss are proof of his greatness. Currently Neumann is an Ole Miss student again majoring in journalism. He spent many years in the NBA and ABA and as a coach. His goal is to enter sports broadcasting.
• Became one of only three players in the nation to ever average 40 points a game in a career
• Ranks fourth all-time in points scored in one game, 63 vs. LSU in 1971
• Ranks sixth all-time in points in a season, scoring 923.
Keep the faith Rebel Nation.