OMAHA, Neb. — How does it feel to finally win a national championship?
It feels like sitting in the concourse of a ballpark you’ve never been to, 600 miles from home, wearing an Ole Miss baseball jersey t-shirt and sobbing openly, so overwhelmed that you can’t even get up and watch the trophy celebration on the field below.
Such was Ed Thompson of Memphis, Tennessee, who drove through the night Saturday to line up in Omaha for Game 2 of the Men’s College World Series finals, the game they won 4-2 against Oklahoma to clinch that title thwart. “I saw them win Game 1 and I just got off the frigging couch and drove. I got a ticket and I won’t tell you how much I paid,” he choked, “but it was bloody worth it. “
How does it feel to see your school finally win its first officially recognized men’s national championship – in anything – since the school fielded its first football team in 1893?
It feels like leaning over the bleacher rails on left field and waving a $100 bill to the team on the Charles Schwab Field lot, or anyone else who might be interested in earning a Benjamin because he has filled his empty stadium cup with some red warning track dirt or maybe even a few blades of grass.
So did Lynn and Terry Becker, who redeemed vacation days to come to Omaha late last week. “I want to put some of this in a jar on my desk,” Terry said. “She wants to scatter everything in her flower bed.”
How does it feel to watch your team rise from No. 1 in the nation and fall out of the rankings like a deflated balloon, dropping to 7-14 in the SEC game and the fan base and media clamoring for your head Task of the trainer? Will you then go from being one of the last four teams invited to the NCAA 64-team baseball tournament to becoming the last team standing?
It feels like you’re standing in your seat and holding your baby born in the middle of this season, knowing that she won’t remember it but that you can tell her later that she witnessed what Generations of Ole Miss fans never had before. All amid chanting of this coach’s name, surrounded by 25,972 spectators dressed in decidedly powder blue. “MIKE BI-AN-CO!” Gossip gossip gossip gossip gossip!
That was the case with the Lincoln family in Hattiesburg. As dad Jack held up his little girl Lion King style, he joined in the cheers, admitting, “Yeah, okay, in May I wanted him fired too.”
It feels like a man in his 40s jumped into the air trying to catch confetti as a gust of wind from Nebraska sent it into the stands. It feels like taking selfies with your grandpa in his “OleMAHA” baseball cap as he talks about Archie Manning vs. Alabama. It feels like not so patiently queuing for $40 Ole Miss NCAA Men’s College World Series championship T-shirts that have just been pulled from boxes hidden behind the counters of the NCAA’s official souvenir stands are.
It feels good. It even feels better than expected because it wasn’t expected.
“That’s the best part,” said pitcher Dylan DeLucia, who was named most outstanding player of the series despite not pitching in the finals. “No one thought we could do it. Even after we won on Saturday night [to take a 1-0 lead over Oklahoma] it was still out there. That makes it even better for us. That’s what makes this group so special.”
“I think that’s why more than 20,000 fans showed up here because this is a special group,” added Bianco. “You knew this was a special group. It wasn’t just a national championship. I honestly believe that. During the trophy presentation, if you look at the stands, the stadium holds 25,000 and it still looked almost full. This group of young people guys, I think people fell in love with them, their history and where they came from…. That’s why they all showed up here.”
I have a feeling that none of these people will be leaving the stadium any time soon. #hottytoddy #MCWS pic.twitter.com/sHIygdJu9D
— Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) June 26, 2022
For 10 days, they appeared in waves. There was the first group that came to Omaha at the start of the MCWS and never left. There was the second legion rolling north as Ole Miss made it to the semifinals and championship series. Then there were the third graders who arrived on the banks of the Missouri River Saturday night and Sunday morning, desperate to be a part of it.
For a year they had heard about how supporters of Mississippi’s arch-rival Egg Bowl had taken over Omaha. For so many years, they had to take a backseat to the Bulldogs, Magnolia State’s hardball superpower. Because of this, some of them lined up next to the plaque on the outside of the stadium on Mike Fahey Street and took snaps of their middle fingers pointing to the bronze words “2021 – MISSISSIPPI STATE” over “CHAMPIONS OF THE 2020’S”.
Many in that last group came to Nebraska knowing full well they would not get a ticket. They didn’t care. As Game 2 descended into the middle innings of a tense one-run affair, Ole Miss fans sat on benches in front of the main right field gate and filled the bars around the stadium, watching the televised action across the street, only a few hundred meters away.
They stood under an old-school outdoor scoreboard at the Slowdown Beer Garden like pre-TV-era baseball fans who used to stand in Times Square and cheer when someone updated a World Series result from the Bronx and Brooklyn. Among them was even a shabby Times Square-style mascot, someone dressed as a long-retired Colonel Reb, who wore Under Armor sleeves under his Ole Miss jersey like a bad Broadway Elmo, but still took selfies .
The most popular hangout spot in the game was the same place that became a de facto Oxford North during this year’s series, Rocco’s. For years, the sports bar/pizzeria has kept a wink Jell-O Challenge, a different scoreboard, but this one that tracks how many alcohol-packed gelatin sips were purchased by fans of the eight teams at each College World Series field in June. A typical score has always been a few hundred. A crazy number is one that could approach 1,000.
By the time Game 2 entered the late innings, Ole Miss fans had thrown 16,174 Jell-O shots. (The previous record was set last year by Mississippi state Rebels’ Egg Bowl rivals with…2,965.)
Welp, we’re out of jelly but we’re still rolling! Old School Ole Miss shots still count towards the total! Let’s push it to 20k! #CWS2022 #CWSS #RoccosOmaha pic.twitter.com/bHCAWXqeTZ
— CWS Jello Shot Challenge (@CWSShotBoard) June 26, 2022
“I think I can speak for everyone here, for every company at this ballpark, when I say we’ve never seen anything like what we’ve seen from teams this week, but especially Ole Miss fans said Rocco’s owner Kevin Culjat. who expressed delight at his newfound friends getting closer to a national title but no doubt disappointed that they beat the first two games and denied the Omaha economy a day and a night more powder blue buying power.
But on Sunday night, as the sun began to settle over Omaha and the city sky took on that unmistakable hue of that Ole Miss blue, these fans seemed determined to make this night last as long as possible.
“I’ve never had a Jell-O shot in my 78-year life,” said Gloria Poplin, a self-described “hot toddy granny,” who wore a chunk of shiny red confetti in her gray hair and wore an oversized t-shirt, ” Don’t Let The Rebs Get Hot”. “But I think I’ll go over and see if they still have any. And I don’t go to bed until Wednesday.”