By Danny Carlisle
Special to The Dispatch
AUSTIN, Tex. — The eyes of Mississippi were upon Austin, Texas this week as the roads leading west from Mississippi were ﬁlled with Ole Miss fans traveling to the Texas state capital in anticipation of their beloved Rebels ﬁrst visit since 1925 to take on national power Texas on the gridiron.
When your team plays a program that it doesn’t normally play, especially a program with a national brand like Texas, the excitement created by such an event inspires fans to make plans to be a participant.
The people who made the trip, in excess of 10,000 total, came for a myriad of reasons.
Some, like Shane Hardy of Columbus, came for the once in a lifetime experience and the nostalgia associated with the idea that Ole Miss has not been here in nearly 100 years and might not be back again in their lifetime. “We came out on Wednesday and went to San Antonio and saw the Alamo, ate at some great restaurants, and have just made a great week of it,” said Hardy, a resident of New Hope. “I came with some friends I went to college with at Ole Miss and we are just having a great time,” Hardy said. “It’s Texas, we don’t normally play them. We wouldn’t have missed this opportunity for anything.”
Some Ole Miss fans took advantage of the Rebels coming to Austin as a rare opportunity to see the Rebels play. Chris and Saundra Smith are native Mississippians who reside in Austin. Ole Miss coming to town gave them an opportunity to watch their favorite team play in person. “I told Chris as soon as I found out that Ole Miss was coming to play UT (Texas) that I wanted us to go,” said Saundra. “We had to get tickets on the Texas side, but that is ok, I will proudly wear my Ole Miss colors tonight!” Chris agreed, saying,”We both love Ole Miss and I would have had to start sleeping on the couch if we didn’t come to this game!” He quipped. “We are really excited and looking forward to it.
Ole Miss football was supposed to be something that Dean and Gail Stevens were making a part of their life in order to watch their son, Park play. Park, who played his high school ball at New Hope, had joined the Rebels in time for spring drills in 2013, and was anxiously anticipating competing for playing time on the offensive line this fall. Dean and Gail were excited for their youngest son taking advantage of the opportunity to play the game he loved and made plans to attend all of the games in support of their son. After all, they had supported him from the time he was old enough to walk, no matter what sport he was playing or the location of the event. If Park was playing, Dean and Gail were there. Those plans took a tragic turn on July 3rd when Park was killed in a single vehicle accident coming home from summer classes.
True to their plans though, Dean and Gail Stevens have picked up the pieces and have every intention of following through with the plans they made to attend all of the games. The Texas game is no exception. When asked about their resolve to continue on and follow the team in spite of the loss of their son, Gail Stevens answered as only a woman of Faith could, “We planned to be there to support our son just like we did when he was in junior high, and the fact that he is not here anymore doesn’t mean that we should cancel everything and forget about all these other kids that have become such an important part of our lives. Instead of having just one kid on the team, we have a whole team of players that call me mom now.” Dean echoed those sentiments,
“We are just doing what Park would want us to do,” he said. “Park always brought home players from the team and they all became like family, and after they loved us and held us up like they did when Park died, there was no way we weren’t going to be there and support them, wherever they play. Besides, Park’s roommate Robert Conyers is wearing Park’s number in his honor, so number 75 is still taking the ﬁeld for the Rebels.” When asking Robert’s father, Robert Conyers Sr. about the importance of the Steven’s being there to support the team and his son, he said, “Robert loved Park and he wanted to wear his number to honor his teammate and friend. When he asked Dean and Gail for their permission to wear Park’s number, their sincere appreciation made my son want to play even harder to honor his friend and his family.”
The huge contingent of Rebel fans that made the once in a century trip to Austin all had different underlying motives for making the trip; but they all had one thing in common, their love for Ole Miss football. These fans are excited about the prospects of having a program that they can be proud of, one that can step onto the ﬁeld with anyone, one that is consistently competing at a high level. They all came because they know that Ole Miss is close, and they want to be able to truthfully say, I was there when…Ole Miss beat Texas at Texas.