Thirty-two years ago today, a redshirt freshman defensive back for Ole Miss broke up a Vanderbilt pass over the middle one morning and never walked again. I was at that game, sitting with my dad in almost the exact same seats that I sit with family today. I have never heard as loud a hit as Chucky’s hit on Brad Gaines, and likewise, I have never a stadium fall to an eerie hush like I did that October day. The silence was deafening. Chucky never walked again, but he came back to the team. He inspired everyone who encountered him, and his story has inspired thousands more.
Since that afternoon, I have seen the Rebels play God knows how many games, and they’ve probably disappointed me as much as they’ve thrilled me over the years. I’ve cheered for goal line stands and quarterback throwbacks. I saw the Deuce get loose and Eli tumble coming out from under center. When I was in law school, Tommy T left in the cover of darkness one night and it wasn’t in a pine box like he promised. I’ve seen a 7 overtime game and I’ve seen opposing teams kneel on the ball at midfield to show us an embarrassing brand of mercy. At some point, Coach O assured me that Brent Schaeffer was the answer and after a couple games, I couldn’t help but wonder what in the hell was the question? Reverend Hugh promised we would be relevant again and I’ll be damned if Katy Perry and I weren’t in the same stadium to witness Senquez intercept a pass and the goal posts come down in the pandemonium that followed. Many years, the lows of the meltdown reached nuclear levels and I walked out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium wondering why I continue to put myself through this damn torture. But just like Mississippi itself, just when you think the Rebels have hit the bottom, we rally forward to exhilarating heights, flying playsheets and all. No matter what, I’m aboard the train, to use a popular metaphor around Oxford these days.
As I look back, my true lesson from Chucky Mullins is greater than any stupid football game. The real takeaway is that the greatest blessing we have in our lives is family. When times are tough, it’s the only thing that really matters. Chucky’s journey taught us that qualities like faith, love, resilience, and courage transcend the insignificant things like wins and losses. Life is about the look on a child’s face when it’s time for the opening kickoff and anything is possible. Life is about knowing that child’s father has the exact same look on his face at that exact time, no matter how old or jaded he pretends to be. It’s the marvel in a young boy’s eyes when he listens to another tired story about his granddad rooting for that same team through thick and thin. It’s a tie that binds. I would do anything to go to one more Ole Miss game with my Dad. I cherish those memories of just the two of us on a two-lane road after a game. Maybe one day my own boys will look back at our own late night trips and smile as much as I do when we make those trips together. Maybe one day they will have kids of their own and make their own memories at these games. Wouldn’t that be something?
Our team will not win every game. Hell, some years it seems like our team won’t win any games. But Chucky is right. Families never quit. Thanks, 38.