I knew next to nothing about Mississippi State University

I knew next to nothing about Mississippi State University. Something deep inside told me they didn’t like Ole Miss. I remember they had some terrific baseball teams under Coach Ron Polk back in the eighties. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t invent cowbells, they’ve just taken them to new heights.

Everything I knew about Starkville, Mississippi, I learned in a Johnny Cash song.

It wasn’t hard to find the college once I found the city limits. The football stadium is the tallest building in town. And I really hadn’t come for the football game. Cathy’s sister’s oldest daughter chose to attend Mississippi State four years ago. My brother’s son and his beautiful wife (who attended MSU) were gracious enough to give us tickets…… You made need a family roster to get through this article!

We met Catherine at Stromboli’s. It’s an Italian place somewhere near the campus. Of course, everything in town is “somewhere near” the campus! I ordered the Friday special and pulled my cap down to my eyebrows. I was the oldest guy in the joint…..by a heap and a half! I had running shoes older than these people!

The eatery was inundated with a myriad of maroon and white clad youth. It was so crowded I was near ’bout rubbing elbows with a young lady of Oriental heritage munching on a pineapple and ham pizza at the next table. I leaned over and asked her how she felt about Dan Mullen.

You can learn a lot about any university when you get a discussion going concerning the current football coach. Unless he’d won eleven games the previous year, beaten Alabama and been invited to the Sugar Bowl, most students/fans are dissatisfied, disappointed, angry and all too ready to back the moving van up to his front door.

Head Coach Dan Mullen had won ten games only once in the eight previous seasons at Mississippi State. His record was above .500 but it was not spectacular by any means. I was prepared for the negative, or at least, ambivalent response. What I got was, “Oh gosh, he is the best coach in the nation.”

I liked to have choked on a piece of ravioli.

The boyfriend chimed in, “We are lucky to have him. He is such a good person and a fantastic coach!”

“Are you guys somehow related to Coach Mullen?” I had to ask.

“Heck no, but I wish we were. Everyone on campus loves him.”

I spent the rest of the afternoon and all of Saturday checking that statement out. I didn’t meet one person who disagreed with this initial assessment. I was amazed. Every student I met was positive and upbeat about the school, town, Coach Mullen and life. I’m telling you, it was refreshing.

No one asked if I fought in World War I or was I out of work during the Great Depression. These college kids actually seemed pleased I’d chosen to spend a couple of days with them. They were as polite and respectful a group of young people as I had encountered in a long time. And I wish you could have seen the pride in Catherine’s bearing as she toured us around HER university campus.

We all know the negatives reverberating throughout our land these days. How weary that has become on all of us. It can beat you down. Make you lose hope. We came to Mississippi State to take a favorite niece out to dinner. This visit had become way more than a family get together.

I didn’t hear a curse word or a hateful statement the entire weekend. As we were walking to the stadium for the kick off security guards were smiling and welcoming us to the game. Tailgaters were offering us chicken wings and turkey legs. Every person on the premises was simply enjoying all life had to offer on this spectacular October day in northern Mississippi.

Maybe I’ve been hanging around too many old people.

Before the game they put a picture of Coach Mullen up on the Jumbotron. Everybody in the stadium (except the few who had traveled from Provo) stood up and cheered. By now I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Heck, I was ringing a cowbell in each hand and leading the ovation in our section!

What a refreshing, meaningful, educational and uplifting week-end. And I’ve figured out a perfect way to perpetuate it. I have convinced Cathy that we need to have another child, or two…….so we can send them to Mississippi State one day…...