Since I could not hide my excitement for the football, friends around me started to include me in different games and other football-connected gatherings, like TV football nights or sport debates. This weekend I went to my third game. It was Saturday afternoon, and Mississippi State was playing Louisiana Lafayette. I drove down there from Jackson for two hours with Mike, his wife Judy and Jay. We discussed all kinds of cultural and social differences between Europeans and Americans, especially how men and women interact in which country.
Mike and Judy met when they were still teenagers, because their parents’ houses where right across each other. “We get along very well, me and my wife, because we are so similar,” he said to me once. “People that are different can be attracted to each other in short terms, but it can hardly work for a long run.” I agree with that, and it is not easy to find a similar soul. Mike and Judy have three beautiful children who are now amazing adults with their own families. Two of them are lawyers and the daughter is a physician. Their parents for sure did something right!
On the way up to Starkville, I was freezing in the car as usual, so Judy covered me in a warm blanket with the Mississippi State logo on it, and Mike handed me his cowbell. I had no idea what does it mean and it did not occur to me at the time how important piece of iron that is for the State fans.
Mike did a great job in organizing our trip, and the University President Dr. Keenum arranged the President’s box tickets together with the parking pass near the stadium. When we were driving through the campus, everything was shockingly maroon! The houses, buses, people’s clothes, even college police car had a maroon sign on it. The stadium was huge, and all around it there were different kinds of tents with lots of foods and drinks. “What is this, it cannot be real, is this tailgating?” I asked Jay. People were preparing for the show, and at this point, it was already a spectacle.
Around 4:00 the crowd moved to the closed road, waiting for something or someone. It was the football players, coming out of the busses, entering the crowd. It got loud! People cheering, cowbells ringing, now I started to understand it’s significance. When the team’s quarterback Fitzgerald came out, fans got crazy, screaming his name and shaking their bells more and more. I understood immediately why small children and football players wore earphones. To protect their ears from the noise, it was already like a war field.
The Bully was there, high fiving and hugging children. I enjoyed the Bully, he was not a typical mascotte, he was much more “inapproachable” like other mascottes I have dealt with before. He was walking around acting like he is choosing with whom to interact, it was not easy to get him near you. Almost like some kind of a celebrity. I do not know whether that is just the character of a person wearing it, or the role of the “Bully”. But I was super happy when he blew me a kiss from a distance. I caught it in the air, squeeze it to my heart and roll my eyes.
On our way to the stadium, we met Mr. Norman Bailey, a coach and a father of a former MSU football player. I asked him why football is so important to the American society and he answered: “It is religion. It’s part of our lives. We grew up with it, we love Mississippi State, and there’s no other team! In the family, you can be Ole Miss or Mississippi State. In my family, we are all Mississippi State fans, but one exception…” I teased him: “So this is bad? You cannot be Ole Miss?”
“No… No… you cannot! What country are you from?” he asked me.
I said “Slovenia”
“If Slovenia played Ole Miss, I would pull for Slovenia,” he explained.
When we entered the stadium, I realized how big it is. It was my first time at the stadium that holds so many people, and we were on the college’s property. Soon the cheerleaders came out, cheering wildely and calling the team. And then..the dog walk happened. When I saw the little dog-bulldog marching all over the field with a person who had him on leash I though how can an animal feel in all this crowd screeming and ringing cowbells?! Does it bother him? Or he just enjoys his fame like other participants do? After few minutes the marching band came in, young people with different instruments, it was a whole orchestra!
The tension went higher and higher, with the big screen and music sound effects, until we all heard the voice from a movie clip: “I have a fever, and the only prescription is… MORE COWBELL!” I recognized Christopher Walken, from the Saturday SNL Show who actually opened the floor for more ringing. The crowd got wild and the football players literally exploded from the passage. The fire and smoke went out and they ran out on the field while all stadium was on their feet cheering loudly and shaking their cowbells. I have never seen anything like this and I had no idea American college football is such a spectacular activity.
While watching the game, standing on the field, I had perfect look over the happening. Mrs. Judy was standing beside me, explaining the game for me and I was impressed to listen to a lady talking about football so seriously, and discussing strategy of the game which such a passion. Every time when the voice from the speaker announced “first down bulldogs!”, the crowd went yelling: “hail state!!!” accompanied, of course, with the loud bell ringing.
On my left, there was a young teenager with long blond hair, still in high school, but a huge Mississippi State fan. She told me she just ordered her cowbell over internet, and it came over mail on the game day. It was extra decorated, with a bulldog painted on it, and a beautiful shiny bow tied over it. Her father took her to the game, standing behind her and making sure the boys are not hitting on her. When a male acrobatic cheerleader threw a look towards her, he pointed with her finger on her and said: “don’t you even think about it!”
She got mad and sent him to sit on the seats to her mother.
It was my first big college football game. And because of the cowbell, my ears were hurting for two more days.