Here’s Brownie Criss, all dressed up and ready for an early 1960s Ole Miss weekend. Like everyone else in our family, her fall Saturdays revolved around that little ear plug in Russell’s left ear, snaking down to a Philco or GE transistor radio, usually on the back porch. In those pre-SEC Network days, you could pretty well estimate the score by the number of cigarettes piling up in the green beanbag ashtray by his chair. Close game, a whole pack of Salems. Runaway Ole Miss victory (which happened fairly frequently in those Johnny Vaught decades), just a few smoldering smokes. If he’d smile and wink at you across the porch, it was safe to go over and crawl up in his lap, because the Rebels were having a good day. If he had his eyes closed and arms crossed, it was best to go on outside and pick up some pecans or take a bike ride.
Russell never took a class at Ole Miss. I don’t know that he ever had the money to see a game as a teenager. He was one of those kids who got hammered by Depression and War and football Saturdays were meant for someone else, for boys with nice cars and more than one suit and some money in the bank. But somewhere along the way, on those fall weekends in the 1920s and 1930s Delta, the essence of the Ole Miss Rebels was engraved on his soul, and it never left. The words, “Hotty Toddy,” never crossed his lips and he never pulled against anyone else’s team except LSU, but he lived and breathed and soared and suffered with the Rebels until the day he died. I had a standing date with him for the Veterans Stadium games in Jackson during the early 1970s, and those are some of my very best memories. He’s pull up at my MC dorm, beep the horn, and ask me “Ready for some football, Charlie?” as I got in the car. Was I ready? “Hell, yes, damn right…..”
Tomorrow is as big a Saturday in Oxford as there’s ever been. I’ll be there with Russell’s grandson and I’ll try my best to be as even-tempered as he was, no matter the outcome. And I will send up a quiet thanks to the man who taught me that caring deeply about something that, honestly, is just a game, is OK. We’re ready.