Football greatness lives in you

Published 12:02am Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Forget the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, most of you would be much better at the four degrees of Southern football.

I’ll play, just to give you an example. Let’s just use Sunday’s Super Bowl coaches as our goal.

Pretend, for a second, that I suddenly discovered, Saturday, a crucial bit of information that I just knew Giants coach Tom Coughlin would need before the big game.

One would presume that Coughlin would never in a million years take a call from me on the day before the Super Bowl, and your presumption would most likely be right.

But I could get to him in four calls or less, I believe.

First, I’d call former Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat. I was the editor of the student newspaper at Ole Miss for two years while Khayat was at the helm. He got to know me well. My editorials were certainly a thorn in his side then, but I believe he’d take a phone call from me today.

From there, I’m quite sure Khayat could quickly get a line in to Archie Manning, a close friend of Ole Miss for many reasons.

You see where this is going now. Archie would contact his youngest son, Eli. And Eli could, of course, get a message to Coughlin.

But the game’s not over yet. Let’s presume, in our theoretical, made-up world, that it’s Bill Belichick I’m hoping to reach.

This one doesn’t even take four calls for most Natchezians.

I attend church with Stevan Ridley’s mother. She’s a friend, and she’d take my call, I’m confident. Stevan would surely answer her call and have a pretty direct line to his coach, Belichick.

My examples are fairly easily duplicated by a large number of Mississippians. It’s not that we — and I’ll extend that “we” to the other Southern states as well — are all that connected to famous folks, it’s just that our region produces football greatness.

You saw that on Sunday. Of the 100-plus players from the combined rosters of the Giants and Patriots, 57 percent attended college in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia or Florida.

Mississippi laid claim to five players on the active list Sunday — Eli Manning; Giants linebacker and former University of Southern Mississippi standout Michael Boley; Madison native at Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski; Ole Miss grad and Patriots star BenJarvus Green-Ellis; and, of course, Natchez native Stevan Ridley.

Ridley didn’t see any playing time in the game, which was disappointing. But he was clearly visible on the sidelines several times during the biggest game of the year. And that in itself is an achievement of which he and his family should be mightily proud.

Ridley’s young and his has plenty of chances to make it back to a Super Bowl.

He’s the shining star of Natchez athletics these days, but with a track record like our area has, he won’t be the last star.

Today’s young athletes at Natchez High, Cathedral, Trinity, ACCS and across the river in Louisiana are connected to greatness in just a few short steps. That, hopefully, will inspire them to set goals high, work hard and stay on the right path.

Sports aren’t everything, but in this neck of the woods they are reason enough to cancel church services — just ask around, it happened Sunday night.

So as long as we continue to emphasize sports on every level, you can rest assured the South will produce good athletes who make us proud.

And even if you didn’t attend classes alongside Stevan Ridley or Eli Manning (I enrolled at Ole Miss alongside him in 1999, and had he not red-shirted, we would have graduated together) you have plenty of homegrown football greatness to which to lay claim this week.

 

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.