2014 is here! But it started off inauspiciously. Actually, 2014 started off just fine; it was 2013 that didn’t end so well. After an excellent Christmas with family up in Virginia and an impromptu visit from Czech IMD friends in North Carolina, Katie and I flew to Memphis to cheer on the Rice Owls in the Liberty Bowl.
Rice earned its second consecutive bowl appearance by winning the Conference USA football championship and this New Year’s Eve game had all the ingredients to be an historic win for Rice. If the Owls were to have won, they would have achieved the first 11-win season in the history of the school – and the first back-to-back bowl wins. We wanted to be there not only to support the team but also to witness the momentous occasion!
However, it wouldn’t be easy. Our opponent was Mississippi State. The Bulldogs definitely weren’t the best team in the SEC, but the SEC is the best conference in college football, so they could still be very good. Indeed, when I looked into them, it turns out that all of their losses were to top 25 ranked opponents. Yikes! Still, we were hopeful, especially given how well Rice had played earlier in the season against the SEC’s Texas A&M.
We flew into Memphis late the evening of Dec. 30. We were too late to attend any of the official Rice events so we headed immediately to Beale Street, grabbed a table at Rum Boogie, and met up with others for a night of Bourbon, blues, and BBQ!
New Year’s Eve started off nicely. It was cold but sunny – great football weather! After picking up some Rice souvenirs on Beale Street, we headed over to the Liberty Bowl for a pre-game meal. There wasn’t much there for my vegetarian wife, but there was plenty of Memphis BBQ for me. It was great to spend time with other Rice alumni, many of whom we hadn’t seen for years, especially many of my former teammates.
As the afternoon wore on, we made our way into the stadium in preparation for the opening kickoff. As expected, this would basically be a home game for Mississippi State. Not only are they a much larger school than Rice, they’re also located just over the state line from Memphis. As such, the stadium was almost all red, with just a few splotches of Rice blue.
Mississippi State also has a tradition of ringing cowbells to cheer on their team, so they were not only a big crowd, but a loud one too. I knew the only way to shut them up would be to score touchdowns. And that’s exactly what Rice did! Early in the first quarter, Rice drove on Mississippi State and took the lead 7-0. The sun was shining and this game was starting off right!
Let me cut right to the chase, though: that was the last time we scored all day. It quickly became dark and cold and Mississippi State dominated the Owls for a final score of 44-7. It was brutal. To add to the misery of the experience, I was feeling increasingly nauseous for the duration of the second half. When we finally left the stadium, I threw up in the parking lot. While I would like to blame it on an overdose of prescription-strength cow bell, it seems pretty clear that it was food poisoning, although I’m not sure from what.
We were among the last to leave as we stuck around in the cold and dark to help a new Rice friend find her car. My condition precluded me from attending a New Year’s Eve dinner I had helped organize at the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street. I showed up just to make sure everything was set – and it looked like a great time – but then I headed home to recuperate.
Both the outcome of the game and my brief sickness were big disappointments in this trip. Still, I had a good time with some great people, so I really can’t complain. I’m really proud of what Rice football has accomplished over the last few seasons and I hope they are able to build on it. 2014 is already off to a great start for me (feeling much better!) so here’s hoping for a fantastic new year for you all too!