In the awesome movie "300," one guy in a skirt says to another guy in a skirt, "Oh shit, the Persians have like, a million archers. Word on the street is that their arrows block out the sun." This guy is a pussy, obviously. But that other guy, total badass, evidenced by his baller (h/t Icehouse, resident dean of urban slang) retort: "THEN WE SHALL FIGHT IN THE SHADE."
Let's be clear about a couple of things: Boogie Cousins don't wear no skirt, and Starkville is a long walk from Persia. Yet the Wildcats of Kentucky fought under similarly daunting conditions, knocking down improbable jumperz and jamz whilst artfully dodging the slings and bottles of an outrageous drunk student section. Things looked bleak for the heroes in Blue, trailing by 7 without any momentum, the Bulldog faithful frothing at their tobaccostained mouths, and only 3:00 on the clock. Would anyone survive?
The backstory. Mississippi State's unruly band of "students" undoubtedly broke numerous laws concerning intellectual property, privacy, and decency by illegally obtaining DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins' cell phone number and posting it in the common areas around their nests and lairs. Soon thereafter, Cousins received death threats, racist text messages (how bourgeoisie!), and marriage proposals. All 1,000 MSU students with access to cell phones beleagured the promising student athlete leading up to the Tuesday night showdown on ESPN.
I patched up the tear in my kevlar from the '08 game and made the drive in my Mad-Max like dunebuggy of death. Several days later, I arrived in Starkville. After bartering for a ticket with a shifty-eyed scalper in head to toe camouflage lurking outside the parking lot, I made my way to the entrance. While cold outside, the temperature in their primitive arena, known collocquially as "The Hump" (undoubtedly some pathetic attempt at sexual innuendo) was hovering somewhere around 98.6F.
I knew we were in for a rough time when they brought out a 14 year old paramilitary fiddle prodigy going by the alias of "Ruby Jane Smith" to perform the Star Spangled Banner. Decked out in strange snakeskin boots, the crowd crowed with delight at her blasphemous, unsung, improvisational bastardization of the National Anthem. Ladies and gentlemen, you can't make this stuff up. How would I escape with my life?
The arena had been laid out in advance with color coordinated t-shirts; every other section had either a maroon or white shirt, most likely to accommodate patrons who arrived half nude. The effect was a dizzying pinwheel of snorting throngs, hurling insults and broken teeth at any of the few Kentucky fans within range. Wearing a bright blue hat and parka over my Kevlar, all I could do is hope for a genetic preponderance toward colorblindness in my section. Luck finally smiled upon me as the several towels I brought to mop up the whiskeycokes sure to be thrown in my direction went unused until midway through the first half.
Boogie Cousins was more than a man, he was a warrior. Straddling Kody Augustus in midair on his way to a dunk, he took no pity on his underfed opponents. Pity is for the weak. There was simply no room for compassion on this day. While Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Liggins sought to test the limits of existential competiton by hitting only one shot apiece between their collective 13 attempts, John Wall and Darius Miller fought on for the Blue, keeping the score close in the worst conditions imaginable.
The game itself was frought with lead changes and intense competition. The brave but mentally challenged referees struggled to keep up with the action, frequently blowing their whistles when startled by the inhumane atrocities taking place in the booster section. Not wanting to look as though they blew their whistle in self defense, they relied instead on statistical tendencies moreso than observation of the game, awarding several bizarre calls to the Wildcats.
Smelling blood in the water, the frenzied Maroons dug their teeth into the poor bastard zebras; a hunter myself, it was all I could do to keep from putting the poor creatures out of their misery. It was like watching a blind mink in a snare, surrounded by wolves; dancing, flailing in a vain attempt at intimidation. I feared we may share a common fate.
As the second half drew to a close, I nearly prayed for defeat - perhaps that would calm these people down enough to permit my deliverance back to civilization. The man they call Black Kool Aid was immune to my cowardice, and drained a jaw-dropping baseline jumper with just seconds remaining, leveling the score. At the other end of the court, someone named Barry Stewart, probably in the witness protection program, attempted to lean into his defender as he attempted a three, twisting in the air and impressing all with his agility. The shot was an airball, and the game headed toward overtime.
With their "techno" and "hip hop" anthems deafening overhead, Jimmy Dykes and the ESPN crew courageously worked late into the night, here in this gallery of death off Highway 45. MSU's emaciated shot blocker, Jarvis Varnado, fouled out at the inept hands of the ref in regulation, nearly ensuring a Kentucky victory. As a sportsman, this saddened me as we all wanted State's best shot (figuratively).
Now things were really getting out of hand. A referee was nearly hit by a full bottle of fluid flung from the rafters, thumping on the floor and cratering the parquet as it ricocheted to the side. Several more cups, crags of ice, and stinking booze laden beverages followed; thank goodness these people forgot their hatchets and tomahawks. The bloodbath would have been unimaginable. Seconds ticked off the clock. Victory was in hand. Death was most certainly near.
Friends, I know now that I cannot call myself a man. I could feel the collective heartbeat of the mob through the concrete floor. All around me, my bretheren were in peril. In a panic, I threw on the maroon shirt laid in my chair before tip off, lit my program on fire, and joined the torchlit masses of State fans in the march to the parking lot. As they beat their drums and sharpened their knives, I slipped off into the night, cold sweat pouring off my shaking limbs. I return to you a traitor, a coward.
But I can say one thing. I went to Starkville, and I survived. In the words of Brother Icehouse, ball don't lie.