Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ackbaristan: Why Ole Miss Could Have the Greatest Mascot in Sports

If you follow the sports blogs, you may be familiar with this story already. If you don't, I'm not sure how you got here but you may still have heard the story on NPR this morning. What story? The one about the University of Mississippi considering the  adoption of Admiral Ackbar as its new mascot. I am going to give you a couple of seconds to consider how awesome that is. Need a few more as you replay this scene in your head? No worries.

And, yeah, this is for real. The students of Ole Miss voted on February 23 to replace their long-standing mascot, Colonel Reb, as he was a bit too evocative of the Confederacy and slavery and all that jazz...ok, well, not jazz but you know blatant racism. Decades after racism became "uncool," Ole Miss persisted in trotting out the Colonel during athletic events to inspire the crowd. In 2003, the university discontinued the use of Colonel Reb during games but he still fires up a mean barbecue at tail-gating events.

Sadly, for Colonel, who really is a swell guy once you get past his preference for Civil War era deodorant, times have changed. The university needs a new mascot and he is no longer fit for the role.  The young people of today want their mascots to be dressed up in a little irony. No matter how many babies he's kissed, alumni functions he's MC'd or Daughters of the American Revolution he has sired, it seems the Colonel has come to the end of his run. What may be adding insult to injury for the old-timer Colonel Reb loyalists is that he is going to be replaced with what looks like an bipedal, overcooked calamari. And, I can tell you, the fine folks standing behind the Colonel don't even like to say the word calamari with all it's papist insinuation.

But more than the look of Admiral Ackbar (who outranks the Colonel by the way), it is what he represents that galls the Ole Guard in Oxford. He is the apotheosis of multi-culturalism. What kind of name is Ackbar, anyhow? Sounds suspiciously Arab to many ears in Mississippi. Sure, he may lead the fleet of the "rebellion" and that, of course, gives the YouTube generation the dose of irony they require in their pop culture figures. But he is also the head of a multi-racial force that tosses around ranks and accolades like they were trophies in a suburban soccer league. General Calrissian? Backers of the Colonel want to know what exactly were his qualifications? Let's see: Lando ran a remote gas mining outpost too small to be noticed by the Empire (think Mayor of Butte, Montana), betrayed his old friend, felt bad about it after being double-crossed by Darth Vader (shock) and then decides, sure, he'll join the alliance so long as he gets his old ship back and is promised he can star in as many Colt. 45 commercials as he desires. And you make him a general? According to many alumni, this is exactly the kind of liberal, affirmative action agenda that Ole Miss athletics can ill-afford.

If that's what it takes to be a general, what are the requirements for admiral? That you are the one Sea Monkey that survives the toxic fish bowl purchased with sales of Grits magazine? It is preposterous according to Col. Reb loyalists. He offends their sense of history. But, of course, this overlooks the most salient fact of Admiral Ackbar's candidacy: He orchestrated the greatest upset in the history of interstellar warfare. Think about it. He took a ragtag fleet with the likes of this guy at the helms of his ships...

...and somehow managed to destroy a new, more powerful and, might I add, fully-operational Death Star with the Emperor himself on board. That would be like Ole Miss waltzing into Tuscaloosa and beating the pants off the Crimson Tide. The last time that happened? 1988. Since 1894 when Ole Miss first played Alabama, the Rebels have won nine times for an overall record of 9-43-2 in the rivalry. Let's be clear, Ole Miss needs all the help it can get. A mascot who played such a pivotal role in the upset to end all upsets can't be a bad guy to have your sidelines.

There is another problem for the Col. Reb supporters; they actually don't have that much history or tradition on their side. Sure, the Rebels have been getting pasted by Alabama for more than a century, but the mascot, Colonel Reb? He has been witnessing the beatings only since 1979. It's true. The bastion of Ole Miss tradition is younger than Space Invaders or Abba. For that matter, he is only four years older than Admiral Ackbar, the rival for his seat. It's tough to claim the high ground for tradition when you are the same age as roller blades and the Walkman.

Still, if I had to guess, there is little doubt that Admiral Ackbar will not be the mascot for the Ole Miss Rebels in the near future. Why not? Because the university would have to pillage their entire endowment just to pay for the rights to use a character created by George Lucas. In the end it comes down to money. So look for an inoffensive and unhumorous mascot to appear on the sidelines of Ole Miss games soon. If Stanford can have a spastic pine tree as their mascot, why not a shambling clump of kudzu for Ole Miss? Surely that will drive enrollment more than a beloved character from the most popular movie franchise of all time.

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