The rise and fall of Colonel Reb as the Ole Miss mascot may be considered the history of the University of Mississippi itself.
"Blind Jim" Ivy was born in Alabma in 1870. Ivy was the son of former slave Matilda Ivy. JIm Ivy was blinded in his early teens from coal tar paint. The paint got into his eyes while he was painting the Tallahatchie River Bridge. According to legend, Ivy was then trained in ninja skills by an elderly blind man named "Stick." Ivy also developed his 'radar sense' at this time. Ivy left Alabama permanently in 1890. He found that the grass was indeed greener in Mississippi. Alabama is known for brown weedy grass that you have to have metal attachments on your legs to run through. In 1896, Ivy became part of the 'Ole Miss' family. Since one day soon 'Ole Miss' may not be associated with the school anymore, 'Ole Miss' refers to the University of Mississippi. 'Blind Jim' was a beloved figure on campus. 'Blind Jim' sold peanuts at football games. Ivy was fond of saying he never 'saw' Ole Miss lose a football game. Ivy also had the unofficial title and nickname of 'Dean of Freshmen.' On campus, Ivy would often greet as well as give talks to new incoming students. according to Ole Miss historian David Sansing, 'Blind Jim' Ivy may have been the inspiration for the original cartoon of 'Colonel Reb.' The picture, as we know it, appeared on the Ole Miss yearbook in 1937. David Sansing attributed Ivy as the inspiration for Colonel Reb to the 'late Frank Everett.' You can see Ivy at an Ole Miss Football game here http://vimeo.com/9387535
A year after 'Blind Jim' Ivy stepped foot on campus, there was a contest for a nickname for the University of Mississippi. The winning entry in 1897 was to refer to the school as 'Ole Miss.' In the beginning, the University of Mississippi athletic teams were known as the Mississippi Flood. This did not really seem any more ridiculous than naming your sports teams 'The Crmson Tide' of 'The Green Wave.' Apparently, in the post reconstruction South, multicolored natural disasters were not all that uncommon. Forturnately, for the Southeast region, there were more than enough Tigers and Bulldogs in the area to combat such disasters. By 1936, the University of Mississippi athletics teams noticed that no one one would really praise thier name until 1975 when the Doobie Brothers released Black Water. In the abscence of some funky dixieland, Ole Miss wanted a new nickname. A contest was held to determine the new nickname for the athletic teams. "Rebels' was the top choice. In an interesting side note, the number two choice (in so many ways) was "Ole Massas." "Ole Massas" would have been a direct reference to slave ownership. "Ole Massas" would also not have allowed quite so many Star Wars references in this article. In 1936, there was now the perfect storm of 'Ole Miss,' 'Blind Jim Ivy,' and the 'Rebels' all as fixtures on campus.
There is one undisputable fact. The picture of Colonel Reb that has existed through the decades first appeared in the 1937 Ole Miss year book. There are a few differing theories as to where the exact image of Colonel Reb came from. A popular theory is that Colonel Reb was drawn by the yearbook's art editor Billy Hix. The second theory contends that Colonel Reb was representative of the newly formed 'Rebel Club.' The 'Rebel Club' was formed in honor of the newly created nickname. There is an even smaller portion of the population which believes the original image of Colonel Reb was first seen in a golden tablet transcribed by the prophet Joseph Smith. This would make the image one handed down by God. the difficulty with this theory is twofold. First, this article is the first one to actually speak this theory out loud. Second, the 'Golden Plate' theory makes much of the history of the University of Mississippi a conspiracy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. At any rate, the 1937 yearbook image is the same image that has been passed down through generations of 'Ole Miss Rebel' fans. The image has adorned all sorts of Ole Miss memorabilia including shirts, sweaters, hats, bumper stickers, and even beer mugs. Beer Mugs are a personal favorite of Ole Miss students as well as alumni.
Detractors of the 'Colonel Reb' mascot will often point out that the mascot as Colonel Reb only started to appear on Ole Miss sidelines in 1979. This is true. The inference being that you cannot really count something as a 'tradition' when the 'tradition' is younger than George Lucas' imagination of a space western. There are a few counter points to this. In addition to the cartoon being in the Ole Miss yearbook in 1937, Ole Miss has regularly voted a male student as 'Colonel Reb' since 1940. The voting of an annual 'Colonel Reb' on campus continues to this day. Before being voted 'Colonel Reb,' the student was actually voted as 'The Madis Gras King.' The male student may or may not have referred to himself as 'The Lizard King' as a shortened version. The irony of all of this is that one of the former 'Colonel Rebs' is later Chancellor 'Darth' Robert Khayat. So who was patrolling Ole Miss sidelines BEFORE the seemingly gentile old plantantion owner with a whoop ass walking stick for runaway slaves, you might ask? The answer would be a male student dressed as a Confederate soldier (in gray uniform) carrying the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. So yes, the cartton caricature of the 1937 yearbook started patrolling the sidelines during the Jimmy Carter administration but the symbol and 'Colonel Reb' date back to pre-World War 2.
Colonel Reb, as a sideline mascot, appeared at every Ole Miss athletic event from 1979 - 2003. Colonel Reb was portrayed during the time by an active student male cheerleader. Former Ole Miss male cheerleaders included prestigious senators Trent Lott (who is a former Senate Majority leader) as well as former Senator Thad Cochran. They were men in tights (TIGHT TIGHTS!!) but they were butch. A quick search was inconclusive as to whether either of these hallowed statesmen actually wore the Colonel Reb mascot uniform. From 1979-1983, there was the popular image of Ole Miss football athletics. These were the only four years in which there was the Confederate Flag run around the field after a touchdown, Colonel Reb on the sidelines, and the band playing Dixie in the stands. These popular images occured exclusively while Steve Sloan was roaming the sidelines as the Ole Miss Football coach. When Billy Brewer succeeded Sloan, the Confederate Flag was dropped as an 'on field' symbol. The flag would be the first of many traditions associated with Ole Miss athletics to go away in successive years.
In 1995, the unpopular reign of Supreme Chancellor Gerald Turner was coming to an end. Turner had been an outsider to Ole Miss. The feeling on campus was that Darth Mustang was attempting to change too much about the proud traditions of the University of Mississippi. It was neccessary then to get one of the hallowed alumni ... to destroy and gut every single tradition from within. Despite making proclamtions like 'I love democracy,' Khayat soon found a friendly army of Clonetroopers in the Associated Student Body Senate. Thier first order of business was to rid Ole Miss athletic events once and for all of the harmful scourge of ... sticks. Yes, sticks. These dangerous weapons of mass destruction had the ability to not only annoy and splinter but could also possibly poke an eye out. The fact that the sticks also could carry attached to them small plastic or cloth Confederate flags was irrellevant. Wood sticks or plastic sticks were equally dangerous. The ones lurking in the pants of frat boys were deemed a time honored tradition. In 1997, the most binding student resolution ever put on a University was passed and immeadiately supported by the board of Trustees. Sticks (and any cloth flags attached to them) were forever banned from Ole Miss athletic events. It would have all been OK if the flags were attached to something soft and cuddly.... like a cowbell. Every one knows that there is no possibility of a big honking metal cowbell ever presenting any kind of danger or annoyance to any one. After all, once Will Ferrell said that there was a need for more cowbell, that ended that discussion right there. Who is out there supporting the cause of sticks? Sadly, only Harry Potter and Charlie Sheen have argued for sticks to return. Well, one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spoke up for sticks as well. Once the sticks were banned and Sith Apprentice / Athletic Director Pete Boone was granted 'emergency powers' that last over a decade, the Close Army could begin its assault. anyone opposed to the changes was branded a 'White Knight of the Old Confederacy.' With sticks gone, Colonel Reb was given his retirement papers to the Kudzu Swamp of Degobah in 2003. In 2009, the Ole Miss band was 'asked' to stop playing Dixie. It is doubtful that Billy Joel will be penning a song about how THAT music died. Despite cries by the Ole Miss faithful of 'You were the chosen one! You were supposed to destroy the Sith, not join them!!!,' Darth Khayat had mostly accomplished his mission. As a former national champion and Colonel Reb himself, Khayat removed the Colonel reb mascot from consciousness.
With the Clone Wars drawing to a close, it was important to not only injure the fallen but insult them as well. The first attempt at choosing a new mascot was unsuccessffull and relatively shortly after Colonel Reb was sent off to the Degobah System. Initially, there were two choices offered as the 'new mascot.' The choices were the 'Rowdy Reb' and the 'Rebel Bruiser.' Essentially, this looked like you could vote for former WWF Superstar Billy Graham or Mace Windu as the new mascot for the Ole Miss sidelines. The polling was in 2003. The most favored choice seemed to be 'none of the above.' Less than ten percent of available voters bothered to cast a ballot. This was an impressive show of apathy even for students normally known to only top national polls in partying (and little else.) The University decided to go forth without a mascot. It may have even been privately decided that the matter will not come up for a vote again 'until a black man is President.' Faster than Homer Simpson could say 'D'oh,' 2010 was upon everyone. The Sith brain trust decided that a mere two bad choices was not nearly enough bad choices in a mascot search. The administration did have to defeat a new attempt by 'rebel scum' to implement thier own mascot. As such, Rebel Leader Admiral Ackbar was never put on the list of possible new mascots. There were 11 choices: Hotty and Toddy, a black bear, a blues musician, a cardinal, a fanatic, a horse, a land shark, a lion, the Mojo, a riverboat pilot, and a titan. The black bear was based on a legend that former President and CRACKED legend Teddy Roosevelt refused to shoot a bound black bear in Mississippi. Apparently, students, ticket holders, and alumni felt that a black bear fearful for its life as well as well positioned for anal rape by a real man was the direction the University was headed in. It is a hard point to argue as well as a compelling one. Rebel the Black Bear, in all his Beanie Baby cuddliness, was selected as the new Ole Miss mascot to the delight of... well everyone who could not stand Colonel Reb. To that end, ESPN ran several encouraging pieces on the new mascot.
The argument for losing the Old South tradition at the University of Mississippi has always centered around the competitive edge Ole Miss lost in recruiting. Having finally emerged from the shadow of Colonel Reb (which the University held onto the copyright for and still makes money off of), the Ole Miss Rebel football team was inspired enough by the new Black Bear to ... not win a single South Eastern Conference game. It was a mark of futility you would almost think that a modern day incarnation of the 'Ole Massas' could have achieved. The high water mark of suppirt by the new Black Bear mascot was to think he was 'too cool' for all of this and wear a bag over his head during a game. Former Rebel Legend Archie Manning should have been familiar with that tactic from his time as a New Orleans Saint. Recruiting was bolstered when prized home town recruit from Oxford, Mississippi Jeremy Liggins ... signed with ... well yeah... he went to LSU. The new Ole Miss coach last coached at Arkansas State ... and ... there is this Black Bear. Hey, anyone got a spare paper bag?