“If LSU were playing the North Koreans, I’d root for the North Koreans.” — Reuben Leonard Chrestman, III (Ole Miss fan)
The college football rivalry between Ole Miss and LSU dates back to the 19th century. It has had its share of twists, turns, ebbs and flows. The rivalry is chock full of entertaining stories. The Chrestman family, I believe, is one of those stories.
It would be normal for any New Orleanian to root for LSU, despite not having gone there, except that I come from a long line of Ole Miss faithful. My dad – Reuben Leonard Chrestman, III -went to Ole Miss. His dad – Reuben Leonard Chrestman, II – went to Ole Miss. My grandmother served as the “house mother” for an Ole Miss sorority. My oldest sister went to Ole Miss, and I grew up going to Oxford regularly. That I did not end up going to Ole Miss was one of the many ways I have been a profound disappointment to my parents.
My enthusiasm for LSU and Reuben’s enthusiasm for Ole Miss have grown inversely proportional over several years as LSU has enjoyed a period of elite play with a BCS national championship as recent as 2007. Ole Miss, meanwhile, has languished in relative mediocrity, and the last time it won a national title, John F. Kennedy was still in office.
My father’s transition has been depressing. I recall the days when a younger, more energetic Reuben would stand up the whole game, hold a football and oftentimes yell profanities. “Like taking candy from a motherfucking baby,” Reuben would scream when Ole Miss was scored on. Or “David Cutcliffe couldn’t spell defense, much less coach one,” he would frequently lament. He was pissed off, but he was passionate. Now, Reuben sits in a relative haze as Ole Miss squanders another lead or loses another disastrous game they should have won. The game will end, Reuben will sit there for a few moments of silence and then slowly stand up. There’s no more screaming. There’s no more profanity. There’s no more fire.
“That’s a bad team,” he will say calmly as he ascends the stairs to retire for the evening.
Meanwhile, my allegiance to LSU remained quiet for most of my life, but as I get older and somehow become more of a jack ass, I become increasingly obnoxious as an LSU fan. That Ole Miss has had LSU’s number the last few years has not slowed me down. The latest iteration of LSU jackassery has come to be called “Operation Black Bear.”
Reuby Ann (Reuben plus Mary Ann = “Reuby Ann”) asked me to watch their house this past week as they vacationed in celebration of Reuben’s 71st birthday. This was a decision they would come to regret. I did not really think much of it at first. But when I realized that I would have unsupervised custody of their abode just days before the annual LSU-Ole Miss football game, Operation Black Bear was born.
They had a fun-filled week in Natchez, Mississippi doing what the elderly do on vacation – go to antique stores, dine out and go to antique stores. Even though I am a reasonably-intelligent 36-year-old man/boy that somehow made it through law school and the United States Marine Corps, my dad handed me a detailed instruction manual as if taking out their trash and taking in their mail required a degree in astrophysics.
“The usual rates apply,” my dad told me as he handed me his keys along with overly-detailed and overly-complicated instructions. (The “usual rates,” by the way are zero).
Operation Black Bear was, thus, a completely unsolicited redecoration of the interior of their home.
Were I to have all the time in the world and unlimited resources, I would have found a way to procure as many banners, wallpaper, cardboard cutouts and fatheads of this picture of interim LSU coach Ed Orgeron triumphantly entering Tiger Stadium atop Mike the Tiger.
But resources were limited and time was of the essence, so I relied on generous donations of paraphernalia from neighbors and friends alike. There was a giant inflatable tiger, along with other Tiger essentials, in their dining room:
There were also more subtle pieces. Cute pictures of grandkids like this:
Were replaced with pictures like this:
Additionally, should Reuby Ann ever wonder what time it is, they need only consult none other than Ed Orgeron:
After the decorations were complete, the hour of Reuby Ann’s return home finally arrived:
Mary Ann found the inflatables and other decorations to be funny. When she discovered that Coach O had replaced her precious grandchildren, however, she was not amused. Not amused at all.
Reuben’s assessment was a bit more vague. Ever the man of few words, he did offer some choice ones, but mostly took it all in silence, in much the same way he has handled the perpetual defeat of his beloved Ole Miss Rebels – er- Black Bears. It is difficult to tell whether he was amused or is actively plotting ways to stab me in the chest. Could be both.
Operation Black Bear, by most measures, was a success. Like any covert operation, however, a certain degree of risk is inherent. Had LSU lost the game, this would have blown up in my face and been profoundly embarrassing. But as I learned in the Marine Corps, nothing good can ever result from your being a pussy.
Reuben continued to give me the silent treatment. He claimed he would not watch the game because “Leonard Fournette will rush for 200 yards.”
So, after the game, I extended him an olive branch:
Me: Dad, you were wrong about Leonard Fournette rushing for 200 yards. He actually had 285.
Dad: That’s a bad team. We will lose at least two more games.
Me: Well, I think you’re wrong about that.
Dad: Well,I don’t think you know shit about college football.