A player holds the trophy awarded to the team that wins the “Egg Bowl” annual rivalry football game between Ole Miss and Mississippi State.


All right, college football’s first big day of 2017 is Saturday. All our teams are undefeated unless, of course, you count NCAA investigations. Excitement is at pitch – fever pitch, that is. And even if you don’t go to the games, you can turn on your TV at 11 Saturday morning and watch football non-stop till past midnight or until your spouse tosses the remote into the commode.

Please remember: The season is a marathon, not a sprint. You, the fan, need to prepare properly. You need to practice. You need to study. Practice makes what? Perfect. That’s right. You need to focus. You need to avoid distractions. You need to get yourself in mid-season form before the season begins.

Yes, you, the fan, need to get your cliches in order. You will hear coaches and announcers use them until your brain hurts.

Rick Cleveland

I am here to help you prepare.

Let’s get to some body parts. First off, the nose. It comes up all the time in football. Linebackers and safeties must have a nose for the football. What’s more, the really good ones have a hard nose. That’s right. D.D. Lewis, Patrick Willis and Robert Brazile were hard-nosed linebackers. They had a nose for the football, and they would also knock the snot out of you. In football, there’s even a nose tackle, so called because he lines up nose to nose with the offensive center. Noses, obviously, are important.

Thus, the face mask, which serves as excellent protection until someone grabs it and twists.

Important, also, are feet. You will constantly hear coaches talk about how an offensive lineman has “good feet.” He is not saying that because the lineman wears size-16EEE. He is saying that because the lineman, who weighs well over 300 pounds, can actually move his feet. Feet are important. After all, it’s FOOTball. Toes used to be important. Placekicker Lou Groza purportedly had a golden toe. Tom Dempsey was missing toes. Now kickers don’t really use their toes. And we don’t hear so much about toes any more unless a player develops turf toe, which sounds silly but is really serious, much worse than athlete’s foot.

Ears can be important for a defensive lineman on third and long. That’s when they have to pin their ears back. Arms are important for quarterbacks, but cannons are better. Brett Favre had a cannon. What’s more, he used that cannon to really put some mustard on the ball. Yes, I am mixing cliches here.

All players have ankles, which is good news unless a coach says a player really has an ankle, and that’s bad news because if Dan Mullen says Nick Fitzgerald  “has an ankle” that means Nick’s ankle is sprained, which is awful — but decidedly better than if Nick has, say, a knee. Knees are terrible except at the end of the game when your quarterback takes a knee. That’s good. Really good.

Enough of body parts. Here are some other things your really need to know to be ready when they start, uh, playing for keeps. Rule No. 1: You play one game at a time. That’s really important. You will hear coaches and players say it all season long, game after game. “We’re just going to play them one game at a time,” they will say, as if there were any other way.

Those same players are going to give 110 percent, because 100 percent, which is all they possibly can have have, presumably isn’t enough. They are also going to have to play hurt. That’s important. They may get a little dinged up, and they may get their bell rung, but they just have to play through it. Unless, of course, they have turf toe, which will keep them on the bench for weeks.

You will also hear coaches say that the players have got to play the full 60 minutes. Never mind that the games begin at 7 and end at 11:30, you’ve got to go 60 minutes. It can get confusing. You will hear referees call for a media timeout. Folks, those are NOT media timeouts. Sports writers, who are media, hate them passionately. They are really TV timeouts, which last forever so that Budweiser can sell beer and Chevrolet can sell cars and so that Brett Favre and the Manning boys can sell everything from razor blades to blue jeans to elbow braces to TVs to pizzas and lots, lots more.

There’s much more, but I hope this has served as a primer. I hope your team has lots of senior leadership and can avoid the injury bug. I hope your halfbacks don’t cough (up the football). And I hope your line doesn’t start falsely, which decades ago was called jumping offsides. That was too simple, so we have false starts and the dreaded encroachment. Sometimes, the officials must decide whether a false start caused encroachment. It sounds more complicated than it really is.

That’s all I got. I wish I could explain what constitutes holding but I gave up on that a long time ago. Best I can tell, holding happens whenever the umpire decides it’s time to call it, because, best I can tell, he surely could call it on every play.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.