McCOMB - Fall is my favorite time of year for several reasons, not the least of which is college football.
I like high school and professional football, too, but there is something about the atmosphere on college and university campuses, especially at my alma mater Ole Miss, that lifts my spirits.
Sure, I know the game has become too commercialized. I can't defend the fact that big-time college coaches are paid more than the university presidents they work for or that too much emphasis is otherwise placed on athletics.
I'm not naive enough to believe everything I hear about the game building character or helping educate young scholar-athletes.
Much of what college football at the level I enjoy does is serve as a farm system for the National Football League.
But I still like it, and I like it better when my team wins.
So, I might be part of the problem, although I don't mess with the athletes, and I surely don't put out any money beyond buying season tickets and making a modest donation to the Loyalty Foundation. I'll never get anyone in trouble with the NCAA.
Aside from the game itself, I enjoy tailgate parties before and after the actual event.
I've known people to go to the Grove at Ole Miss and never attend the football game. I'm not one of them. I'll be at the game, win or lose, to the glorious or the bitter end.
I also enjoy the little sideshows that often crop up on a trip to and from a college football game.
The events surrounding the games at Ole Miss have become more spectacular in recent years as the stadium has become larger and a big television screen, equipped with a sound system, has been installed.
Before the kickoff they usually have some big-name person on the screen welcoming the crowd and setting them off on yelling the school cheer.
At every game there is a different soloist, in person, who sings the National Anthem.
Elvis, who was beginning to make a name for himself when I was a student at Ole Miss, hasn't shown up reincarnated yet, but some gullible hotel attendants in Grenada thought country singer Garth Brooks was going to be there last Saturday for the Memphis game.
My wife, Virgie, and I drove to Grenada, which is about 50 miles from Oxford, Friday evening to spend the night so we could arrive on campus early Saturday, as the televised game was scheduled to begin about 11:30 a.m.
A pretty young clerk checking us into the Holiday Inn asked if we were headed to the game, and when we said we were, she informed us Garth Brooks would be singing the National Anthem and he, in fact, had just checked into the hotel.
"You sure it was Garth Brooks?" I asked. (I may be a little slow, but it immediately occurred to me that if, indeed, he would be singing the National Anthem at the football game, Ole Miss officials would figure out some way to get around the year-in-advance reservation, minimum two-night stay in Oxford, which is the reason Virgie and I bunk in Grenada, and get him a room at the Alumni House on campus.)
"Sure looks like him, and this looks like his signature," she said, producing an autograph.
"Which room is he in?" asked Virgie.
"Can't give out that information," replied the young clerk.
The next morning when we went for the great breakfast buffet they have there, a cheerful waitress asked if we were going to the game.
Garth Brooks would be there, she said, adding, "He's upstairs."
"Been down for breakfast yet?" I inquired. "Not yet," she said.
Needless to say, Garth wasn't at the game.
But someone in North Mississippi must look a lot like him.