2010: Oxford, Mississippi. The Ole Miss Rebels were finally going to have a new mascot.
The old mascot, Colonel Reb, had been removed in 2003 - one of many moves the University of Mississippi made to distance itself from the pre-Civil War south. The school had already banned the waving of Confederate flags in 1997 and in 2009 the Ole Miss Band would cease playing "From Dixie With Love" after years of fans replacing one of the lyrics with "the South will rise again". Colonel Reb - whose image was reminiscent of an antebellum plantation owner - was a necessary casualty.
So, for seven years, the Ole Miss Rebels had no mascot. This is an acceptable arrangement if you are the Michigan Wolverines, and an unacceptable one if you are pretty much anyone else. And so, the students voted to begin a search for a new one. For even if Colonel Reb - whose return was overwhelmingly supported by the student body - could not return, being represented by something was better than being represented by nothing. The list of potential candidates contained nothing too unusual - a black bear, a lion, a blues musician, some vague ethereal beings named Hotty and Toddy - and then a very unexpected contender found his way into the mix.
Four students at Ole Miss started the Ole Miss Rebel Alliance and put forth their own proposed mascot: Admiral Ackbar, the Rebel Alliance commander from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. It was mostly in jest - the original members weren't seriously suggesting Ackbar be the next mascot of Ole Miss, but had put him forward to start the conversation about finally replacing Colonel Reb. Instead, the campaign to elect Ackbar as Ole Miss gained traction and soon took on a life of its own. Within a week, the story of the Ole Miss Rebel Alliance's campaign exploded, hitting the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, MSNBC, and SBNation. Now everyone on the internet wanted Ackbar to be the new mascot.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. In September, Lucasfilm (you know, the people who actually own the rights to Ackbar's name and image) announced in tongue-in-cheek fashion they would not be allowing Ole Miss to use Ackbar as their mascot. Yes, somehow the people in charge of all things Star Wars saw yet another opportunity to make more money off their product and said, "nah, we're good!" The dream was dead. Ole Miss students elected Rebel the Black Bear as their new mascot, and the fight of the Ole Miss Rebel Alliance became just another tale in the book of college sports history.
Georgia Tech will take on the Rebels next Monday in the Music City Bowl, and a part of me will be thinking about what could have been.