In Starkville, it was a hard night to 'believe'

October 28, 2012 12:26:38 AM

Slim Smith - [email protected]


STARKVILLE -- It was a little after 8 p.m. Saturday and Natalie Spencer was still believing. Standing on the patio at the Stagger In Sports Bar in the Cotton District, peeking through the glass door for a look at the big-screen TV, Spencer winced as Alabama scored its second touchdown of the first quarter to take a 14-0 lead. 


Spencer put on her bravest face. 


"Yes," she said. "I still believe." 


For naught, as it turned out. 


Saturday's game in Tuscaloosa, which pitted 13th-ranked Mississippi State University against top-ranked University of Alabama, was supposed to have been the crescendo of a week in which a grassroots "We Believe" movement swept through town, catching fire in the imagination of Bulldogs fans who had the audacity to believe MSU would defy the odds to claim its biggest win in, well, forever.  


MSU came into Saturday's game with a 7-0 record, its best in 13 years. To run its record to 8-0, MSU had to beat the Tide. 


The crescendo quickly turned to anti-climax. The Crimson Tide rolled to a 24-0 halftime lead, en route to a 38-7 victory. What had begun as a celebratory scene in the Cotton District and along Main Street in the hours before kickoff quickly turned to disappointment once the game began. 


Spencer, 34, had been in the middle of the "We Believe" frenzy. 


"I put a post on the MSU football website yesterday, talking about how we have a team to believe in," she said. "I had 2,700 likes in less than a day. I had to take it down. It was blowing up my phone." 


Indeed, the "We Believe" movement soon began popping up all over the world as Bulldog fans posted Facebook photos of themselves with the slogan on homemade signs from such places as Germany, Turkey, Africa and Shanghai. In Orlando, Mickey Mouse posed with a "We Believe" placard. 


But whatever energy was generated with the idea, it quickly dissipated once the game began. 


By halftime, patrons began filing out the bars and restaurants, assuming perhaps it would be preferable to "believe" at home. No one felt like celebrating, not even Shane Berry. 


Berry, 21, a senior MSU student from Charlotte, N.C. leaned unsteadily against the bar. 


"It's not over," Berry said. "As long as the game's still going, we've got a chance. We won't quit." 


Berry arrived at the bar when it opened at 10 a.m. to stake claim to the best seat in the house. In the intervening nine hours, he estimated he had drank about 14 beers. 


And beers to go before he slept? 


"I might have a couple," he said, sheepishly. "I only live a block away. I ain't driving and I'm legal age, so why not?" 


Down at the other end of Main Street, Ed Modzeleski sat in his booth at Mugshots, ready to leave as soon as the final few seconds ticked away before halftime. Most of the patrons had already escaped. At the downstairs bar, only a few customers remained.  


Modzeleski, from Atlanta, said he had heard plenty about the "We Believe" buzz in Atlanta this week. 


"That's all I heard from these two," he said, pointing to his twin daughters, Elizabeth and Eileen, both freshmen at MSU. "I have to say that the game isn't going like we wanted, but you have to love the spirit around here." 


In Atlanta, Modzeleski works as a drug and alcohol counselor. 


"After this game, I might get some business around here," he said, chuckling.

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]