Just as bulls know their targets by the color red, the Mississippi Brawl Stars will know their targets by the color maroon.
Armed with water guns and foam bats, the Golden Triangle's roller derby team will chase participants in the third annual Running of the Bulldogs up and down the slope of Maxwell Street Saturday. The chase is part of a longer event by the same name that will also feature live music, wine tasting, a blessing of the Mississippi State University football team and staff, and the inaugural Mississippi Championship Steak Cook-off.
Starkville police will close off Maxwell Street for the event from 3-9 p.m. The event's major sponsors include Stockyards Angus Steak and U.S. Food Service, which will provide the meat for the cook-off, and the E. and J. Gallo Winery, which will hold an all-afternoon wine tasting together with The Naked Grape. Other major sponsors include the Northeast Mississippi Bottling Company and Coors Light.
The hosts for the event are the Mystic Society of the Cowbellion Bulldogs, a fraternal order of Mississippi State fans ages 35 and up who also stage Dudy Gras each year. Its founder, Hobie Hobart, said he has always wanted to participate in one of the real runnings of the bulls in Spain, so he decided to start an event with several similarities to the Spanish pastime.
"You've got to wear a maroon sash or maroon scarf," Hobart said. "They wear white and red in Spain; we wear white and maroon here."
Another commonality with the Spanish tradition is that the run will be punctuated with fireworks: one shot five minutes before the Brawl Stars are released, one shot the moment they are released, and several shots when the run finishes. One difference, he said, is that runners will take a break once they reach the top of Maxwell Street's upward slope, which he affectionately called "Hamstring Hill."
"For health reasons and heat, we're going to take a seven-minute mandatory break," Hobart said. "You can stretch, you can read, enjoy a libation, whatever. You can ring a cowbell. Then you have to go back down Hamstring Hill through the 'bulls' to get to the other end. There will be a line painted across the street where the 'bulls' cannot cross."
Hobart said the MSU Pom Squad played the role of the 'bulls' the first year, followed by the MSU Diamond Girls the next year. He said the Brawl Stars are excited to be the 'bulls' this year.
"They're talking trash on Facebook right now as we go, so they're going to have a good time," Hobart said.
The event may not feature actual bulls, but there will be beef. Hobart said a ticket for a steak dinner with potato salad and tea at the event will cost $15. The entry fee for each competitor in the steak cook-off is $25, he said, and competitors only need to bring their grill and other equipment - the meat will be provided. For more information on entering, contact Hobart at 769-1715.
"What I do is basically give them five or six steaks, and they turn one in for the judge, and the rest of them they cook for me to sell to the public to help pay for the steaks," Hobart said. "The deadline [to enter] will probably be Thursday."
Hobart said 15-20 teams had already registered, and he wants the event to grow to hundreds of competitors in future years. The winner of the cook-off will go to the World Championship Steak Cook-off in Magnolia, Arkansas, he said, and both professionals and amateurs are vying for the slot.
"When you walk into a restaurant and you hear, 'Well, I don't want to order a steak when I go out because I cook one better than the restaurant,' well, here's your chance," Hobart said. "I've got Jay Yates from the Veranda in it, Mugshots, Rick's, Cowbells, those are some of the restaurants in it. Then you've got all the little local guys in it too, different teams such as 'Hoss and Little Joe,' 'The Twisted Cowbell,' 'Raging Bulldogs.' It's going to be a lot of fun."
One of the other major facets of the event is a series of blessings given by local religious leaders in the hopes that the Bulldogs will receive a little help from above. Hobart said the blessings each involve different denominations, with the Rev. Olin McBride of First Presbyterian Church blessing the city, The Rev. Giles Linley of First United Methodist Church blessing the university and the Rev. John Bohn of St. Joseph's Catholic Church blessing the football team itself.
"We don't want to miss out on a good season due to a technicality," Hobart said. "That's the reason we get all the denominations involved."
Finally, the event will feature live music from local performers and a tribute to TaTonka Gold, the nineteenth bulldog to serve as MSU's official live mascot, who was euthanized June 28. Hobart said TaTonka's son and successor, Champ, and the bulldogs' owner Lisa Cresswell will be present for the tribute.
"TaTonka, as Bully, in my opinion, was the best Bully we've ever had," Hobart said. "He was just a great dog, beautiful dog, and when he retired a couple of years ago, we were sad that he retired but understood why. We were very sad to hear they had to put him down."