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Are you ready? How Ole Miss gets celebrities to Hotty Toddy

When Dickie Scruggs walked up to assistant athletic director for Ole Miss Sports Productions J. Stern and asked him if he wanted actor Russell Crowe to start the Hotty Toddy chant at the football game, Stern’s response was simple — “Hell yeah.” “Then he handed me his phone, and I was talking to Russell Crowe,” Stern said.

When Dickie Scruggs walked up to assistant athletic director for Ole Miss Sports Productions J. Stern and asked him if he wanted actor Russell Crowe to start the Hotty Toddy chant at the football game, Stern’s response was simple — “Hell yeah.”
“Then he handed me his phone, and I was talking to Russell Crowe,” Stern said.
Stern has been working hard for 14 years to get different celebrities to ask the question all Rebel fans love to hear: “Are you ready?”
“One night Elvis Costello called my phone and asked to do the chant,” he said. “I thought it was one of my buddies joking with me, but it really was Elvis Costello. It’s unbelievable what it’s turned into. It’s still crazy to me.”
In 1997, Stern convinced coach John Vaught to video the “Are you ready” for the first ballgame of the season. Since then, Ole Miss’ famous chant has been started by celebrities, including Vince Vaughn, The Today Show cast and Jack Black.
The list of who has started the chant includes more than 40 television and movie stars, including Jay Leno, Kermit the Frog and more than 20 Ole Miss coaches and notable alumni, like Shepard Smith and coach David Cutcliffe.
Stern, who has worked for ESPN and USA Network, has made a lot of friends in the right places and has 14 years worth of experience at tracking people down. If he doesn’t know someone who works with a particular celebrity, he will find someone who does.
“There is a story behind everyone,” he said. “We just start calling and emailing and finding people who know people who might know other people.”
It’s easy to see why celebrities like Morgan Freeman and B.B. King, being from Mississippi, would want to participate. But with others, like Kal Penn, the connections to Ole Miss are less obvious.
“It’s real easy to get Ole Miss or Mississippi people,” Stern said. “That’s cake. We want people who have no connections to Ole Miss. Then we give them one.”
Stern said Ole Miss has a farther reach than some might think, as Ole Miss alumni graduate, move off and meet people.
Sometimes these alumni are people who can help Stern get in contact with celebrities. Penn was friends with an Ole Miss graduate, and Dennis Quaid married an Ole Miss alumni, as did Chef Emeril Lagasse and Charlie Day from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
“Every one of them is special in their own right,” Stern said. “I really don’t have a favorite. But getting Snoop Dogg to do it was a good one. My buddy is his engineer, so that one was cool.”
Equally important to getting the crowd ready, Stern said, is getting Ole Miss national exposure.
“It’s not about getting you fired up,” Stern said. “You get anybody to say ‘Are you ready’ and everyone will cheer. It’s showing the far reaches of it. We should be honored that people want to do it. These are famous, famous people.”
Josh Broome, a transfer student from Pearl River Community College, agrees with Stern but also thinks it is about the fans.
“I think it’s great that they want to represent Ole Miss,” he said. “And it definitely gets the fans pumped.”
Celebrities can continue representing Ole Miss when the taping of their video is finished. Although they are not compensated, celebrities receive Ole Miss shirts and gear, compliments of the school.
“We always send them some swag,” Stern said. “Vince Vaughn has been spotted several times wearing his Ole Miss shirt. Snoop wears his stuff all the time. Kal Penn said he’s going to wear his stuff all over the place.”
But not everyone wants to be a part of the chant. Stern said many stars have turned down the opportunity, some more than once.
“We’ve been turned down by a lot of people, I mean a lot of people,” he said. “We’ve been trying for three years to get Danny McBride, but we just can’t get through.”
The biggest person to turn down starting the Hotty Toddy chant, according to Stern, is Tiger Woods. Woods’ doctor is an Ole Miss alum, but Woods refused because he graduated from Stanford.
“Some people don’t want to because if it’s not for their own school, why would they? So we have to respect that,” Stern said. “Matthew McConaughey said he’d do anything for Texas, but not for Mississippi. Drew Brees wouldn’t do it because he went to Purdue.”
Stern has a list of stars he’d like to see start the chant, and McBride is at the top of the list.
“He’s just turned us down so many times I’d like to see him finally do it,” Stern said. “I love his movies and his show — I’d just like for him to do it.”
Morgan Turner, a senior communicative sciences and disorders major, has been coming to games at Ole Miss since she was 2-years-old.
“I’ve seen a lot of people — Shepard Smith, Hulk Hogan, Sandra Bullock — the list goes on,” Turner said.
“But I’d like to see Steven Tyler. He’s very energetic, and he would get the fans pumped up for the game.”
The list for this year’s season is just as star studded as in the past, but Stern is keeping it under lock and key.
Not only does he not want to spoil the surprise for the students, but it’s hard to know who will start the chant.
“It’s hit or miss,” Stern said. “Sometimes they fall through right when we need them.”