He hasn’t faced the challenges getting where he’s going that Neal Page and Dell Griffith encountered in the 1987 comedy flick “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” starring Steve Martin and the late John Candy. But James Bueno Da Silva’s quest to travel to every University of Southern Mississippi away football game this season hasn’t come easy.
A Southern Miss sophomore from Sao Paulo, Brazil, Da Silva is determined to find a way to support the Golden Eagles either in person at M.M. Roberts Stadium or at the unfriendly home confines of their opponents - even if it means a 19-hour road trip to El Paso, Texas.
“Back home, you support your team no matter what,” he said. “I’m no fair weather fan. Sunny, windy, snowing, it doesn’t matter. That’s your life if you’re a real fan, and I’m all in.”
At nearly the last minute, he’s found rides with fellow students and alumni in travelling to road games at Marshall and Virginia, and recently secured – also with little time to spare - a flight out of Jackson, Miss. to make it to the Southern Miss-Navy game last weekend. Southern Miss clobbered Navy 63-35 in that contest and sports a 5-1 record heading into its next game, Oct. 22 at home against SMU.
But following the Golden Eagles wherever they go isn’t what makes the sport management major stand apart from fellow students. Over four weeks during the summer, Da Silva bought a sewing machine and taught himself how to sew, tested different materials and paints, and then stitched together a giant cotton and silk banner which bears the image of a Golden Eagle and the message ‘Nasty Bunch.”
Da Silva was inspired to make the banner from the tradition of fans displaying similar ones at professional soccer matches in his native Brazil. The one he created in support of the Golden Eagles is unfurled at the beginning of the first and third quarters of the games and after the team scores, and has become a staple in the student section at “The Rock” and at road games.
“I just felt like we could do something more at the games to support the team, that’s why I decided to make it. I have several friends who help me run it up during the game over those standing in the student section, covering about eight-to-nine rows,” he said. “Everyone under it likes it, and I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback from other fans.”
Student Government Association President Erick Brown says he loves seeing the banner at the games. “I wish it was even bigger,” he said. “It’s a great way for the student section to show its spirit.”
Southern Miss President Martha Saunders agrees with Brown, and said Da Silva exhibits all the traits for which the university is known. “He’s creative, bold, and very determined,” Saunders said. “I look forward to seeing him at every game.”
Da Silva secured a ride at midnight Friday before the Marshall game (Sept. 10), leaving in time to get to Huntington, West Va. with his banner just before kickoff following the 14-hour drive from Hattiesburg. With the help of Eagle Club director Dick Vogel, he joined Southern Miss alumnus Bill Tatum (’59), who was making the 16-hour trek to Charlottesville, Va. for the matchup with the Cavaliers.
“I think it’s really awesome,” said Tatum about Da Silva’s commitment to supporting the football team. “He’s really raised the bar in supporting the Golden Eagles.”
Da Silva had stayed up nearly all night getting the banner ready before Tatum picked him up the next morning to drive to Virginia. “He showed us his sewing machine, all the paints he tested to make the banner, the whole operation,” Tatum said. “Talk about devotion; I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Tatum’s cousin, John Iverson (Southern Miss ’74) of Meridian, Miss. was along for the ride to Virginia and said Da Silva’s support of the Golden Eagles is exemplary. “He’s gone to such great lengths to support the team, and with limited resources,” Iverson said. “I love his enthusiasm.”
Da Silva’s friend Theo Vallas, a Southern Miss graduate student from Jackson, Miss., gave him a ride to and from the airport in Jackson to fly to the Navy game. “I grew up a Southern Miss fan, so I’m thrilled to help him meet his goal of making it to all the games,” Vallas said.
Da Silva is confident about making it to two of the team’s final three road games – he’s already secured a ride with friends to the East Carolina game on Nov. 5, and plans to ride a bus with other students to the University of Alabama-Birmingham game Nov. 17, which is less than four hours from campus.
But transportation to the Oct. 29 Conference USA matchup with the University of Texas at El Paso has so far eluded him. With no driver’s license of his own, he’s yet to find an adventurous soul planning to tackle the 19-hour journey to see the Golden Eagles take on the Miners. But he’s willing to make it worth someone’s while, offering to spring for tickets and accommodations for anyone who will take him to Sun Bowl Stadium where he can proudly display his banner.
Back home in Brazil, Da Silva supports the Corinthians, a professional soccer team, and said the team’s fans will travel on a bus for as many as 40 hours to watch them compete at away matches. So the distance to the west Texas town does not daunt him.
“But I have less than three weeks to figure it out (how to get there),” said Da Silva.
You could say that Da Silva’s affinity for his school has a genetic component. His father, Luiz Bueno Da Silva, holds master’s and doctorate degrees from Southern Miss; his mother, Celia, took classes at its English Language Institute while living in Hillcrest residence hall; and his brother Fernando graduated from the university in May with a degree in marketing.
James, who also plays for the Southern Miss soccer club, is set to graduate in December of 2013. “I have been in love with this school from the moment I stepped on campus,” he said. “Every day I love it more and more.”
He’s seen “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (“I love that movie,” he says) and recognizes some of the parallels with his own attempts to get to USM’s games in the film’s storyline. The chaotic comedy features Page, a high-strung advertising executive taking a circuitous route home to Chicago from New York to be with his family in time for Thanksgiving after a major snowstorm reroutes his plane to Kansas. Along the way, he indulges the company of Griffith, a snake-bit, down-on-his-luck shower curtain ring salesman.
Da Silva said one of his favorite scenes from the film is when Page and Griffith are robbed of their money from their hotel room in Kansas, and the only way they can get to a train station miles away in Wichita is by riding in the back of a pickup truck (driven by the hotel manager’s son) - in bitter cold weather.
“I’d do that (to get to El Paso),” he said.