Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss all play huge football games Saturday. All three likely will play on wet fields. Rain slickers and towels are highly recommended for fans.
At Oxford, for the 2:30 Alabama-Ole Miss kickoff, the forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of rain in the hours leading up to the game and a 55 percent chance at kickoff.
In Baton Rouge, where they don’t need any more rain, there’s a 50 percent or higher chance all day leading up to the 6:05 p.m. kickoff for State and LSU.
The forecast in Hattiesburg for the Troy-Southern Miss game is for 70 percent chance of rain most of the afternoon, tapering to 55 percent for the 6 p.m. kickoff.
So, the obvious question: Does a wet, soggy field give any of the teams an advantage?
Yes, says Jackie Sherrill, the Hall of Fame coach, who will be in Jackson Monday night to speak to the Jackson Touchdown Club.
“If you’ve got a lot of rain and a really wet field, I believe the advantage always goes to the bigger, stronger, more physical team, especially a team that runs downhill straight at you,” Sherrill said.
“In my opinion, it favors Alabama over Mississippi and LSU over Mississippi State,” Sherrill continued. “I’m not sure on Troy and Southern, but I would assume Southern.
“Of course, if you’ve got a turf field rather than real grass, it really doesn’t have the same effect.”
The Southern Miss-Troy game will be on turf, the other two on natural grass.
Yes, Sherrill said, coaches prepare differently when bad weather is in the forecast.
“We always did wet ball drills during the week, but we did a lot more if rain was in the forecast,” Sherrill said.
Wet ball drills?
“Yeah, you dip balls in buckets of water and then you do your normal ball-handling, throwing and catching drills,” Sherrill answered. “We did it all the time, because you never know when you’re going to get a thunderstorm in the South.
“The other thing you do is you have extra uniforms ready, extra shoes,” Sherrill said. “It’s really amazing how much extra weight a player carries when his jersey gets soaking wet. We always tried to have extra jerseys, so we could change at halftime.”
Sherrill remembers playing a game at Alabama early in his State tenure when it rained so hard for so long that even the well-manicured , well-drained Bryant-Denny turf was soaked and had pools of standing water.
“Gene Stallings was coaching at Bama and during the pre-game warm-ups he told me that he had football shoes with long cleats that we were welcome to wear,” Sherrill said. “He said that they wouldn’t wear the long cleats unless we agreed to wear ’em because it would be an unfair advantage. So neither of us wore them.”
Alabama, the bigger, stronger, more physical team, won the game.
When Sherrill finished telling the story, I mentioned that I thought it was mighty sporting of Stallings to make the offer in the way that he did.
Sherrill said, yes, it really was.
And I said, “Can you imagine Nick Saban making that same offer in the same situation?”
He answered with a loud laugh. No words necessary.
My favorite rainy football story comes from back in 1907 when Mississippi A & M played the University of Mississippi in Jackson at the old field at the State Fairgrounds after several days of hard rain. Much of the field was under water, some of it knee-deep according to newspaper reports. Nobody drowned, but the State men proved better mudders, winning 15-0, in part because Ole Miss coach Frank Mason provided an urn of coffee spiked with whiskey to warm his players.
When asked about his team’s travel plans afterward, Mason said the team would leave by train for Oxford that night, but that he would not. And then he added, “And I hope I never see them again.”
He might not have. That was his last game at Ole Miss.
Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog.