It is from an unbiased perspective I have viewed more Egg Bowls than I can remember – more than 40 now. And I came late to the party.
I grew up in Hattiesburg – essentially on the campus of Southern Miss. When State annually played Ole Miss sometime around Thanksgiving, I often was watching USM play Louisiana Tech or Memphis State or some other rival. Truth is, Ole Miss’ and Johnny Vaught’s dominance of the Battle for the Golden Egg was so complete in my early years, there wasn’t much reason to watch.
That part has changed.
The State-Ole Miss rivalry was first viewed from afar on black and white TV on those infrequent occasions when there were TV cameras present. And then I covered it a couple of times for the Hattiesburg American and again for the Monroe (La.) News Star/Morning World, before joining the staff at The Clarion-Ledger in 1979.
My first two jobs in Jackson were covering State for two years and then Ole Miss for two years at The Clarion-Ledger. I saw the rivalry from both sides – and both sides consistently insisted how despicable the other side was.
It quickly became apparent that both sides feared losing the game as much as they anticipated winning it. Often, it seems, both sides despise the other side as much as they root for their own team.
My first Egg Bowl as a Jackson-based sports writer was the 1979 game. That was Emory Bellard’s first season at State and it was nothing to write home about unless you were into sob stories. Bellard inherited a team chock-full of talent but one lacking a quarterback who could run his wishbone offense.
The Bulldogs were 3-7 heading into the game. Ole Miss wasn’t much, if any, better. Steve Sloan’s team was 3-7 as well. That’s why the late Tom Patterson, The Clarion-Ledger sports editor at the time, named it The Egg Bowl. If none of our teams were going to be good enough to go to a bowl game – and they weren’t – Patterson decided to create one and cover it with a special section. From a distance of 38 years I can assure you: Never has so much been written about so little. Instead of one game story, we had stories about each quarter of the game. As the new guy, I was assigned the first quarter. It was, of course, scoreless.
Ole Miss won 14-9 and, post-game, my assignment was the Mississippi State locker room. Bellard, as tired of hearing my questions about why his wishbone offense did not work as I was asking them, blew a gasket. “We’re going to have a blankety-blank good football team at Mississippi State, and you can write that in your blankety-blank newspaper,” he shouted, sticking his index finger into my Adam’s apple.
The next year, he did.
That has to rank as one of my five most memorable Egg Bowls, at least partially because of having to write 1,000 words on a scoreless first quarter. Today, I’m going to pick a Top 5 and that one will be No. 5.
Mississippi State 35, Ole Miss 14 (2005) – This one ranks as my fourth most memorable, probably because of the inspiring play of two opposing players: Jerious Norwood of Mississippi State and Patrick Willis of Ole Miss. Willis, one of the finest linebackers I’ve ever covered, had 14 tackles (11 solos) and intercepted a pass.
Norwood ran for 204 yards and scored four touchdowns. But Norwood left the field in the third quarter, suffering from muscle cramps in both legs and his groin. In the locker room, trainers administered IVs and poured Gatorade down him.
When Norwood took his first steps out of the locker room late in the third quarter, few fans noticed. Then, some did and then more and more did. The noise escalated to a thunderous roar as Norwood raced to the sidelines and then into the game where he picked up where he had left off. He ran for 100 yards in the fourth quarter alone. Willis remains one of the best defensive players in Mississippi football history, but Norwood was better that day.
State 6, Ole Miss 0 (1941) – OK, you’re right, I wasn’t there. But I wish I had been. The 1941 game was the only one ever played with the SEC Championship on the line. Allyn McKeen’s Bulldogs won it to claim the Bulldogs’ only outright SEC title in history.
Future Mississippi Gov. William Winter, now 94, was there covering the game as the sports editor of the Ole Miss school newspaper. Winter can tell you what happened almost play for play, including a long Ole Miss touchdown run called back when officials ruled the runner had stepped out of bounds. When this interviewer expressed amazement at Winter’s keen memory for something that happened so long ago, Gov. Winter replied, “Well, you have to understand it was the most important thing in my life at the time.”
State 15, Ole Miss 0 (1907) – Nobody, not even Gov. Winter, remembers this game so we have depend on newspaper reports that tell us the Rebels and the Bulldogs sloshed onto the field at the State Fairgrounds in Jackson after several days of hard rain. Much of the field was underwater, some of it almost knee-deep. The State men proved better mudders, probably in part because Ole Miss coach Frank Mason provided an urn of coffee spiked with whiskey to warm his players and apparently himself. When asked about his team’s travel plans afterward, Mason said the team would leave for Oxford that night, but that he would not. And, he added, “I hope I never see them again.”
Ole Miss 24, State 23 (1983) – I was there. In fact, I was standing right under the goal posts in the south end zone of Veterans Memorial Stadium. Ole Miss led 24-23 and State was lining up for a game-winning field goal. Artie Cosby, an excellent placekicker who had already kicked three field goals including a 51-yarder, prepared to kick a chip shot for the victory. My view was perfect. Cosby’s kick headed straight through the uprights, before a huge gust of wind blew the ball up and then back out toward the playing field.
State players began celebrating when Cosby kicked the ball. Ole Miss players then celebrated, as State players fell to the ground, when the ball blew backward. It remains the only kick I’ve ever seen celebrated by two teams. Ole Miss, with the 24-23 victory, earned an Independence Bowl berth. My post-game assignment was the State locker room, where Emory Bellard predictably was steaming and I was speechless.
“Emory, I don’t know what to say,” I stammered.
Bellard did. “Podnuh,” Bellard said, “God just decided Mississippi State wasn’t going to win this game.”