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They will play another Egg Bowl in Starkville Thursday night. Not that much – other than pride – is at stake, and, frankly, that’s the way it has been in most of the 113 previous clashes between Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
Yes, State could achieve its sixth victory – against six defeats – and therefore qualify for a minor bowl berth. Ole Miss, 4-7 coming into this one, will play strictly for pride.
Certainly there have been infrequent Egg Bowls when a New Year’s bowl was on the line, and there have even been years when one or the other had a chance at winning a conference or division championship. Sadly, those years have been few and far between. Mississippians mostly have watched with envy as the likes of Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida have played for championships.
But there was that one year – long, long ago – when both the Southeastern Conference championship and New Year’s Day bowl bids were at stake. There was that one glorious year when both teams had Hall of Fame coaches and so many all-star players – players named Blondy (Black) and Spook (Murphy) and Bird Dog (Grove) and Wobble (Davidson) and Junie (Hovious) and Merle (Hapes). There was that one, solitary year when if State won, the Bulldogs were SEC champions and if Ole Miss won, the Rebels were SEC champs.
That year was 1941 and the game was in Oxford where then-Hemingway Stadium had a capacity of 28,000 and not a seat was empty. Harry Mehre, who had played under Knute Rockne at Notre Dame, was the Ole Miss coach. Allyn McKeen, who had played under Gen. Bob Neyland at Tennessee, was the head coach at State. Both were masters of their craft.
The date was Nov. 29, 1941. William Winter, the future governor, covered the game for the Ole Miss newspaper, The Mississippian. Purser Hewitt covered it for The Clarion-Ledger.
Hewitt described the scene in the next day’s Ledger:
Twenty-eight thousand they called it here today, as the annual Rebel-Maroon classic lived up to its recent reputation of breaking Mississippi sports attendance records each November.
They were all over the place having overrun the seats long before kickoff. We could tell as we flew up this morning in that sleek red airplane of Quarterback Bob Sanders that the crowd expectations would not fall short of actualities.
From Grenada north the highway was as thickly populated with cars as that West Capitol stretch just west of Gallatin every time we are in a hurry to get to town, and at Oxford, the beautiful campus was overrun with gas buggies from every county in the Magnolia State…
That prose was on the front of the sports section, which also included Hewitt’s exhaustive play-by-play account. That’s right: Every play of the the entire contest was described in detail.
But you didn’t have to wait to get to the sports section. On the front page of the newspaper, the banner headline blared: “As Japs Boil, FDR Fears War in Year” – and just below that was this headline: “Moates’ Quarterback Sneak is Telling Blow in State’s 71-yard Drive for Victory.”
Wrote Hewitt in his Page 1 lede: With an Orange Bowl invitation in the pocket of Miami’s Jack Baldwin, ready to be handed to them, the Ole Miss Rebels saw their hopes smashed by a fighting Mississippi State team that won a 6 to 0 victory before 28,000 fans.
Hewitt went on to describe how State’s Jennings Moates scored the game’s only points in the second quarter on a 38-yard quarterback sneak. Apparently, most of the Ole Miss defense went to the right where speedy tailback Spook Murphy was headed. Moates, however, took the snap and went off his left guard and sped untouched into the end zone.
And I know this will shock you: There was controversy that day 78 years ago.
That’s because, in the fourth quarter, Ray Terrell of Ole Miss appeared to score the tying touchdown after catching a pass from Hovious at near midfield and then racing into the end zone.
Hewitt described the play like this: The biggest play for Ole Miss came in the midst of the final period when Hovious completed a pass to Terrell from the Reb 29 to midfield, and rambling Ray reversed his field and ran for an apparent touchdown, but the head linesman ruled he had stepped on the sideline at the State 47, and he was recalled, of course, to that spot.
It happened right in front of the Ole Miss bench and the Rebels protested mightily, which brings to mind this question: Has there ever been an Egg Bowl without some controversy or at least a good fistfight?
So the dream season for Ole Miss ended that day in Oxford. State, meanwhile, played the next Saturday, Dec. 6, 1941, defeating San Francisco at San Francisco 26-13 and then waited to see where the Bulldogs would go bowling.
They would not. You know what happened the next day. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. There would be no bowl. Many of those 1941 Bulldogs and Rebels headed off to fight a war. Many would lose their lives.
In remembering the 1941 game, Gov. Winter once told me, “It was a sad day for my Ole Miss Rebels, but it was a great day for Mississippi football. Oh man, what a day it was…”
But Governor, I asked, did Ray Terrell really step out of bounds?
Replied Gov. Winter, “Well I sure didn’t think so.”