Quote of the Day:
“And the Dawg Pound Rocks!” Mike Tirico, ESPN play-by-play man
1999. It had been a long century for TB and all the Mississippi State Bulldog faithful. Scott Field, built over a suspected major ancient Indian burial ground had been the site of countless Bulldog heartbreaks over the preceding decades. Hordes of one-time maroon devotees had long since given up, many more never even cared in the first place, still more had already passed to the next world having never sampled the sweet nectar we all yearn for, nay, seldom even enjoyed the upper hand over our the reviled Ole Miss Rebels. Yet some of us remained, returning each season to yell for dear old State, until all manner of possible long bombs, onsides recoveries, and opponent fumbles could no longer lead to a winning season, and then looking ahead feverishly to the fabled “next year.”
1999 was also, ironically, the end of the Jackie Sherrill era, the greatest period of success in modern State history. It was a decade that featured the Bullies in post-season play with regularity, and with a 5-3 advantage over the Rebs since Jackie came to Starkville in 1991.
State entered the Egg Bowl 8-2, Ole Miss was 7-3. The Bulldogs had one of the best defenses in the nation, but a woeful offense. The Rebels were loaded with NFL talent on both sides of the ball, most notably their awesome tailback Deuce McCallister. Ole Miss dominated the first 58 minutes of the game, but never quite pulled away. They led 20-6 at the start of the 4th quarter and I sat dejectedly at home in Gautier, MS, staring blankly ahead, as alone as a fan can be. Worse even. Sweet was there. He was for State, but didn’t care and was perfectly happy to see me suffer if that was how it was going to be. Still worse, because Larry was there too, being a good sport, in the insultingly patronizing way that only a rival fan can be. I sat silently staring as the Dogs punted again and again.
We were young in those days, and single, and the night was young. But my heart was heavy. Facing a year….a year of suffering….a year of losing arguments to any Reb, anywhere. “Oh yeah? Who’s got the Egg?” There is no comeback to that. Doesn’t matter the subject either. Sports, politics…classic TV trivia….girls….math…doesn’t matter. “Who’s got the Egg?” Game. Set. Match.
Larry wasn’t cheering, he wasn’t up in my grill; to the outside observer he was the picture of perfect sportsmanship. He did have a little shit-eatin’ grin, but really, you can’t hold that sort of thing against anyone in such a moment of impending victory. But I knew what was goin’ on inside his left-handed brain and it wasn’t pretty. Sportsman, my ass. He finally showed his true colors, “TB, State’s had a good year. It’s early, man. Let’s go out and drink some beers and have a good time, maybe find some girls. It’s just a game, don’t sweat it. I ain’t gonna rag on you or nothin’.”
Oh yes, that’s how it was. He’s a real asshole deep down, don’t let him fool you. I wouldn’t make up a conversation like that. Prick. I muttered something to the effect of “y’all go. I’m pissed and I’m not a good sport and I don’t wanna run into any damn Rebs tonight.” THEN, Larry, said, “aww don’t be that way man. Let’s go have fun.” Really. He’s like that. Prick.
Then State scored a touchdown and I started devising improbable scenarios in my head about how we could still win and Larry puckered up, just a little. Quit talkin’ at least. But the clock kept tickin’ down to zero and it still looked pretty bleak for the home team. With about a minute and a half to go, State got the ball back around their own twenty, needing to score a touchdown against the mighty Rebel defenders to send the game to overtime. A couple of completions got the ball out to around mid-field and got me to the edge of my beer stained, borrowed, bachelor sofa. Larry sat back. Sweet began contemplating a transfer of his devilish delight at my own suffering to the even tastier prospect of an Ole Miss fan’s misery.
Then Wayne Madkin was chased from the pocket and he rolled to his right in desperate flight. He happened to look up at what can only be described as a moment when the Indian gods of revenge were otherwise occupied. CJ Sirmones, who never did another damn thing in his football life worth remembering, was wide open deep downfield. Madkin heaved the pass long, Sirmones made the catch, and dived into the End Zone for the tying touchdown. I leapt off the couch. Larry, well I don’t know what Larry did, but I expect it involved muttering, cursing, disbelief and disgust. And he surely hated his old pal TB in that moment. And Sweet too, for he was now laughing with demonic delight at the nasty turn of events that was about to consume Larry’s sporting year.
The game wasn’t over. Overtime was a certainty, and on paper, the Rebs had the advantage due to their superior offensive talent. But David Cutcliffe and the Rebel quarterback Romaro Miller weren’t willing to settle for that advantage. They elected to counter punch. With only seconds remaining in regulation, Miller dropped back to pass, hoping to get his team in Field Goal range. He threw long and to the sideline but State cornerback Robert Bean had the play covered. He leapt as high as TB had when Sirmones scored, maybe even higher and tipped the pass away. And while those Indian revenge gods yet slumbered, he somehow reached out with his foot as he came hurtling down to Earth and kicked the ball up, into Eugene Clinton’s waiting hands. Clinton carried the pick back upfield and out of bounds, leaving State kicker Brian Hazlewood time to come out and make the kick of his or any other State kicker’s life. There would be no great wind to push it back. State 23-Rebs 20.
Larry took it like a man, outwardly. I assumed the role of sportsman. There was no gloating. My friend was suffering. Sure, I was ecstatic. I thought about all those arguments I’d win. But Larry was my friend and our bond was far more important than the result of a silly ballgame in which neither of us even played. Larry was a prince after all, a real prince.
“Larry, you were right all along. Let’s go out and drink a beer or two. Find some girls. We don’t have to talk about the game or anything.”
Larry just muttered something back at me, seems like I heard the word “prince” in their somewhere. Then he found the strength to stand. “Nah, I think I’ll just go on to the house.” Sweet followed him all the way out to his car and then down the driveway taunting him, torturing him. I just opened a beer and fell back on that couch ’til Sweet came back in, laughing, pattin’ me on the back like we’d been in it together all along. “Let’s go get that beer. I bet not every Ole Miss fan is as big a wuss as Larry. I wanna see some tonight.”
“Me too. Let’s go.” I wanted to show ’em all how good a sport I was, that’s all.
coming up next, The Worst Egg Bowl Ever