Egg Bowl history 101: Rarely a dull moment in this rivalry

Cleveland
Cleveland

It’s Egg Bowl Week and time for the annual primer on the history of the game. I wrote this in 2003 on the 100th anniversary of the game.

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THEY’VE clashed in snow, in a flood, in bitter cold and through fog so thick spectators could scarcely distinguish between maroon and white and red and blue.

They’ve played mostly in Starkville, in Oxford, and in Jackson, but also in Columbus, Tupelo, Clarksdale and Greenwood.

This Thanksgiving night, Nov. 27 in Starkville, often bitter football rivals Mississippi State and Ole Miss will clash for the 100th time.

Mississippians will have much to be thankful for, besides their turkey and dressing. So far, in the tumultuous Egg Bowl rivalry, nobody has been killed.

Not that there haven’t been close calls in a series that has been marked by intermittent brawls, including one 1997 melee that happened before the game. Just when the players should have been stretching and doing jumping jacks, all hell broke loose. Fights broke out all over the field. Helmets became weapons. The Mississippi Highway Patrol watched for a while and then sprang into action.

Had C.R. “Dudy” Noble been watching, he might have smiled. Noble knew the bitterness of the rivalry from both sides. He coached the Ole Miss Rebels in 1917 and 1918 and switched over to Mississippi State as the

Bulldogs’ head coach in 1922. State won all three years, which might explain why Noble became a fixture and a legend as State’s long−time athletic director.

Ole Miss fans would tell you Noble went over to the dark side. State fans would tell you he simply saw the light. Whatever. Only this much is certain: Where football is concerned, fans of the two schools have never agreed on much of anything.

In the beginning, they couldn’t even agree to play.

Ole Miss began playing football in 1893, State in 1895. But the two couldn’t settle on a playing date until 1901.

Then, when they finally did get together in Starkville on Oct. 28, 1901, they almost didn’t play. Kickoff was delayed by nearly a hour − naturally by a dispute. Ole Miss accused State, then Mississippi A M, of playing non−students; State said, no, indeed. And since there was no NCAA to rule over such matters, they finally played. State defeated Ole Miss 17−0. Due to the late start, the game was called for darkness midway through the second half.

The school newspaper in Starkville accused the Ole Miss boys of “dirty play when the referee was not looking.” The Ole Miss school magazine said A M’s complaints of dirty play came “from one who has never indulged in any exercise more violent than the milking of a patient cow.”

Sound familiar? More than a century later, similar accusations continue.

Even the game’s trophy − the Golden Egg − was created because of the strife. In 1926, Ole Miss won 7−6 at Starkville, snapping a 17−game State winning streak. Making Ole Miss’s victory all the sweeter, the game was played in Starkville. Yes, and when Ole Miss students swarmed the field with the intent of taking down the goal posts, A M students defended their territory, some with wooden chairs they splintered over the heads of the invaders.

That year’s brawl led to the introduction of the Golden Egg Trophy. The trophy, not the goalposts, would be the winners’ reward.

If anything, the rivalry has intensified in recent years. State fans believe Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat was behind the SEC’s move to keep cowbells out of league stadiums. Ole Miss fans refer to Jackie Sherrill as the Prince of Darkness. Sherrill won’t even utter the words “Ole” and “Miss.”

State fans − and officials − blame Ole Miss for the ongoing NCAA investigation of State football. Ole Miss fans believe Sherrill is determined to take Ole Miss down with him.

And so it goes. . .

Ole Miss grad William Winter, the former governor, believes the Rebels and Bulldogs enjoyed “a more civil rivalry back in the old days” before $20 million athletic budgets, 50,000−seat stadiums and the Internet.

Winter, who graduated from Ole Miss in 1943, believes “the intemperance of comments on the Internet” has intensified the rivalry, not necessarily for the good. Harold Grove, a standout guard on State’s 1941 SEC Championship team, agrees.

“I think it’s the fans, the overzealous fans, always putting down the other school,” Grove said. “I don’t know that the players have that much animosity. I know we didn’t. We knew all the Ole Miss players and many of them were good friends.

“We were very eager to beat them, but after the game we were friends again. Nowadays, the fans are so radical that they get mad at their own players if they don’t win. Ninety−nine percent of it comes from the fans.”

Amongst the bickering and the brawls, the Rebels and Bulldogs have played some interesting and, at times, outstanding football.

How’s this for interesting? In 1907, the Rebels and the Bulldogs sloshed onto the field at the Mississippi Fairgrounds in Jackson after several days of hard rain. Much of the field was under water, some of it knee−deep according to newspaper reports. The State men proved the better mudders, winning 15−0, at least in part because Ole Miss coach Frank Mason chose to provide an urn of hot coffee to help warm his players. He added whiskey to the coffee to make certain they were good and warm.

When asked about his team’s travel plans after the defeat, 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.”

And how’s this for outstanding? The series has involved some of the game’s greatest coaches (Allyn McKeen, Harry Mehre, Murray Warmath, Darrell Royal and John Vaught) and legendary players (Bruiser Kinard, Buddy Elrod, Shorty McWilliams, Charlie Conerly, Buster, Ray and Barney Poole, Jackie Parker, Jake Gibbs, Charlie Flowers, Archie Manning, D.D. Lewis, Deuce McAllister, etc.)

In 1941, State and Ole Miss played with the SEC Championship on the line. Mehre coached the Rebels. McKeen guided the Bulldogs. State won 6−0 to claim the only outright SEC title in school history.

“Man, what a game that was,” Grove said.

Sixty−two years later, it remains the only time State and Ole Miss have ever played when both teams had a shot at the SEC title.

Many times, nothing other than bragging rights have been at stake. That’s enough.

One such time was 1978. Steve Sloan’s first Ole Miss team limped into the game with a 4−6 record. Bob Tyler’s last State team was 6−4 and going nowhere.

Tom Patterson, sports editor of The Clarion−Ledger and Jackson Daily News, had assembled a staff of award−winning writers from across the country. What he lacked was a big event with which to showcase all that talent at once. None of the Mississippi teams were playing well enough to secure a bowl bid. So Patterson decided to create his own bowl game, thus the Egg Bowl. Patterson covered the Rebels’ 27−7 victory with 12 writers, six photographers and a 16−page special section. The section won national awards.

More importantly, the name stuck. Any copy editor will tell you “Egg Bowl” fits in a newspaper headline far more easily than “Battle for the Golden Egg.”

The truth is, supporters of Mississippi State and Ole Miss loved to loathe one another before either school played football. In the beginning, this was a rivalry of class as much as anything. The rivalry actually pre−dates the creation of Mississippi State.

Many Mississippians considered Ole Miss, established in 1848, as a last bastion of aristocracy in the post−Civil War South. Noted Mississippi historian David Sansing once wrote: “From the ruins of the old regime, a New South and a New Mississippi emerged. The small farmers and laborers in the northeast hills and the Piney Woods finally wrestled political control from the Delta. The gentry’s hegemony was broken.

During the bitter political struggle, the issue of class often surfaced. It was inevitable that Ole Miss would be brought into the struggle. The dirt farmers and common laborers, who were called Rednecks, accused Ole Miss of pampering sons of the gentry and neglecting the sons and daughters of the working class.”

Out of that general mistrust, Mississippi Agricultural Mechanical, later Mississippi State, was born in 1878 and opened its doors in 1880. Immediately there were hard feelings. Disputes about money and political favoritism raged. Ole Miss faithful referred to A & M as Cow College. A & M resented Ole Miss for its favored status as the state’s only university.

In 1901, football simply took the rivalry to another level. Football provided physical combat − the next best thing to a good, old street fight − and, as we know, a few of those have broken out through the years as well.

 

 

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