Jerious Norwood remembers a prized Egg from 10 years ago

Rick Cleveland
Rick Cleveland

Jerious Norwood — J-Rock to his fans and friends — doesn’t have to think more than a split second when asked his best Egg Bowl memory.

“It was the one we won,” Norwood said from Atlanta Tuesday. “That’s the easiest question I’ve ever answered.”

It was Nov. 26, 2005, at Scott Field, and it was a performance to behold. Norwood, the former Brandon star, ran for 204 yards and and scored four touchdowns against a Patrick Willis-led Ole Miss defense in a surprising 35-14 State victory.

“I knew that was going to be the last time I ever put on that Mississippi State uniform and I knew I had never beaten Ole Miss,” Norwood said. “I just went as hard as I could for as long as I could and it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”

Midway through the third quarter, Norwood went to the locker room after suffering from muscle cramps in both his calves and his groin.

“They had IVs in both my arms and I was gulping down Gatorade as fast as I could,” Norwood said. “I wanted back out there.”

When he returned to the field, he was welcomed by a thunderous ovation and thousands of clanging cowbells from State fans. Said Norwood, “You never forget a moment like that.”

He responded by rushing for 100 yards in the fourth quarter., a performance that surely clinched him the C Spire Conerly Trophy a few days later.

What does Norwood remember most, other than the return to the field? “I remember going at it all day with Patrick Willis,” Norwood said. “He got his licks and I got mine. He was a great player, still is.”

Norwood also remembers how much the victory meant to his coach, Sylvester Croom.

“Coach Croom worked us harder that week than we had worked all season,” Norwood said. “We had physical practices because he said it was going to be a physical game. He was right.”

Yes, and here’s my column that appeared in the next day’s Clarion-Ledger:

STARKVILLE − Hold on just a second while I fill in my Conerly Trophy ballot.
J−e−r−−i−o−u−s N−o−r−w−o−o−d.
Now then, about this 102nd Egg Bowl: As good ol’ Jack Cristil would tell you − and surely he did − you
could wrap this baby up in maroon and white.
And as you color the game maroon and white, you can color me surprised.
Not that Mississippi State won necessarily, but how the Bulldogs won.
By 21 points. By outgaining the Ole Miss Rebels by more than 2 to 1. By taking a knee with more than a
minute left inside the Ole Miss 10 with Bulldog fans clanging their bells and clamoring for more.
With Norwood rushing for 204 yards and scoring four touchdowns against an Ole Miss defense that had been
stingy against the run all season long.
There are lasting memories, memorable scenes, from all these Egg Bowl games, even the ones that match Ole
Miss and State teams that have only five victories between them. The lasting memory from this one came in
the third quarter with only seconds remaining.
Norwood, who had been helped to the dressing room a few minutes earlier, raced back onto the field to a
standing ovation. He already had carried for 116 yards before coming down with muscle cramps in both
calves and his groin area.
When Norwood. replenished with IVs, emerged from the dressing room State fans began cheering. As more
and more noticed Norwood, the cheers grew louder and louder. When he immediately took the field, you’d
have thought he had just scored another touchdown. And when he immediately took a handoff and ripped off
15 more yards, you probably could have heard the roar in Columbus.
You could sense that not only were the fans cheering Norwood’s performance this day but that this was
almost like at the Academy Awards when someone gets a lifetime achievement award. Norwood deserved
this one.
He deserved this day.
Said Sylvester Croom who needed this day as badly as Norwood deserved it: “Jerious is our horse. He’s the
reason we won.”
*****
Forget, if you can, your allegiances for just a moment. I know, it’s hard, especially this time of the year. But
try. Now then, appreciate what the moment − and this game − must have meant to Norwood.
At Brandon High, he was once one of the most celebrated players in Mississippi high school history. One
sports columnist − this one, actually − went so far as to suggest he might be Mississippi’s next Walter Payton
or Jerry Rice. He was fiercely recruited by State and Ole Miss and by other teams across the nation.
But for the past four years, he has been a fabulous player on lousy football teams. He played on teams that
won only 11 games and lost 35. He had played in three of these Egg Bowls and lost all three.
But Norwood − J−Rock, his teammates call him − kept plugging. Through bruises, muscle pulls, sprains,
strains and concussions. Through demoralizing loss after demoralizing loss, he kept plugging.
He ran for 1,052 yards last season on a team that won three games. He ran for 1,136 yards this season on a
team that won another three games. He rushed for 3,222 yards, the most in Mississippi State history, for
teams that won a total of 11 times.
Many of us have wondered how many yards Norwood might have gained − how many touchdowns he might
have scored − had he been playing behind a Florida State− or Tennessee−type line. Turns out, Norwood
sometimes wondered about it, too.
“I have thought about it, but I have to do with what I’ve got,” Norwood said. “I’m at Mississippi State and all I can ask is for the guys to give 100 percent and they have done that.”
*****
As for the Conerly Trophy vote, I had Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Willis and Norwood rated almost
dead−even going into the Egg Bowl. My vote was going to go to the one who had the better game.
Willis was fabulous. He was in on 14 tackles, including 11 solos, and he intercepted a pass. Said Norwood of
Willis, “He’s a great player, one of the best in the country.”
Agreed. But this day, Willis was the second−best player on the field.

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