State 6, Bama 3: Sports writers played hurt

Rick Cleveland 2007.jpg

The date was Oct. 31, 1980, and into the wee and then not-so-wee hours of Nov. 1, same year. We’re talking 33 years and 14 days ago, so I am thinking the statute of limitations is up.

Besides, I don’t work for The Clarion-Ledger any more. They can’t fire me.

No. 1-ranked Alabama was in Jackson to play Mississippi State. All our sports writing buddies from Alabama and several national writers were in town for the big game. Back then, Bear Bryant always drew a crowd, as Nick Saban does now.

We at The Clarion-Ledger and Jackson Daily News were trying to play good hosts. When the taverns closed in Jackson we moved en masse on out to the old Edgewater Landing at the reservoir. And we hosted and hosted and hosted some more.

We all got back to town about daybreak. Somehow.

Kickoff was at 1:30, and it might have been the only time in history that had you polled the sports writers, we would have voted overwhelmingly for a night game. Most of us had heads that felt like we had been running into Johnie Cooks and Glen Collins all night long. If you bet the over on aspirin for that press box, you won big. Those squeaking metal chairs in that old Veterans Memorial Stadium press box never sounded so harsh.

Neither did those cowbells.

Our one saving grace, or so we thought, was that this wasn’t going to involve heavy lifting. Alabama, a 20-point favorite, would handle State, pull away in second half and beat the Bulldogs for the 23rd consecutive time, win its 29th consecutive game and its 27th straight SEC game.

And you know what happened next: State 6, Bama 3. That was the next day’s headline in the biggest doomsday print we had back then. We were all assigned two or three extra stories, and the newspaper put out a special section. Coffee, strong coffee, was the drink of the day. We got the paper out, went home and collapsed.

Most of us slept extremely late on Sunday and then met up at CS’s on West Street to sit on Pat Boland’s patio afor a few beers and discuss the miracle we had observed.

True story: One State fan saw us, approached us and complained: “If Ole Miss had done it, you would have had a bigger headline,” he said.

Said Orley Hood, “Fellow, we don’t have bigger headlines.”

That’s when I knew we could never please everybody.

I bring this up often when people ask me a question like the one that has been asked so often this week:”Do you think State has a chance against Alabama?”

Why, of course, the Bulldogs have a chance. A State victory at Starkville Saturday would be only slightly more shocking than that one here 33 years ago. This time, State is a 26-point underdog. In 1980, State was a 20-point dog.

Fact is, big underdogs win every week in college football, although it usually does require some unusual circumstances.

It’s possible. The recipe for a huge upset: The underdog plays at its best, while the favorite plays sub-par. Mix in a few well-timed fumbles and pass interceptions, and a dash of at least one big play in the kicking game. An usual bounce here and there doesn’t hurt. It could happen.

It does happen.

It happened 33 years ago.

It can happen again Saturday.

Probably won’t.

But it could. Here’s the best bet: No matter what, I am going to feel a whole lot better when this game kicks off.

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State 6, Bama 3…the whole story.

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