By Paul Jones (MSU) and John Davis (Ole Miss)
Contributing Writers – MSM Nov/Dec 2013 Issue
Regarded as one of the longest-standing rivalries in the country, the Mississippi State-Ole Miss annual battle may be under-appreciated for the intensity of that rivalry. However, with each passing season, the Egg Bowl contest appears to becoming more intense regardless of the situation or the records on both sides. More times than not, that is proven more so with the fans. Whether it be due to social media or the ‘what have you done for me lately’ mindset, the Egg Bowl determines the mood of both programs for at least one year, if not longer in some cases. Rarely do both teams enter the Egg Bowl with winning records and ruining the other team’s season has been a rallying cry more times than not. Which makes the intensity of the rivalry even more amazing to Bulldog fans and Rebels fans throughout the Magnolia State. From the inside looking out, former Bulldog and Rebel players and coaches believe the intensity of the rivalry is higher among the fans. But that doesn’t mean that annual meeting in November has no bearing on the players.
OL – Warner Alford
Warner Alford, Ole Miss’ long-time athletics director, remembers a number of big games between Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
Alford, a native of McComb, first came in contact with the rivalry as a high school player. He remembers driving up to Oxford with a bunch of his friends on the Friday after Thanksgiving to watch the annual game.
Alford’s appreciation for the matchup with the Bulldogs increased when he came to Ole Miss and played under the legendary Johnny Vaught.
Alford said it was made clear when he first got to Ole Miss that the Egg Bowl was important.
“When we were players, you played one platoon. You played a freshman schedule. We played LSU, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State at the end. It was a big deal because a lot of the assistant coaches had Ole Miss backgrounds. They played here so it wasn’t just another game, it was the game,” Alford says. “When we play LSU, it’s a rival game but when you’re playing Mississippi State, it’s different. Most of the time we played against these guys in high school and we knew who they were. It was also at the end of the year and there always seemed to be a bowl on the line when we played.”
Alford was a freshman at Ole Miss in 1956. He redshirted in 1957 and then played 1958-1960. The Rebels won all three matchups with the Bulldogs and 29 overall games. Alford said a big reason why the Rebels had the Bulldogs’ number back then was because of former Ole Miss basketball coach, Bonnie Lee “Country” Graham.
“We had one coach who only scouted Mississippi State back then. Coach Graham was not only the basketball coach but he also played at Ole Miss as an end. He and Wobble Davidson coached the freshman team. He saw Mississippi State play every Saturday, wherever they went, in Starkville or on the road,” Alford said. “Now you can figure out if it was important or not. When we got ready for the scouting report, he had everything. He didn’t have to look at a note, he had everybody’s position everybody’s name, how much they weighed. I don’t know how long he did that, but he did as long as I was there.”
After graduating from Ole Miss, Alford went in to coaching for a time period before returning as AD. Another game in the rivalry that stands out to him was the 1973 contest, Johnny Vaught’s last as head coach.
“I was coaching and we played in Jackson and Bob Tyler was the head coach at Mississippi State. That year Billy Kinard was fired after the third game and Coach Vaught came back as AD and head coach. If we beat Mississippi State, it meant we would have a winning season,” Alford said. “The big thing was Coach Vaught had come back in the middle of the year and we were able to beat our rival in Jackson. That was a big deal because of what it meant to have him back.”
QB/Coach – Rocky Felker
Former MSU quarterback and head coach Rockey Felker has had the unique experie
nce of playing and coaching in the Egg Bowl.
And those Egg Bowl memories and rivalry games continue on for Felker, who has served as the Bulldogs’ Director of Player Personnel since Dan Mullen arrived in Starkville nearly five years ago.
And to Felker, he is also a firm believer the in-state rivalry has grown stronger of late.
“I think it has gotten more intense with the fans,” said Felker. “When I think about playing in it back in the 70s, it was still the biggest game of the year and the most important one and kind of a season within itself. But I think fans have gotten more into it now and are a lot more vocal and into the game.”
“And I don’t ever remember fans rushing the field after the Egg Bowl when I played. But now we’ve had our fans rush the field after the Egg Bowl and Ole Miss has, too. Plus, it is such an even rivalry. You go back to the 70s and look at the win-loss record and it’s pretty even.
When the Egg Bowl moved back to the respective campuses in 1991, that added more pride and pressure, as well, to end the regular season with that victory.
“I think it intensified it more,” said Felker. “Just the fact of when you play it on your campus, that is your home so it is more intense. When you played in Jackson it was a neutral field, fans take to it more now that it is back on campus and fans take a lot of pride in that.”
Whether it was as a coach or as a player, Felker said keeping your emotions in check during Egg Bowl week, and then in the game, can be quite the challenge.
“I think it is hard as a player and as a coach,” said Felker. “The players get so emotionally into it that sometimes you lose sight of what your job is. You get so wrapped up and there is so much trash-talking going on and jumping up and down. You see that more now than you did 30 years ago.”
During his five-year coaching tenure, Felker only captured one Egg Bowl as the Bulldogs’ head coach. But he encountered more success in his previous Egg Bowls as a player.
“I was 2-2 as a player in the Egg Bowl and I was hurt one year, my junior year with a broken leg, and didn’t get to play,” said Felker. “But my senior year was probably my biggest memory. We had a really good year up until then and won seven games and were 7-3 and then finished up with a convincing win in the Egg Bowl to cap off the season.”
And in his final Egg Bowl as a player, Felker still carries with him a lasting memory. It was one that he paid a price for but was a fond memory today.
“Probably the one where I got the heck knocked out of me,” said Felker with a laugh. “We ran the option then and on one play, I didn’t score but I pitched it to Walter Packer and he scored on that play and he had a great game that day.
“But I was running the option and trying to make the defender decide to take me or not. Well, he took me and knocked the crap out of me. But I pitched the ball and Walter walked into the end zone.”
DB/Coach Billy Brewer
Billy Brewer used to sell Coca-Colas at the annual Egg Bowl. As a boy growing up in Columbus, Brewer made money off the game working up a sweat at Davis Wade Stadium.
“One of the first football games that I saw Ole Miss and Mississippi State play was in Starkville with Ole Miss winning something like 49-7 with Showboat Boykin scoring seven touchdowns,” said the former Ole Miss head coach. “Looking back at it in my later years after being a coach, they never changed the defense, they never changed the blocking scheme. That was just it. They out-personneled them.”
What Brewer gained from the experience lead him to use down the road when he became an Ole Miss player under coach Johnny Vaught and the head coach of Ole Miss from 1983-1993.
“I think Coach (Hugh) Freeze and his staff are getting back to this, but it means more to the in-state kids to where when you’re playing this football game … it used to be in my era predominately that they knew each player in the state of Mississippi,” Brewer said. “The coffee shop talk will get a coach fired quicker than anything if you don’t win this ballgame. This is the primary game whether you think it is or not because of that.”
The game that Brewer recalled as fondly as any was his first as head coach, in 1983, in a game that was dominated by the Bulldogs early and won late by the Rebels. Ole Miss entered the game on a roll, having won four straight. One more win and the Rebels were headed to the Independence Bowl.
“We had developed into a good football team that played hard. We weren’t great, but we played hard, but they were night and day better than we were,” Brewer said. “We did things on offense and defense that structurally fitted our personality. Chemistry wise, we became a good football team. Me being a player and now being a coach could sell and promote what the Mississippi State game meant to me as a player and a coach and the aliments of Ole Miss. I don’t know if it made a lot of difference that first half because they had us down 21-0 and the last play of the half they had to punt the ball.”
Ole Miss was able to return the punt for a touchdown, giving the Rebels some life. After that, they controlled the second half until MSU got into field goal position very late in the game.
“They had an outstanding kicker, one of the best I’ve been around in Artie Crosby. We called timeout and they called timeout. We’re the visiting team. We’re opposite the press box in Jackson. Why (MSU coach Emory Bellard) didn’t move the ball to the right hash mark I do not know. You kick the ball at the post, the wind will blow it across. I’ve coached kickers and I knew that in all my years of the coaching business. I said this kid can kick it from anywhere he is. It didn’t make any difference,” Brewer recalled. “My son Brett is on the sideline and he said they were going to move on the right hashmark. I said I understand that. He killed the ball twice where it was. I haven’t since that before and I haven’t seen it since, how the ball, what happened to the ball.
“We didn’t have the video replay then but I’m not so sure it didn’t cross the cross bar. Anyway they kick the ball for the winning field goal. The Mississippi State stands got up and roared. Some guys can’t look, I’m looking and I thought it was good. Then the Ole Miss fans got up. The whole (stadium) was full. The kick is on its way and the rotation on the ball, it’s like a little single engine plane. You cut the motor off and it kicks back the opposite direction. That’s exactly what this ball did. The wind caught it, stopped it, reversed it and blew it back and it fell down right in front of the crossbar. We win.”
The victory is now known as the Emaculate Deflection. Brewer still remembers what he told Bellard as the two were about to shake hands. “As Emory came across the field, he said ‘Billy, I’ve never seen anything like this in all my days of coaching.’ I gave him kind of a smart alec deal,” Brewer said. “I said ‘Emory, God’s a Rebel. He’s not a Bulldog, he’s an Ole Miss Rebel.’ He said get out here boy in that old Texs drawl.”
QB – Sleepy Robinson
Considered one of the all-time favorites among Bulldog fans, former MSU quarterback Sleepy Robinson actually experienced just one win in the Egg Bowl. He was part of back-to-back losses in 1989-90, one of which included a huge fight on the field inside Jackson’s Memorial Stadium. Then Robinson, a Jackson native, was injured early in the 1992 season and didn’t experience the Egg Bowl that year.
But his lone victory was a memorable one and for more reasons than just beating Ole Miss. In that season, MSU claimed a 24-9 victory in 1991 and it was the first season that the Egg Bowl made a return to MSU’s campus.
Ever since, MSU and Ole Miss have hosted the Egg Bowl on each campus and that naturally brought a lot of increased intensity.
“It was very electrifying and I remember that week,” said Robinson. “When it returned to campus, everyone had parties all week long and everybody was pretty excited. We had high expectations going into that game, too, and knew if we won we were going to a bowl game. We stretched their defense out and I won MVP in that game and that was a great memory.
“I also remember a play on the goal line in that game. I am not sure of the score at the time but Ole Miss had a little cornerback that came up and tried to stop me from scoring. I met him head-on and bowled him over and it actually knocked my helmet off.”
After spending the previous decade or so coaching in the high school ranks, Robinson returned to MSU this summer and is serving as the staff’s assistant recruiting director. And yes, that Egg Bowl date is still circled on his calender.
“It was a dream of mine to come back where I shed blood, sweat and tears,” said Robinson. “The Egg Bowl is the main game of the year and it doesn’t matter what happened in the past because it’s the Egg Bowl. I want to get that win just like I wanted it when I was a player.
“We keep a countdown clock to that game in our locker room and there is always an emphasis on that game and that is how it should be.”
Since his playing days at MSU, Robinson said due to twitter and Facebook and the normal recruiting battles, there does seem to be more of an emphasis these days on the Egg Bowl. And that doesn’t pertain to Egg Bowl week.
“Most definitely,” said Robinson. “A lot of kids are on social media and tweeting all the time. So this competition and rivalry goes all year long. When I was younger we didn’t have as much attention on the game but now with the non-stop media, you always hear people talking about the rivalry. People enjoy their football in this state and their is a lot of focus on the two in-state SEC programs.
“People want those bragging rights and you want the upper hand in the Egg Bowl so you carry that momentum to the next season. The Egg Bowl is a bowl game within itself and a game to see who runs this state.”
QB – John Fourcade
John Fourcade had no trouble isolating his most memorable match-up with the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Of the three wins he had as a starter at quarterback, it was his senior year, in 1981, that the Rebels ended up winning 21-17 that was Fourcade’s most cherished one simply because he was the player that scored the game-winning touchdown.
“My last game, my last play was against Mississippi State. They were winning the game, they came back. They kicked a field goal with 34 seconds left. On third down, instead of running the clock out, they kicked and went up by three with about 34 seconds left. They kicked it back to us, we drove down the field with a couple of passes and then their was a pass interference call against them that put it on the 1-yard-line,” Fourcade recalls. “With three seconds left, we ended up calling my play that I ran all year long and scored the winning touchdown on my last play ever, beating Mississippi State with two seconds left. To this day, I don’t know why they kicked on third down. It was great for me because it was my last play in a college football uniform.”
Fourcade drew his first start at Ole Miss in 1978 against the Bulldogs, a game the Rebels won 27-7. “It’s a game that no matter what happens throughout the year, no matter what the record, you throw it all out the window. It’s such a hated battle amongst the two teams at the end of the season,” Fourcade said. “You like each other when it’s all said an done but for three, three and a half hours it’s a war.
Trust me, when you score the last play of your college career against your nemesis, the Mississippi State Bulldogs, on the other side, picking up the Egg Bowl trophy was easy. Knowing what it mean to us, we started the season off badly, but to end it on a good note with a win over Mississippi State, the joy and the accolades that came with that game were unbelievable.”
PK – Scott Westerfield
Former MSU kicker Scott Westerfield experienced the winning side and losing side of the Egg Bowl during his All-SEC career for the Bulldogs. Concerning that winning side, Westerfield had a lot to do with the Bulldogs’ victory in the 1999 Egg Bowl.
It was Westerfield’s last-second field goal that lifted MSU to a remarkable comeback in a season where last-minute rallies were a common theme.
MSU rallied with 10 points in the final two minutes that night as Davis Wade Stadium erupted moments later.
“To be honest, even though we’d come back in so many games that year, I didn’t think we would win it,” said Westerfield. “Ole Miss did an excellent job of shutting us down for most of that game. But like other games that year, things just started to click. It wasn’t play-calling or anything like that because we were running the same plays.
“It didn’t dawn on me until C.J. Sirmones caught that touchdown pass, the one where nobody was within 20 yards of him. That is when I thought we could win this thing. Then I was shocked to see Ole Miss throwing the ball on their next possession. I thought they would send it into overtime and rely on their defense. Then Robert Bean and Eugene Clinton did their soccer impression on that interception.”
And then it was Westerfield’s turn to play hero and he did just that in the 23-20 victory.
“Being one of the shortest guys on the field, I was just trying to see where Eugene went out-of-bounds on his return,” said Westerfield. “I didn’t see it at first and then I saw we were going to line up and kick a field goal. Ole Miss called a timeout right when I got set up. So I trotted over to the sideline and did my own thing, focused on the uprights and it went through. Thank goodness it went through.”
During his playing days, Westerfield noted it may have been more personal between the players due to the fact both rosters had more players from the Magnolia State.
“I am not sure of the breakdown today but back then, most of the rosters for both teams were Mississippi kids,” said Westerfield. “So you literally knew at least half of their roster or played against them in high school. Or if they were a couple of years older than you, then you went and saw them play.”
Which obviously added to the intensity of the rivalry, said Westerfield. But he also thinks in today’s Egg Bowl, that higher intensity may belong to the fans.
“It is a different feel all week of the Egg Bowl with the players,” said Westerfield. “Coach (Jackie) Sherrill made it feel different and Coach (Dan) Mullen emphasizes it today, too. You always felt the intensity of practice that week and it all leads up to the game.
“But I think the fans have really turned up the rivalry and then you have the pressure the coaches are under. Fans want instant results with today’s coaching salaries and they want the result in the Egg Bowl. It has always been a big deal with the players but has really intensified with the fans of late.” – MSM