In 1937, 10-year-old M.C. ‘Chut’ Billingsley rode north from his home in Winona, Miss., up to Oxford for his first-ever Egg Bowl.
His father, who played football himself at Mississippi State (Mississippi A&M at the time), hadn’t missed an edition of the annual rivalry game since finishing his career as a team captain for the Maroons and was ready to share the experiences of joy and pain in rivalry with his son.
A spry woman for her age, ‘Mitchie’ showed up at MSU’s Ladies Football Clinic this summer, where not only did she participate, but she did chin-ups in the weight room and won her age bracket in the 40-yard dash on Scott Field.
“40-yard dash, pull-ups, she did it all,” Chut bragged. “I tell everybody she’s 87 years old and acts like a 20 year old.”
After winning the sprint, she was given a bullhorn and asked to share her name.
She did, but she didn’t relinquish her grip on the microphone after.
Instead, she continued.
“And let me tell you about my husband,” she began as she kept the on button pressed. “He’s been to 75-straight Egg Bowls,” she said with as much as pride as her voice would allow. “And this year, it will be 76. I’ll be right there with him.”
Yes, Chut has been to every Egg Bowl played since that first one he watched in Oxford with his dad back in 1937. And this Thursday, he’ll be in Starkville for No. 76.
“She lets everybody know how many I’ve been to,” Chut said. “She’s proud of it.”
Many of the contests over the decades have left an imprint on his memory, but none more so than that very first one. Perhaps because it was the game which introduced him to the Egg Bowl. Maybe because it was the beginning of a new bond with his father, who went to 60-straight himself, starting with the ones he played in.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Chut’s dad’s team won, 9-7, in the most dramatic and appropriate of fashions.
“Back then,” Chut recalled, “when you punted the ball and you downed it, you had to hold your hand on the ball until the referee blew his whistle. Well, State touched it and left it on the ground, and Ole Miss picked it up and ran it 60-something yards for a touchdown to tie it at 7.”
But, in the game’s final moments, Ole Miss had the ball and hoped to get a score and take the lead, though they had the length of the field to go.
“We had a tackle named John,” Chut advised, “and he tackled Parker Hall in the endzone for a safety and we won it 9-7.
“That one stood out.”
While his streak started on a high note, Chut has learned over the years not to react too strongly to any result, be it win or loss, knowing the natural ebb and flow of momentum and rivalry will always swing back the other direction, no matter how great or terrible things maye seem at the time.
“It used to be,” he said, “if Ole Miss beat us, it took me two weeks to get over it. I want to win, but it doesn’t hurt me too bad like it did for a while.”
The worst hurt, he’ll tell you, was in Jackson in 1983, when the potential game-winning field goal by Artie Cosby appeared to sail over the crossbar and between the uprights, only to be pushed back out onto the field by a strong wind, meaning the Bulldogs had lost to Ole Mis in a most peculiar and vexing way.
“I never liked it in Jackson,” Chut deadpanned. “I’d rather it be on the campus of the schools.”
One of his favorites, however, came in 1964, when Chut was already 37 years old and had been married to his high school sweetheart for 15 years.
As he had gone back and forth to Oxford and Starkville each year, Chut’s Bulldogs had gotten into a bit of a rut as they struggled to beat the streaking Rebels.
In fact, MSU went 18 years without victory.
That day in 1964, however, broke the streak. And Chut, like always, was there.
“We played up in Oxford,” his story began. “It was a real cold day. In fact, it had rained some and ice was all on the trees. We had a big ol’ fullback at the time, I can’t remember his name now, that plowed in for a touchdown with just a few minutes left.
“We hadn’t beaten them since 1946, 18 years without winning. We tied a couple in that period, but we hadn’t won, that’s when Johnny Vaught was up there at Ole Miss.
“But we got ahead of them,” he continued, “and we punted, and there was just two or three minutes left, so I thought, ‘We’ve got it.’ And then they brought the kickoff back way down. Deep on our side of the field. But they didn’t score and we won the ball game.
“We made a great defensive stand,” he finished.
Of course, the idea now of the Egg Bowl ending in a tie, as it did the year before the Bulldogs broke the streak, seems ludicrous, and vaguely impossible to deal with.
“Usually, the team that’s favored – and there’s always a favorite – they’re usually the ones that hurt the worst,” Chut wisely recalled and observed.
Now, Chut and Mitchie still live in Winona. He goes to every Egg Bowl (plus other football, baseball and basketball games when he can), but she only goes to the ones in Starkville these days, choosing to avoid the occasional “sass” they receive walking through The Grove at Ole Miss.
The two met in elementary school, dated in high school and were married a year before Chut graduated from the business school at MSU in 1950.
For eight years, he worked for his father, the 1920 team captain, at his wholesale grocery company, then opened up a Piggly Wiggly in Winona which he ran for 30 years before retiring, always making sure to have a manager he could trust while he was off at Egg Bowls.
“I’ve been retired now and haven’t done much since, except for work in the yard,” he said with a laugh.
Chut’s four sons all graduated from MSU, just like himself and his father, and even his uncle, a 1909 team captain for the A&M Maroons.
“I was born into a family that loved sports,” he said.
And Chut considers himself lucky to have done so, seeing decades of excitement and disappointment, winning, losing and tying, staying true to his school these 76 years.