Walking out of Davis Wade Stadium and into The Junction just before midnight, the first Mississippi State fan seen raised his drink, as if toasting the end of Thanksgiving night, and confidently cried, “This is the best feeling I’ve ever had!”
Not long before that, I stood at the back of the media scrum in the press room overlooking Scott Field, watching as Dak Prescott, a smile plastered on his face, happily answered questions and talked about the highs and lows of both life and the game he had just won.
My mind wandered as other reporters asked questions and scrambled for deadlines, thoughts drifting to the stories of Egg Bowls past those of us in the room had spent the whole week writing about – the moments, the victories, the heroes and the passion behind them.
Watching as Dak happily chatted, not even having time for what he did to click in his mind, I realized he had just cemented himself in the rivalry’s lore, a legend in the 100-plus year Battle for the Golden Egg.
Decades from now, reporters will call those who were there to tell them how it felt. The students who celebrated with MSU’s players after the Golden victory will tell their families about the time Dak Prescott came back in the fourth quarter and the Bulldogs won the Egg Bowl.
They’ll talk about the hero who needed – and received – a miracle to even see the field, the son who lost his mother just weeks before and the quarterback who willed his team to overtime victory on a 28-degree Thanksgiving night.
“There’s been a lot of ups, and a lot of downs,” Prescott said when asked about his last several weeks. “To win that game, that was amazing.”
It truly was, for him, for Dan Mullen and all who wear the Maroon and White.
What the game meant to the Bulldogs was far more than a single check in the win column, much more than a gauge of perceived heat on Mullen’s coaching seat and of far greater importance than an extra game in December or January.
After winning three-straight in the annual battle for in-state supremacy, MSU had the trophy taken from them last year, in what was honestly an embarrassing fashion.
Three years of pride, bragging rights and victory came tumbling down in Oxford as those clad in red and white stormed the field while the Bulldogs just tried to get off of it.
The one year passing from then to this Thanksgiving night felt doubly long as the three years previous, at least to those in Starkville.
The old adage was true in the cruelest of ways, that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, and perhaps, a bit weaker, as well.
Those on either side of the rivalry will claim the trophy as “ours,” whether they have it or not, though the truth is the Golden Egg belongs to no one permanently.
Jointly created by students from the state’s two premier universities so many years ago, the trophy is the most neutral of creations, seeming heartless when it leaves one set of hands for another, a cold emblem of victory in the most literal and symbolic senses as winter arrives at the end of every season.
But the knowledge that it can be lost on any November only makes the passion for it on each side stronger and the pride in having it that much greater.
The Golden Egg has no real owner, save the state of Mississippi, though for the next year, the trophy will stand as the spoil of victory for Mississippi State, a 365-day trump card and year-long symbol of pride and supremacy.
The honor of calling the trophy “ours” coming on the backs of Dak Prescott, a defense only allowing the Ole Miss offense three points, big plays by freshmen, sophomores, fifth-year seniors and all in-between.
Taveze Calhoun, a second-year corner for Geoff Collins’ defense, threw a Rebel over his shoulder and drove him to the ground in the fourth quarter, unwilling to allow him any closer to the first down sticks, a snippet of action showing how determined MSU was to win, how unwilling the Bulldogs were to lose.
After forcing another of the foes into green and white painted grass, Calhoun threw his head into the air, flexed his whole body and screamed into the stadium-lit night, his breath visible in the cold air and his yell blending in with the 55,000 surrounding him.
The game itself was ugly, to be honest. But the heroes – the moments and legends – already shine brighter than reality in the memories of those who watched them.
Dak Prescott walking onto the field in the fourth quarter after a recovery doctors said “must be a miracle” is where the story will one day begin. Down by three, the crowd roared in appreciation when the man who had already been their hero all season stepped out with helmet on and arms and legs ready.
“That was special,” Prescott said, “the way everyone had my back like that.”
His team had it, too, after Prescott’s unlikely return paved the road to the tie and eventual overtime.
On fourth-and-two, the Bulldogs were on the first possession of overtime, knowing Ole Miss would get a shot no matter they did, whether they kicked a field goal, got a touchdown or came away scoreless.
Mullen decided to go for it and called a pass, though a timeout was taken before the play could begin.
From there, Prescott went straight for his coach on the sideline.
“He came off on that fourth down when we called timeout,” Mullen recalled, “and said, ‘I’m gonna score. Give me the ball, I’ll get the job done.’ So, that was a pretty easy decision.”
“It was two yards,” Prescott explained. “I said, “Coach, I’ve got Gabe up front, just let me get behind him and go.’
“Dillon Day turned around before the snap and told me, ‘We’re gonna make a hole.’”
And he did it. Prescott found the hole, ran through the yards and into the endzone, scoring the go-ahead touchdown that ultimately led to MSU victory.
“When I put him on the field, I felt we were gonna win the game,” Mullen said. “He was gonna will it to happen, and he certainly did that.”
Just hours before, Prescott wasn’t going to play, the visiting Rebels were favored to win and the future of MSU’s program was supposedly in limbo, according to some on the outside.
But on the inside, Mullen always knew. He knew what his team had been through in this roller coaster season, playing the nation’s elite nearly every weekend while suffering injury after injury, playing great games only to find themselves on the losing side because one or two mistakes.
On Thanksgiving night, the Bulldogs finally broke through and Mullen nearly broke down, holding tears back in in post-game as he talked about the man who fought against so much to reclaim the Egg Bowl trophy in the name of his team.
“Dak Prescott just became a Mississippi State legend,” Scott Stricklin told Rick Cleveland, director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
Yes, he did. And he’ll be back to defend his trophy next November.