Rick Cleveland said it well. Other rivalries may have bigger stages, greater implications or more historic names. They may make more money, come from more respected places or just have more mystique about them.
But no rivalry is as contemptuous, hate-filled and life-altering as the Battle for the Golden Egg.
It’s odd that a state so small could be home to universities so clearly different. Ole Miss, the doctors and lawyers, the writers and thinkers, the aristocrats. Mississippi State, the veterinarians and farmers, the engineers and architects, the proletariat.
One is built on inclusion, the other on exclusivity.
Sometimes the assumptions are accurate, though often they’re not. But one truth certainly holds strong: the game itself is built on an insatiable hunger to prove that your side, whichever it may be, is superior.
“Ain’t no motivation needed for this week,” MSU senior safety Jay Hughes said.
Hughes is from Hattiesburg, in the southern half of the state, and his father Tony has coached both the Rebels and the Bulldogs in the northern half. The elder Hughes has been on the Starkville side of the rivalry lately, the safeties coach at MSU in charge of his own son. Both of them know how much the Egg Bowl means.
Mississippi always seems to be last in everything. She’s one of the fattest, poorest, most uneducated states in the union, if one judges her by such things. In a place that is so often at the bottom, it’s no great wonder that those inside the borders are desperate for something, anything, to call themselves the best at.
Football is that something. Half the state gets first place, while the other half is relegated to its perpetual last place status.
After all, as MSU coach Dan Mullen pointed out, there are no academic competitions held on national television to decide which school is best. How would such a thing be determined, anyway? Graduation rates, ACT scores, enrollment, employment potential? Such a judgment would be muddier and murkier than the Mississippi River itself.
No, fair or not, the strongest, fastest and largest of Mississippi’s sons meet on top of her soil once every 365 days to battle for ownership of the Golden Egg, and that’s how the victor is crowned
“This is Mississippi,” Mullen said. “Football is important here. That’s what people judge these schools on.”
It started in 1901 at the end of October when Ole Miss traveled to what was then Mississippi A&M in Starkville, back in the days when a railroad track ran straight through campus and brought students to and from school from summer and Christmas vacations.
That was before recruiting, before signing day, and before the NCAA and SEC existed. Back when footballs and helmets were made out of basically the same material.
In those days, teams were just made up of students who happened to attend the school. People didn’t go there to play football. They played football because they were there.
And maybe that’s why the maroon side had so much success early on. The sons of farmers and military cadets were certainly far more suited for the brutish battle of brawn as winter set in each year. Who better to protect a field than the men who worked on one their entire lives? The game which led to the creation of Golden Egg Trophy came at the end of a 13-year winning streak for the Aggies (now Bulldogs).
Thanksgiving, November 25, 1926 in Starkville. The Rebels bounced back after over a decade of loss and fought their way to a 7-6 victory.
As soon as the final play finished, the stands at Scott Field erupted in chaos. Yelling, punching, kicking and cursing. The Ole Miss and MSU students were at each other’s throats (and any other part of their bodies they could get a fist on). Deciding something had to be done to stop the yearly-increasing madness, the student associations of each school jointly hatched a plan. They proposed the creation of a trophy in the hopes that the passion and energy of the rivalry could be directed at a prize to be won rather than at each other.
The proposal, courtesy of Mike Nemeth’s MSU Football Vault, read as follows:
“We, the Student Bodies of the University of Mississippi, and the Mississippi A. & M. College, in order to effect a better understanding in athletic relations, to foster clean sportsmanship, and to promote a lasting tradition do hereby enter into the following agreement; to wit:
- That a gold football of regulation size and mounted on a metal base may be purely jointly owned by the student bodies of the two institutions, the cost to be equally divided.
- That the trophy be known as ‘The Golden Egg.’
- And that it shall be presented immediately after each football game between the University of Mississippi and Mississippi A. & M. College to the winning team in the following manner:
(a) Immediately after the game ends the student bodies will rise and sing their alma mater songs, the student body winning team singing first, the second following after the first has finished.”
MSU still holds the tradition of singing the Alma Mater with fans after every game of the season. And both schools still honor the tradition of the Golden Egg. But if the intent of the trophy was to diffuse the tension, only the opposite has happened. That Egg means more than ever.
The internet has made it easier to brag. The SEC has put the game on a grander stage. Mullen won’t even say the actual words Ole Miss. The rivalry is everywhere.
“That’s who you’re around in this state,” Mullen said. “When our fans go to the grocery store, they’re seeing School Up North people … Everybody in the state takes the outcome of this game very seriously and brags about the outcome for 364 days.”
He’s done plenty of bragging of his own, as Mullen’s team has won four out of the last five. Of course, it’s the one out of the five he remembers, and that his players won’t forget.
It’s the final minutes of the 2012 game in Oxford when the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium video board operators looped a clip of Mullen saying his team would never lose to Ole Miss, just moments before they suffered defeat.
“That stuck with me, that feeling,” MSU quarterback Dak Prescott said. “I’m ready to go back and take care of business.”
Is Ole Miss to blame for playing it, or is MSU to blame for saying it in the first place?
It doesn’t matter. Each school detests the other for that and the rest of a century-long list of slights, some real and some perceived.
No one needs another reason to hate the other, but they keep finding more, anyway.
On Saturday, 113 years of muddy, bloody and tear-stained rivalry comes to a head once more.
“You’re gonna get hit after the whistle, get shoved after the play or something’s gonna happen in the pile,” MSU offensive lineman Ben Beckwith said.
The Battle for the Golden Egg is on.
Said Hughes, “I’m ready to play.”