Around 1:10 a.m., Mississippi State’s team bus pulled up to their hotel, the Hilton Anatole. Waiting inside was a crowd of hundreds in Maroon and White chanting and cheering and causing general mayhem in a hotel where everyone should have been asleep by then. Before they walked off the bus and into the crowd, the team director of operations stood up and told them they could take a second to say hi to friends and family, but they had to get upstairs quickly so they could go over the schedule for the next day and get them to sleep.
To speed up their entrance, security was in the crowd opening up a lane and directing MSU to a side staircase that would keep them from having to walk the length of the crowded and sizable lobby. When they reached their secret stairwell, Vic Schaefer realized what was happening. Halfway up a flight of steps, the head coach of MSU’s women’s basketball team turned to his wife to address a concern he had just realized he had.
“Why are we going this way,” he asked her as he looked back at the massive crowd he had just stepped away from. “I wanna go that way.”
Schaefer turned around and strode back into the waiting throng, taking handshakes, high fives, back slaps and hugs from every person he could reach. It could’ve been gameday in The Junction and Schaefer was walking through the Dawg Walk for all the fervor and excitement and enthusiasm. But it was nearing 2 a.m. at a hotel in Dallas as he continued celebrating with Bulldogs from all over.
On TVs inside the hotel bars where MSU fans unable to sleep were still celebrating, all screens were set to ESPN, where all the highlights were about their Bulldogs. Anchors were discussing continuously the biggest upset in basketball history. Every time they showed Morgan William hitting the game-winning buzzer beater to take down No.1 UConn in the Final Four, MSU fans cheered again. “Go State” cheers were still sounding in the lobby as it pushed nearer to 3 a.m., likely much to the annoyance of the hotel staff and anyone there who wasn’t with MSU. But at the same time, it seemed like everyone in America was with MSU, save for 1/50th of the country in a certain northeastern state.
In Starkville, crowds went wild. At Bin 612, video showed a completely full and completely still and silent main room for 12 seconds as MSU brought the ball up the court, as Dominique Dillingham dribbled around looking for room and as she passed the ball to William with just seconds left. When her jump shot fell through the basket and the buzzer sounded, movement and noise erupted in cheering and yelling and hugging, those standing on tables in the back so they could see having to jump to the ground or dance up and down on the table in celebration.
Just to the north in Oxford, Mississippi, MSU’s baseball team had just beat rival Ole Miss to win the series, but instead of celebrating their own victory, they were tensely watching the final seconds in Dallas as their peers attempted to make history. Video shown on repeat on SportsCenter throughout the night shows the baseball Bulldogs still in uniform going nuts with jumping and dancing and high-fiving and hugging.
Spencer Price, the Southeastern Conference leader in saves, chest-bumped a wall.
Past midnight Eastern Time down in Gainesville, MSU’s track and field team watched the end of the game from the Springhill Suites. In the room were five individual National Champions, between whom a combined seven national titles had been won. And they were riveted. As they should have been. Perhaps none know better what it’s like to find yourself in a moment like that. To find yourself in a moment like that and win is even better.
Among the crowd of Bulldog runners, throwers and jumpers was Raven Saunders, a three-time National Champion competing at the same meet, and also an Ole Miss Rebel.
“I’m going back to State!” she can be heard yelling at the end of the video. “I’m coming back with y’all!”
Celebrations rang, or better yet, clanged across the country on Friday night. Nothing like that has ever happened before, on a seemingly endless number of levels. It was historic in its own right as a national sports story, MSU snapping UConn’s 111-game winning streak, and that story is in every paper in America this morning, mere hours after celebrations wound down in Dallas.
But that game meant more to those in the Mississippi State family than it did to all the rest of world just watching for fun. It might sound like a negative to anyone else, but MSU fans, especially those who have followed for full lifetimes, know that things like this just don’t happen. For whatever reason, MSU has always seemed to be on the wrong side of history. When Dominique Dillingham was called for a flagrant foul with 26 seconds left, it was hard for many not to think, yep, of course that’s how this is going to end.
But, that’s not how it ended. For a handful of years now, some tide of momentum has begun to shift in MSU’s favor. Three years and nine months ago in Omaha, Nebraska, MSU’s baseball team played for a National Championship for the first time in any team sport in school history. 15 months later in Starkville, Dak Prescott and MSU’s football team rose to No. 1 in the country.
Then yesterday, MSU won the game it was never supposed to win, that no one was ever supposed to win, and tomorrow, they have the opportunity to win the first National Championship in Mississippi State history.
There’s a thing about MSU fans that cities across the country have learned over the years. All the hard years and all the disappointments have only made State fans more passionate, more eager and more appreciative when big moments come. As Omaha saw in 2013 and as Dallas is seeing now, it doesn’t matter where MSU is, the Bulldogs travel. Even if they can’t get in the game, they’re there, and that’s more than enough for them. All people want to be a part of something, and while it’s far from the most glamorous group, there are few who are more supportive and more passionate than MSU when the time comes.
On the court following the game, it was the perfect moment to exemplify what being an MSU fan actually means. Dak Prescott, who moments before had been near tears in his seat behind the bench, stood next to Morgan William, the hero of State’s last two games. ESPN reporter Holly Rowe looked at William and asked her why the Pro Bowl quarterback in the No. 15 MSU basketball jersey believed in her.
She answered not only for herself, but for MSU fans watching across the country.
“It’s a Mississippi thing,” the Alabama girl said as she stood under the arm of a Louisiana boy. “It’s family.”