Mississippi State’s seniors don’t want to go out the same way they came in. The memory of their first Egg Bowl has been a sour taste on the back of their tongues for the last four years, one they can’t and may never get rid of, though this Saturday may afford them an opportunity.
Their very first Egg Bowl, MSU went up to Oxford in 2012 having won three-straight in the Battle for the Golden Egg. It was only a few years, but the Bulldogs were undefeated against the Rebels under Dan Mullen and it seemed a lifetime since the last Ole Miss victory. At moments, it felt like State would never lose again. In a fit of excitement the year prior, Mullen said just that after MSU won in Starkville, declaring to the locker room that they would never lose to That School Up North. Ever.
Then 2012 happened. Dak Prescott’s first Egg Bowl. Taveze Calhoun, Ryan Brown and more than a dozen others all had their first crack at winning the Egg. And they came up short. In a game where many thought MSU had Ole Miss outmanned, the Bulldogs got straight up out-played.
The fans at Vaught-Hemingway rushed the field as soon as the final seconds ticked off the clock, MSU’s players and coaches having to fight through an aggressive sea of red and blue to get to their losing locker room. Minutes prior, video of Mullen’s victory proclamation had been played sarcastically on the video board, taunting the losers who had been proud winners for the last three years.
“When that happened, I really realized how serious the rivalry was,” Calhoun, now a senior cornerback, shared this week. “That memory will be with me forever, because that hurt a lot. One of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever been through in my life.”
For Prescott, he’s not shy about saying it’s one of the main reasons he’s in Starkville right now. 2014, magical as that season was for MSU, ended in a loss in Oxford. That’s not how the greatest quarterback in Mississippi State history wanted to go out.
“I came back for this reason. From the time I got here, everything goes into this week. Everything boils down to this,” he said, later remembering that game his freshman year when it all became a little too real for him. “Losing to them at their place, just watching them celebrate, their whole deal with Coach Mullen on the Jumbotron, it all kind of sank in. That’s when I got the taste of the rivalry.”
Of course, the Egg Bowl isn’t big because of one video a few years ago. That was just a single jab in a century-long bout of Mississippi’s heavyweights. Whether by official means or just through the mouths of fans, the sparring has been hard and unending since the rivalry began.
In fact, the reason the trophy itself exists is because the two teams got into a massive brawl on the field after the 1926 game and school officials thought creating a trophy to give to the winner might diffuse the tension. Boy, were they wrong.
“It’s just important to everybody in Mississippi, Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans,” Calhoun explained. “Just seeing how much they hate us and knowing how much we hate them, too.”
MSU’s defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is uniquely experienced in this rivalry. When he was last on the staff at MSU, it was in 2010 during the three-win stretch for MSU in which it almost seemed easy. Now, back for the 2015 season, he’s the only coach or player on MSU’s sideline who will enter the game with an undefeated record against the Rebels, 1-0.
As time has gone by for the rest of the staff, many of whom have been with Mullen since he started at MSU in 2009, the years sort of run together. But Diaz, who only had the one year at State before his return this spring, remembers well what that first Egg Bowl win meant in 2009 and what it did for a program just beginning a rebirth.
“That really was what we had,” Diaz recalled. “I mean, we were 5-7. That whole offseason I was here, we were coming off a 5-7 season, but we were carrying around that Egg Bowl trophy everywhere we went. That really gave the program that first initial boost, which I felt led the team into that nine-win season in 2010. You couldn’t help but sense how important that game was. It was what we had at that time. Everything that this program has accomplished since then has been built off that first Egg Bowl.”
It was the marquee win of Mullen’s first season, and while State beat Georgia and Florida and even Michigan the following year, it was the 2009 Egg Bowl that started and kept the program rolling, leading all the way to being No. 1 in the country in 2014 and playing for another 10-win season in 2015.
When Diaz says everything has been built off that Egg Bowl, part of it is even literal. When MSU played that game, the north endzone at Davis Wade Stadium just had metal bleachers and the team’s daily locker room was in a decades-old facility across the street from the offices where MSU’s coaching staff split a building with athletic administration. A handful of Egg Bowls later, Davis Wade had a $75 million expansion and renovation resulting in a beautifully-bowled-in endzone. One month after winning the 2013 Egg Bowl in overtime, the program opened a $25 million football-only facility with coaches and players housed in the same brand new gigantic building.
Seeing the big-picture growth of the program by those means is what helped Brown, now a senior defensive end, fully understand the importance of the rivalry matchup.
“It really came when I saw buildings appearing,” he said. “We moved into this facility after we won the Egg Bowl. We started getting new stuff. A lot is riding on this game.”
The game doesn’t always have to define a season, of course. Just last year, MSU’s ride to the top of college football was started and completed before the Battle for the Golden Egg even kicked off. But no matter the situation, the rivalry always carries more weight. The big moments are bigger, the legends more legendary and the ramifications often much grander and deeper than any other.
Heroes and villains alike are born, often one man playing the role of both, seen in the brightest of lights from one side and considered a stain on an otherwise beautiful world from the other. It’s hatred for others stemming from love for their own.
“It captures the essence of this state,” Diaz said. “It’s the essence of their program against the essence of our program. It’s who they are as a university and what they represent, and who we are as a university and what we represent.”
Said Calhoun, the Mississippi native, “it’s the biggest game of the year.”
Saturday night, the Battle for the Golden Egg begins again.