There. I really said it. After what, 34 seasons rating one epochal afternoon as the greatest victory of modern Mississippi State history, the ‘I Was There When State Beat The Bear’ shall step aside. Just as for today the rest of current college football has had to make room for a new #1 team. For the 2014 Bulldogs.
Yesterday when word was hot ‘n fresh we wrote up details of this first-ever ascension atop the national rankings. With time to let reality of it all soak in comes the pleasure of perspective. Funny, ain’t it, how just a few weeks ago I mentioned how LSU media friends asked if that win in Baton Rouge was the ‘biggest ever’; and their surprise I said top-ten probably but not first by any means. My point at the time was the ‘bigness’ would only be judged later by what these Dogs did with the win and of course what the Tigers turned out to themselves be this season.
Now here we are, two even-greater victories later and the second a genuine contender for Biggest Win Ever…with this all-important addendum of So Far.
Yes, much like October 11, 2014 could and likely should now be regarded as the Greatest Scott Field Day Ever, To Date. This takes nothing away from Bigness of the victory and Greatness of the event. Just the opposite, people, I mean that, as Big and Great as everything we enjoyed yesterday—OK, make that all last week and through today’s rankings release—this hopefully becomes the first of more Big and Great times for Bulldog football.
To be fair, anointing this such all-time status is not entirely automatic. Surpassing ’80 Bama (and for that matter any survivors of much longer-ago who recall it) ’35 Army is a serious proposition. I think the case can be made. But first…
1980 Alabama was a true behemoth of the sport, two-time defending national champs and unbeaten over most of three seasons by anyone; as well as owning a 22-year win streak over State. And while those Bulldogs were showing signs of becoming a quality club they weren’t ranked much less rated a challenge. So 1980’s Bigness belongs to the sheer stunning upset aspect more than any other factor.
Now class, compare and contrast, as my long-suffering high school teacher would say. The #3 knocking off #2 straight-up shouldn’t really be called an upset, and a goodly share of national analysts gave State their nod. Still Auburn was ranked a notch higher and already being slotted as top-seed for the inaugural national championship playoff. And of course the SEC lead, West and overall, was on the line in a mid-October meeting that will reverberate on into January.
That’s the extra element; Mississippi State was playing with so much to both gain AND lose, which is exactly the definition of a Showdown. The Bulldogs won it, just as they had the previous two comparable cases. And, without need of late-game dramatics or special circumstances. In fact, and I built my game story around this theme, State played less than its best and was still able to beat one of the country’s elite ball clubs who came in primed for the matchup. Tell me the last time that happ…never mind. It hasn’t happened. Which is as strong an endorsement for what Coach Dan Mullen has accomplished over six seasons.
And then what remains achievable in the coming six weeks. Remember, and savor too, that Mississippi State’s climb from unranked-to-top Dog in both polls is the fastest ever. From receiving votes four weekends ago to 45 first-place ballots now? That’s not just MSU history but a college ball milestone.
Which brings us around to something Mullen emphasized Saturday night, with sorta-surprising intensity. Condensed, Coach said this team hasn’t won anything yet. Well beyond enough games already to take care of now-expected bowl eligibility, which Mullen immediately diluted by reminding how even that implies a winning record for 2014 is not assured. Man, talk about taking the big-picture view!
He and we can afford to, thanks to a second unbelievably well-timed open date. If the Dogs needed to regroup after the breakout win at LSU, how much refocusing is required now? Sure, all of you attending the past two weekends felt the unprecedented energy building for first A&M and then even more so for Auburn. But you weren’t around the preceding week-days. Take it from a feller who’s spent practically the entire working-life here. There has never, ever been a two-week stretch like it on this campus.
And every atom of that energy exploded Saturday for the football world to watch. And hear. Ohhhh, could they ever hear, and like legends of earthquakes felt t’other side of the globe I wouldn’t blink if told folk in surrounding counties claim hearing the echoes. I’d have to blink actually, and ask ‘say again?’ since I foolishly chose not to wear my shooting earplugs yesterday. First I wanted to enjoy the entire sonic ambiance. Second, well, they’re orange and that wouldn’t have done at all… Anyway, Instant Tinnitus that night never go away.
What the heck. Times like this are worth the sacrifice. I mean, it’s not every season a Bulldog team wins the game that sends them to the #1 ranking. Which is why, until otherwise convinced or, better, we see an even Bigger win and Greater day, this one is now my own number-one game. Oh, almost forgot to add, that it happened on Scott Field also tips the balance; we beat the Bear in Jackson, after all. We clinched the 1998 West title in Oxford too…and yes, those of a mind to have already focused on whether the 2014 Egg Bowl will be for similar State stakes as well as for the home team. Whoa there, hoss, let’s not get that far in front of things.
For that matter the #1 ranking might not hold past next Sunday, since Florida State will take on Notre Dame and as this year proves pollsters are a fickle club. That’s OK, college football as a whole is enjoying an utterly fascinating season so far. And again, the Dogs can really use this open date to properly prepare for consecutive tests from a Kentucky club enjoying its turnaround and an Arkansas squad about on the verge of ditto. Then a couple weeks later is the one SEC West opponent Mullen has yet to beat, and the rematch is in Tuscaloosa.
So there oughtn’t be any difficulty retaining Bulldog attention for the resumed season. The Dogs spoken with Saturday already had adopted proper party line, that the win was great in and of itself…but just another step in the longer journey of getting to Atlanta. (Parenthetically and to go agin’ what I’ve already said about looking ahead, I will suggest it isn’t entirely crazy to think a 11-1 West runner-up could still make the four-team playoffs. Just saying…)
For this wonderful Mississippi State moment, though, let’s savor something so very special that it took 115 seasons to achieve. I tweeted last week how it just can’t, CAN’T be coincidence that all this wonderful-ness has come in the 100th season of Scott Field football. No, wise guys, I haven’t been around for all 100, though many a lost Saturday it felt that way.
Which brings me to a piece of sheer sappy sentimentality, which you are excused from reading if it threatens your blood sugar numbers or anything. I have a regular campus walking-route and took it both Thursday and Friday last week, just to absorb a little more of that aforementioned building energy. Seriously, it was enough to fry a fragile fan’s circuits.
Friday though I altered the path to stop by a particular piece of old concrete, in front of McGruder Hall. Some of you know what I’m talking about, most won’t. It is a remaining piece of the sidewalk there when I was in school and likely many years before. The rest of the walk is relatively new, but some other sentimental soul wisely left this piece in place.
Because scratched upon it is, in increasingly-timeworn letters, MSU 6 BAMA 3. You almost have to know it’s there to see it in fact, and I’ve before suggested the MSU administration have it removed and placed on permanent display somewhere before it is worn out entirely. Well, I stopped by, leaned over to rub the MSU 6 part and said aloud, surely to the bemusement of any observers, “well guys, this (weekend) is what y’all always wanted here.”
It has been a long wait since with some highs and lots of lows along the way. Yet a legacy of those fellows who beat the #1 team in the country, is to see their heirs earn that same ranking for dear old State. The best part? This ought not be the last time or team to do it.
And if not this team, then one of those will finish a season #1. Which means more Biggests and Greatests are still in store at Mississippi State. Hopefully Ty and I will get to see that, too.