Egg Bowl 'special' for Sherrill, Bulldogs

This Thanksgiving will be like no other for Mississippi State's Jackie Sherrill who'll close out a memorable career in the 2003 Egg Bowl.<P> In his first Egg Bowl in 1991, Sherrill led the Maroon & White to a resounding 24-9 triumph over Ole Miss, enabling "Mississippi State fans to proudly raise their coffee mugs," a favorite expression of one of the winningest football coaches in the country.

That was the beginning of a special era at Mississippi State University. Now the final chapter is being added.

The curtain comes down Thanksgiving night and the "Dean of the SEC Coaches" is assured of having a winning record against MSU's most heated rival. No doubt, Jackie Wayne and the Maroon & White everywhere would like to see the Bulldogs "ring up" one more special win.

A Biloxi, Miss., product and a disciple of legendary Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, the versatile Sherrill, fitting the mold of a fullback-linebacker, holds a 7-5 winning record against Ole Miss in the battle for the Golden Egg.

It hasn't been something Sherrill has been thinking about - his final game to wear the headset on the Mississippi State sidelines - but emotions run high when the subject comes up.

Making a last-minute appearance at the Starkville Quarterback Club Tuesday night before turning to his weekly "Call-In Show" with Jack Cristil, the "Voice of the Bulldogs" and another legend in these parts, Sherrill couldn't fight away the tears as he thanked everyone for their support. He received the same warm, personal standing ovation he was afforded when MSU Athletic Director Larry Templeton brought him aboard.

Starkville Quarterback Club President Jeremy Tabor said it was easy to see that Jackie's feelings were coming from his heart.

Tabor said it proudly and correctly that "Coach Sherrill has left Mississippi State many memories and we'll miss him."

Sherrill said he probably wouldn't think about it being the finale. "Not until prior to the game, when we walk out to play," he said in regard to his final game as coach of the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State takes on instate rival Mississippi Thanksgiving night at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Kickoff is set for 6:33 p.m.

Sherrill said, hopefully, with the game being played in Starkville the home crowd will help. The winningest coach in Mississippi State history is retiring after the final game, a decision he made in midseason, but he said "he'll be around" to cheer the Bulldogs under the next head coach.

"I want to help whoever comes in (next head coach) if I'm called on to help. I've already done that. I've gone through and put a book together for evaluating all the players and the same thing in recruiting - what the needs are. It depends on who is hired, they may think in different directions. I'll be very up front, if asked, and help anyway that I can.

"I'm planning on being in the Dog Pound," he said. "Take my shirt off (tradition of avid MSU students) if that's what it takes to help 'em.

"It's more fun sitting down there (Dog Pound)," added Sherrill, an instant hit with Mississippi State fans after leading the Bulldogs to a winning season in his first year at the helm in Starkville, including the win over Ole Miss. The Bulldogs also went bowling in Sherrill's first year at the helm, in fact, the first two seasons.

In his final press conference Tuesday afternoon at the sparkling Bryan Athletic Administration Building on the sprawling MSU campus, Sherrill talked about some of the rivalries around the country and what it means to win those games.

"I think any time you can beat your rival team you're on the plus side of the ledger," he said. "You'll always be remembered in the state whether its Texas or Texas A&M, or Penn State-Pittsburgh, Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Florida State, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State."

Sherrill said the players have done a very good job of handling things as they have been this season. He said you have to give a lot of credit, recognition and admiration to the seniors.

"Three or four of them had an opportunity to not come back because of injuries," said Sherrill. He cited center Blake Jones, and tight end Aaron Lumpkin as two coming back and playing early. "They wanted to come back when they didn't have to. The game means a lot to the seniors. This is the game they'll remember, the last one.

"I think the seniors have probably given whatever they can give to the younger guys," he said.

A capacity crowd is anticipated for the Southeastern Conference bout between the longtime rivals. ESPN will be in Starkville to air the traditional match while Cristil and Jim Ellis will bring each exciting play on the MSU Radio Network.

Mississippi State (2-9, 1-6 SEC) is coming off a lopsided loss at Arkansas in a game in which the Dogs led early then trailed 21-6 at halftime only to become victim of a rash of turnovers. It's no secret that the Bulldogs haven't played well down the stretch run.

They've shown flashes of offensive sparkle at various times during the season and have some potent weapons in senior quarterback Kevin Fant, the sophomore running back duo of Nick Turner and Jerious Norwood and explosive receivers like all-star candidate Justin Jenkins.

The defense has played well in spurts, but again, has not played four quarters of the game. The kicking game and special teams play has perhaps been the best of the three phases, highlighted by placekicker Brent Smith, a candidate for postseason honors, and punters Jared Cook and Robert Wallis of Columbus, Miss.

Senior linebacker Jason Clark of Starkville, who had 10 tackles against Arkansas and is also a candidate for postseason honors, will be playing his final game for the Bulldogs along with several other starters on the defensive side of the ball - Tommy Kelly (DE), Lennie Day (DT), T. J. Mawhinney (LB), Odell Bradley (CB), and Bernard Vinson (CB).

Senior Kamau Jackson, a part time starter on the defensive line, had an outstanding game against Ole Miss the last time the two teams met in Starkville, a 36-28 win by the Maroon & White.

Fant outdueled Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning in the Thanksgiving night showdown two year ago. As a junior, Fant and the Bulldogs eclipsed 400 yards offense, while holding Manning and the Rebels to 269, but the Red & Blue prevailed 24-12 on a near-freezing evening at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford.

Fant connected on 23-of-42 passes for 340 yards and a touchdown, a 22-yard toss to wide receiver Ray Ray Bivines, who had a good game with a career-high six receptions for 115 yards. However, the junior receiver from Gautier, Miss., will miss this year's Egg Bowl with an injury.

Manning, a 2003 Heisman candidate, connected on 16-of-29 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns, the first a 28-yarder earlier to Chris Collins to get the Rebels on the scoreboard before hitting on a 77-yard "back-breaking" TD to Collins.

Sherrill acknowledged Manning has gotten better over the past couple of years. "Every year that I have watched him he has progressed," said Sherrill.

Two of the best receivers in the SEC, Jenkins, who has 60 catches for 871 yards, and Collins will square off in this year's renewal. Jenkins had five catches for 52 yards a year ago.

The Bulldogs will also count on sophomore running backs Nick Turner and Jerious Norwood to give them a boost on offense.

Ole Miss (8-3, 6-1 SEC) has much more at stake than the Dogs with a trip to the SEC title game still a possibility depending on the outcome of the Arkansas-LSU game to be played Friday in Baton Rouge.

LSU (10-1, 6-1) handed the Rebels their first loss in conference play, 17-14, last Saturday at Oxford in a game that went down to the final play.

There may be more at stake for one school than the other, as there usually is, but that doesn't take into account the pride and there's always a lot of that surrounding the regular season finale.

The Egg Bowl is a top heavy item on the Thanksgiving menu along with turkey and all the trimmings. No doubt, the Bulldogs would "love" to send their coach out a winner in this intense instate rivalry.

It's often been said that records don't count in this game and it's been proven true. So throw out the records and let the game begin.

Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page. He can be reached by email at

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