When asked about Johnie Cooks, former MSU head Coach Emory Bellard had this to say: "Johnie was wild, ya'll just don't know. He had exceptional speed and just had a great feel for the game. Johnie was an exceptional football player and I was glad to have him."
[The legendary linebacker took a few moments out of his busy day to not only discuss his Egg Bowl experiences with me, but to also fan the flames of one of the South's most intense rivalries.-Steve]
Johnie, what comes to mind when you think about the Egg Bowl?
"That bad pass interference call my senior year. Their receiver pushed our DB in the back and it should have been offensive pass interference. I still can't believe it. They took the game from us. I don't want to just say they cheated, but that wasn't right. It cost us the ballgame. That was my last one, so I hated to go out with that as a senior."
What thoughts do you think are going through our seniors' minds?
"Well, I tell you I hope they're thinking about how this is the last one. They don't want to go out with a loss. They haven't won one, so they don't want to have to remember that down the road. They really need to win this one. This is the Mississippi game of the year. Yeah, you have USM, Jackson State and all the rest, but everyone knows the battle for Mississippi is State and Ole Miss. You save face in this game. You could go 1-10 and beat Ole Miss and even when you're down you can still say we were better than them."
Is there a play from any of your Egg Bowls that stand out?
"Oh yeah. I have a picture of it. My junior year, me and John Fourcade got to meet one on one. He had a big mouth and I loved to hit him. I got to hit him so hard he grunted real loud and that made it even more memorable."
Can I quote you on that?
"Yeah, you can quote me. I'll tell him myself. I'm not ashamed to say it. I don't like them and I don't like him. I never thought much of him, so I didn't worry about him. He was just one of those nothing players with a big mouth."
You went 2-2 in Egg Bowls.
"Yes, I played in '77, '78, '80 and '81. I didn't play in 1979. That was Coach Bellard's first year and I sat out because I was injured. We had about twenty players go down to injuries that year. I loved playing for Coach Bellard. He made football fun. I was glad to have him as a coach. We used to joke around a lot. We need to get him back up here to visit. We keep trying, like this year and back in 2000 when we had the 25th and 20 year reunions of the Alabama win. I sure wish he'd come back. There are a lot of people that think a lot of Coach Bellard."
I am sure you will be at the Egg Bowl this weekend. How would you defense the Rebels?
"Oh, yes I will be there. The main thing is to stop the run. I know they have had some trouble running the ball lately and they are beat up, but I am sure they have seen film and think they can run on us. We have to stuff the run and make them throw it. I think our corners are better than their receivers and our guys can make some plays. I wish I was playing this weekend. I'd suit up and I think I could still do pretty good."
Do you still get excited about the Egg Bowl?
"Oh, yeah. I'll be a grouch around here all day Friday and Saturday morning waiting on that game. The main thing those players need to realize is they aren't just playing for themselves. They are playing for me and you and everyone who loves Mississippi State."
You were drafted by the Colts the year before John Elway was and he held out and didn't sign.
"Yeah, everytime I see him I tell him he cost me four Super Bowls (laughs). He didn't like the organization and chose to do what he thought was best for him. I guess it worked out for him. I played six seasons with the Colts, three and a half with the Giants and half a season with the Cleveland Browns."
What brought you back to Starkville?
"Mississippi State. I'll be a Bulldog forever. I like being close by, like last night I went to the basketball game. I can go over to campus and see what's going on. I am real nosey, so I go over to the football complex and go talk to the coaches. There are some places I can go a lot of other people can't go. I like to know what's going on. I love Mississippi State and I love Mississippi. Starkville is a great place to raise a family."
What do you think about the current direction of our program?
"I feel like we're headed in the right direction. I know it's been tough and people are tired of losing, but it's not going to be a quick fix. Everybody wants a quick fix, but that's not going to happen. We need the players. There's an old saying that players win ball games and coaches lose them, but if you don't have the players, I don't care how good your coach is, you're not going to win."
What do we need to get back to winning?
"Prayer (laughs). Prayer and recruiting. We have to recruit well. You have to have players. I'd like to see us get some of those guys out of the delta."
Johnie Cooks, one of the most beloved players in MSU history, was the defensive MVP of the 1981 Hall of Fame Bowl and was the man on the field that all quarterbacks looked for when they left the huddle.
See you at the Egg Bowl and here's wishing our team a big Bulldog victory.
Steve Robertson writes The Robertson Report for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.