How I came up with the conceit of doing so from the other side's purported perspective, I honestly can't say. But I'm glad it did, even if inevitably the case was rather over-stated at some points and not a few stereotypes, from both sides of the field, were grandly over-played!
What the heck. It was great fun writing at the time, and apparently a few readers remember (as ye aulde Billy S. would say "with advantages") and want to see it again. But be advised, some references will surely baffle younger State fans and maybe even a few forgetful veterans. Names like Dog, Murphy, and Dick Pace, or references to attire, 1983 and ‘habitual' for example. As we say, ya had to be there. If you wonder, a Syclone was a real vehicle, a factory hot-rodded GMC rocket on the market only a couple of years.
Of course lots has changed in 14 years, for better and for worse (RIP, the MSU Laundry). Umiss folk definitely know something about college baseball now. Then again there are some things that don't seem to change, such as references to Jack Cristil and the Saints. Or that have changed and changed back, specifically the basketball prowess of the respective schools. And the internal irony is that yours truly now drives the 3-series Bimmer.
Oh, and about the kids in this column? Beau is now a senior systems analyst with NASA and married his Diamond Girl. Ashley is a regional marketing director for Fox. And last they heard, after staying at and graduating from UM, Muffy has dumped her second husband and moved to L.A. where she hopes to appear on one of those reality shows. But now, back to the day...
Beauregard Rhettley Farquhar IV, Old Oakrot Plantation, Deltaville, MS, 39000 November 24, 1991
Dear Father: I am taking a moment to dash off this brief note before leaving Oxford with some of my fellow Sigmas for a few days in the mountains, a little late-semester holiday excursion with the boys and all that. I truly regret missing our annual family get-together for Thanksgiving this year: the turkey, the relatives, hearing Grandpa, the Judge, snarl about having to actually pay house and plantation help these sorry modern days, and all. But I feel obligated to have one last fling with my brothers Sig since, for reasons I will get to, this will be the last.
Well, I did it. I actually went to Starkville yesterday. After all, somebody had to represent the family at The Game for the zillionth-straight year. And I'd heard you say last summer you'd "never set foot on Mississippi State dirt." Certainly it hurt your pride so terribly to miss The Game for the first time since, when, Eisenhower?
Anyway, my roommate Ashley Bainforth and so many other brothers were going it would have been unseemly for me not to join the expedition. Fraternity and brotherhood, eh? Besides they dared me to go to ‘State'. How could a descendant of a corporal in General Longstreet's Fourth Brigade Cook & Quartermaster detail at the skirmish of Swamp Meadows walk away from a challenge to my true Southern heritage?
Naturally all assumptions were that the Rebels would win, again. Well, as we now know, it did not quite turn out that way, as those Bulldogs stole the game from our Dog. It must have been a savage evening at home when the Judge realized this wasn't some made-up news bulletin, that Mississippi State actually beat the lads in red and blue. It's just as well he shot out the TV back in 1988 during the Democratic National Convention—watching this on cable pay-per-view would have given both you and the old boy major strokes. 24-9, I think was the actual score. It surely looked much worse than that, 42-9 was more like it.
But I'm glad I went because my life has been changed forever more. Not the least because I left Muffy—remember her, the charming blonde whose daddy, class of '59, is a divorce lawyer in Memphis?—somewhere in the stadium during the post-game chaos. For all I know she's still there.
We actually arrived in the dismal burg of Starkville Friday night, to taunt the hicks and show off the Golden Egg (Ashley won it from the student body president in a card game). But there was something strange in the air around campus, and it wasn't from the cattle barns or sorority houses. When we waved our proud flags and chanted our ‘hotty tottys' at State people, they didn't go berserk with rage. On the contrary, they merely smiled at us. Sort of the way Jaws did at the sight of an overweight surfer. As if they knew something we didn't. Puzzling, Ashley said.
For lack of anything else to do in this town we attended a basketball game that evening in their Coliseum. You know, that game they play indoors wearing short pants. Over 7,000 people were there and they cheered wildly when a 1991 SEC Champions banner was hung. You'll be happy to know the team lost their game but I noticed few locals were terribly upset. Something about a brand-new team, rebuilding year and all that. The team did not play well but did play with zest.
I was puzzled, though, by one thing. None of the State players, nor coaches or even the fans were wearing overalls. It was a sign that much of what I'd been told about Mississippi State since infancy was not true. The womenfolk were not chewing tobacco. In fact most of the coeds would have been quite at home on our own campus, and were certainly much friendlier.
When we tried to leave the Coliseum (it's bigger and nicer than ours, by the way) Ash and I got caught up in a horde that attended a pep rally for the morrow's football game. There we got our first glimpse of That Man, the coach Sherrill that our Billy seems absolutely obsessed with. No, no overalls or muddy boots on him, either. In fact this got me to thinking—the two State coaches I saw this weekend were genuine fashion plates, stylish and modern without being merely trendy. Even Muffy lowered her nose long enough to notice the basketball coach's tie, and that man Sherrill's coat. Then I considered how our Billy, and our poor Coach Murphy look in public. It was terribly confusing because, I mean, they looked like our men should and our coaches look like theirs are supposed to. I was also told their baseball coach is a distinctive dresser.
Most aggravating of all was the presence of Liberty Bowl representatives, after the way they treated us. Just because we lost four straight games, the bowl people action as if we are sudden lepers while these Bulldogs are treated like royalty. Ashley had vowed he would never buy gas in Memphis again at the insult to all the Rebelious. The idea, choosing State over Ole Miss!
We prowled town and campus looking for natives to tease, but all they would do was smile some more and clang those horrible cowbells. The sense of confidence there was most unnerving, even for one brought up to believe in the omnipotent traditions of Vaught, Manning, and Dick Pace.
Game day was chill, and Muffy took so long to do her hair—she HAD to look her best, she said, since these peasants had probably never seen a Miss Magnolia Ball fourth runner-up before—that the crease in my khakis was gone by the time we made it to campus. Father, it was astounding to see all the people roaming the campus. Students, families, townspeople, all acting as if they were going to the greatest event in their lives. Of course, Ash sniffed, it isn't every day these hicks get to share the air with the mighty Rebs. So what if those scalawags at the Jackson ‘paper' had picked the Bulldogs to win. Being favored was always the kiss of death for State teams before.
I couldn't believe it, the State student section was packed an hour before kickoff. Worse, our own students had not bought up all the tickets sent and there were Bulldog fans sitting right next to us. Waving those blasted bells, no less. I coolly asked if he hadn't, or couldn't, read the notices against bringing artificial noisemakers to SEC games. He coolly asked if my friend was a pre-med, specializing in removing large metal objects from body cavities. Ashley paled and sat on his flag. Muffy squealed and dove under her coat, refusing to come out even when our band played ‘Dixie.' I thought when our cheerleaders paraded the field with the Golden Egg it would silence the locals, but it only aroused them. As did the arrival of their team, the Bulldogs. I was feeling very anxious because something was wrong. These people were too confident, too secure, to be the Mississippi State people I've always known.
It did not take long to find out why. Father, that wasn't a game. It was an execution. Two plays after it started good old Tommy Luke was blasted into large pieces by a beast of a linebacker. He had to be carted away from the field with a concussion. Our punt was fumbled and three plays later that Bulldog quarterback, a shifty fellow who goes by the deceiving name of ‘Sleepy' threw a touchdown pass. No, none of our defenders fell down or died (though many wanted to, quickly) on the play, it was genuine.
And a series later those Dogs did it again, driving for another touchdown. Somebody named Tay, who hadn't carried a football since September, practically jumped over our line and the goal line. This was awful, a nightmare. Make them stop, please.
Remember how when I was young you liked to run your Cadillac over possums as they hobbled across the highway? That was exactly what our defense looked like as this Sleepy fellow blasted the wishbone through a sleepwalking Rebel team. As far as the Rebel ‘offense' our boys were blood-red and bruised-blue. The halftime score was ‘only' 14-0 but may as well have been 41-0. That Dog defense kicked poor Russ Shows around as if he was the Judge's stray yardcat. Near as I could tell, all we won was the halftime matchup of dancing girls. But that had no effect on the scoreboard, which remained completely in favor of the home team. And the second half was basically more of the same as those Dogs rambled downfield as easy as if on parade for another touchdown. Again it was Sleepy. Remember Chauncy Godwin? Robinson bounced him back five paces at the goal line scoring his touchdown.
I'm told that Sports Illustrated was on hand for the game, doing a piece on this rivalry. I imagine all they had heard about our dominance of the series was negated by what they actually saw on the field this day.
Our fans—most hung around in spite of the slaughter, to their credit. Or maybe since the game was being played on campus for the first time in two decades our fans didn't have the option of leaving after three quarters as they usually do in Jackson, to get good parking spots at the malls. Anyway, the brave Rebs gave ‘em something to cheer about with a brilliant field goal drive. At least, our side acted as if those three points had the Bullies shaking in their cleats.
As far as their sideline reacted, the field goal had all the lasting impact of a bug on my BMW's windshield. They matched the three points quickly enough. It seemed as if State got their 24-3 lead and just shut down for the day, which was really more insulting to the Rebels than any attempt to run it up would have been. As if they were saying go ahead, beat your heads against us—we don't care, because we're Top Dogs and there's not a precious thing can be done about it.
Then the game was over and we had lost. Rather, the Bulldogs had won, hard as that was to admit. In every conceivable way the State team was the better team, curse it as long and hard as you like. They were bigger, stronger, faster, deeper, and obviously better prepared to play a game. From the first series it was terribly obvious—Mississippi State had this game under control all the way. Ole Miss never had a chance to even make it a game.
We had to suffer and watch as the Egg was paraded around the field by delirious Bulldogs. They were kissing, stroking, gazing at the ugly old hulk as if it were a priceless treasure, which to State it darn well is by now. That man Sherrill looked as if he'd just won a world championship and the lottery in the same day. Dog Brewer looked as if he'd taken a load of number two buckshot to his gut. And the cowbells…my ears are still ringing this morning-after. I left the stadium shaken, and without Muffy. I've no idea what happened to her and care less by this point. I was too busy pondering what I had seen on that field.
I had no idea what Mississippi State was building up to this season. True, the Bulldogs had beaten Texas, Auburn and LSU, and scared Tennessee and Alabama near to death along the way. But any team can get lucky, I thought.
This wasn't luck. These guys are good. Offense and defense, they are a honest, tough-minded football team.
For a few years now we Rebels have quite enjoyed hearing State people boasting of their recruiting successes and then beating them almost every season. Didn't matter how it was done, by luck or theft, or plain old dumb play by State, they would lose the game they wanted most and we could laugh at them every off-season. Of course it WAS a bit nagging the way that Rockey Felker (Judge still curses the mention of that name from '74, and at how we ever let Bob Tyler get away) kept stocking up on talented young players, but Ole Miss could always count on State finding a way to blow it. Or as in '83, to get blown away.
No more, sir. I'm a witness, things are different with Mississippi State and it's that man Sherrill who's to blame. Or, to credit. Goodness knows, nobody can have neutral feelings about the fellow.
State has always had some talent, sometimes even a good bit of it. It's still not as deep a stockpile as some of the SEC's heavyweights, admittedly. But now they have a master-mind in charge of the program and a lineup of assistant coaches that is second to none, absolutely top-drawer.
Funny thing, State really didn't use that many players this game or, I'm told, the second half of the season. Sherrill found about thirty he liked and rode them through the stretch, barely substituting. And that actually seemed to develop the Dogs instead of grinding them down.
Something else: State's offensive approach was very simple, bare-bones really. I know that fellow Watson Brown has the reputation of an offensive wizard and all. But what he did with the Bulldogs was as basic as it was efficient. He found a half-dozen plays he liked and that was all the Dogs would run. And I do mean ran. Did you know in the last two games, wins over LSU and us, that State threw only a dozen passes (completed nine) and ran the ball 132 times?
Surely Robinson is a dervish with the ball and there's a lot of good Bulldog backs there, but the key was that monstrous offensive line. Big? Only like a row of soybean silos. When they fire off it looks like a hill is rolling down on you.
As for the defense, well, I'm truly glad I wasn't in a Rebel uniform Saturday. Anything that moved was a target and any target got hit (re: Luke and Shows). I know that Coleman boy, the linebacker, took vicious joy in putting old Tommy out of the game after what happened last year in Jackson.
Remember that Tony Harris fellow, the great athlete who played a year with us in '88 before getting shuffled out when his test score was challenged? He had some kind of day getting revenge at our expense. He intercepted a pass, broke up too many more to count, and even scooped up a fumble and high-stepped into the end zone. The ball was ruled down, but he surely had a moment there. And all day he taunted our fans stranded, helpless, on that side of the field.
Now, here's the really bad news: only a handful of the Bulldogs who pounded us into the grass will be leaving after the Liberty Bowl. Most all of State's starters and backups (including the whole starting offensive line) will be back next year.
You see, this is not a good time to be a Rebel. The tide has turned, dramatically, against our side and in favor of the Bulldogs. This is based on a lot more than just the one victory over the Rebels. The Sherrill Era is real, and it's here. Now Ole Miss is the one looking down both barrels of a big gun, and that man Sherrill has a finger on the trigger. I'm afraid our Dog doesn't know how to handle this wily fellow and is too old to learn new tricks. Sherrill is a habitual winner, and if Billy really understands what ‘habitual' means he knows he is in big trouble.
Which brings me to my big announcement. I have seen the future.
I intend to transfer to Mississippi State.
Of course you won't understand now, and the Judge will likely disinherit me, even cancel my subscription to the Wall Street Journal (it was handy for wiping up Ashley's spills, I'll admit). I understand, but I'm decided on a Mississippi State of mind.
I want to be part of a winner. I want to have good times with fun folk, real folk that enjoy the Bulldog Way of doing things.
I want a cowbell of my own. Industrial-strength, with a two-handed grip and a home-run swing. I want to ring it until they hear the echoes in Columbus. I want to paint my face maroon and whoop it up at Scott Field like they did Saturday. I want to hear Jack Cristil calling the games I can't make it to.
And not just Sherrill's football team, but that basketball program. I want to be one of the rowdies in The Hump, cheering every three-pointer and screaming at refs until my lungs bleed. Or even, dare I say it, get involved with the Diamond Dogs. That's baseball, Dad. College baseball. I've heard stories about that Left Field Lounge in April and May that make me hungry for barbecue and RBIs and spring nights at Dudy Noble Field. Maybe even meet a Diamond Girl.
This school is going places, and I don't want to be left behind in a place that thinks the War means 1861, not 1991. I guess I'll always have a soft spot for Archie, but remember, he probably would have been better off playing baseball for Paul Gregory. Then he'd never have gotten stuck with the old Saints.
Anyway, I'm decided. Someday I hope the family will forgive, perhaps even join me for some games at State. Promise, they'll treat you right there. Call it Cow College or Moo U. all you wish, it's been number one in enrollment, academics, and research in this state for years. Now it's number one in athletics, across the board.
Cow College? Think of it—this town is named after a Revolutionary War hero. Ours is the one named after a cow path. Yes they have frats here, but it's a lot more relaxed.
Actually, I won't have to change too much besides using my flag collection as dishrags. They have enough preppy dressers down here that I'll fit right in and their University Laundry is world-famous. After Saturday, Ashley is seriously considering joining me, says maybe we can make the switch in time to attend the Liberty Bowl. He's fascinated by the idea of watching a real basketball program.
Another thing: I'm selling the Bimmer. I never liked the 3-series anyway, I only had you buy it for me because Muffy refused to be seen in anything not built in Europe. And I'm not sure which of them cost more in upkeep. Anyway, I unloaded it on a freshman from Jackson (academy kid, of course) and bought a GMC Syclone. Yes, father, a pickup truck. Black. It makes as much noise idling as Judge does after his fourth evening toddy. You'll hate it.
I hope by Christmas vacation you'll have accepted this. Mother, never. If I ever brought a Diamond Girl home she'd die on the spot, but life is tough, babe. Anyway, if y'all do refuse to allow me in the home for Christmas, it's OK. Just mail me my present.
You can wrap it in Maroon and White.
Your son, formerly B.R. Farquhar VI; now Jim Bob Ray ‘Buddy' Farquhar.
P.S.: How ‘bout them Dawgs!