The Egg Bowl Remembered with Matt Wyatt

Matt Wyatt played Quarterback for the Bulldogs from 1996 through 1999. The Bulldogs had a 3-1 record against Ole Miss during Matt's career. Matt took some time out of his schedule to talk about possible MSU quarterback controversies, the Egg Bowl fight of 1997 and the MSU Egg Bowl wins of 1996, 1998 and 1999.

SR: When you think about the Battle for the Golden Egg what immediately comes to mind?

MW: That's an interesting question. I would have to say the first thing that comes to mind is the wins of 1998 and 1999. I didn't have a big part in either one of those games, but I remember watching our defense play. They did a real good job against Deuce in '98 and I remember pulling for Wayne in 1999 when we completed that comeback.

We had a lot of comebacks in 1999 and I was a part of a lot of those comebacks. I always felt that Wayne did not get the credit he deserved until he led that comeback in the Egg Bowl. After that, people kind of realized what he was doing for us.

I will never forget Scott (Westerfield) making that kick in 1999 and giving us a reason to celebrate as seniors. Scott and Wayne gave us all something to really celebrate for our last game at Scott field.

SR: Speaking of your role in all of those comebacks in 1999, I know a lot of the fans felt that you should have been starting. How did you and Wayne handle that situation and avoid splitting the teams up into camps?

MW: I guess the best way to describe it is that every member of that team knew we had something special. That included Wayne and myself. We knew there was something special going on and we knew that there was no room on that team for a quarterback controversy.

One thing that really helped us avoid a controversy was Coach Woods' loyalty to Wayne as the starter. He had made a decision that Wayne was the starter and he stuck with it. It wasn't a situation where the back up was doing a good job when he was playing and that was going to cause the starter to lose his job. It just wasn't like that.

If we had given in to a full blown controversy after the Auburn game or the Oklahoma State game or the Kentucky game, we probably wouldn't have seen an Egg Bowl victory. It might have torn the team in half.

There were some situations early in the season where some of the players were listening to the fans and thought I should be starting. 99.9% of the players on that team knew we had something special and we knew we had to support each other. We had to put all of the grumbling aside.

We had the idea that if I was I on the field I was going to get it done and if Wayne was on the field he was going to get it done. That attitude was to the benefit of our team and to Wayne and his confidence as our starter. I feel that mentality allowed him to really come on strong at the end of that year. He brought us back to win the Egg Bowl and then was the MVP in the Peach Bowl.

SR: Growing up in Alabama I am sure it took you a little while to get to know the Mississippi State and Ole Miss rivalry. Talk about your experiences with the rivalry.

MW: Growing up in Alabama all I learned about was the Iron Bowl, of course. I really didn't learn about and start to understand what the Egg Bowl was about until I went to college. I wish it was different. I wish it was one of those things that people in Alabama paid attention to. When I went to school, I got a real good understanding of things.

I learned pretty quickly that this game and this rivalry is something that is talked about 365 days of the year. Especially for Mississippi State fans, because back in the "good ole days" Ole Miss kind of ran things. In the last twenty years or so MSU has hung in there in the series. It's something I know State fans look forward to and they want to even that series up some day.

My first experience in the Egg Bowl was in 1996. I had dressed out for the game my redshirt year in 1995, but my first playing time was in '96. The game was in Oxford on Thanksgiving weekend and Tuberville was the coach there then. I had been playing a good bit. I had started a couple of games, so I prepared for the Egg Bowl as if I was going to play.

I remember going out there on the field for pre-game warmups on a muddy, nasty field in Oxford and the Ole Miss fans were already in the stands. They were yelling at me and at us and telling us how ugly we were and how bad they were going to kill us. I thought to myself that these people are crazy about this game.

We won that game in the rain 17-0. I remember Eric Brown had a big play in that game and Kevin Sluder, who was one of my roommates, had a fumble return for a touchdown in that game.

My biggest memory of that game was in the second half. It was a 3rd and about 8 on our own end of the field. Of all the plays the coaches could have called for me they called a quarterback draw. We spread them out with five wide receivers and I lined up in the shotgun and ran the quarterback draw. It was the last thing Ole Miss was expecting.

I snapped the ball, took one step back, the line split and I saw nothing but green in front of me. I had about a 35 yard run out to midfield for the first down. I finally got drug down in the mud. I got up and I was so proud of myself because I had made this big run. I looked back and there was penalty flag back on the line of scrimmage. The longest run of my career by far got called back for holding.(laughs)

SR: Now I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask you about the fight in 1997 during pre-game warmups. For the record what happened?

MW: I can tell you for sure how it got started. I was standing right there when it got started. We were warming up on the north end of the field. Ole Miss was coming out and using the south end of the field. The quarterbacks and receivers for us were on the 50-yard line on the visitors' sideline. We were in a big huddle and had the defensive backs with us.

So we're sitting there getting ready for warm-ups. A bunch of Ole Miss guys come down the ramp and instead of just taking the field for warm-ups they come along the visiting sidelines right towards us.

As they came up there was a big meeting. The two groups met at the 50 yard line. Two players started talking. It started out with one of those friendly things were they were just like "We're going to ya ya ya" back and forth. Everyone on both teams was just going to yell and scream and go on about their business. All of sudden one of the Ole Miss guys reached over his teammate and slapped one of our guys in the helmet. I still don't know who did that slap, but he was responsible for the whole thing.

When that slap happened, one of our guys shoved back, then they started shoving and before you know it there is a full blown fight. What happened was guys from both teams saw the little shoving going on and they jumped up from their warm up areas and sprinted over there. That just gave everyone the impression something big was going on, when in all actuality nothing had even started yet. It was all started over a big misunderstanding like most fights. (laughs)

Once that thing got started it really got started. You had a handful of guys on each team that wanted to fight. They were the ones flying around and grabbing each other. You had the majority of players and coaches on each team trying to break it up. I was trying to break it up and got caught up in a big group of guys fighting. (laughs) I was trying to protect some of our guys from getting a helmet to head or something like that. I never passed any licks, but I was just trying to get our guys out of the way.

It seemed like it took a long time, but to us it all happened very quickly. The fight was a bad thing for both teams. I think it disrupted the preparation both teams had done all week long. It took everyone out of their game mindset. What's really amazing is that when we got the game started there wasn't a fight or a personal foul in the whole ball game that I can remember.

SR: Being a former player, how do you see Mississippi State football today and what do you expect in the future?

MW: I have said this before and I get different reactions. This is my honest opinion and I feel very strongly about this. I have seen most of the games this year in person. I believe barring something unforseen that this team in 2008 and 2009 is going to have the seasons that Mississippi State fans have been looking forward to since I guess '98 and '99. I really believe that is when it is going to happen. If I had a million dollars to bet on it, I would.

I have listened to Coach Croom over and over. Having played a lot of football myself, I have been around a lot of coaches and around a lot of players and good leaders. I really believe that things are being done exactly the way they need to be done. You give these sophomores another year and then when they become seniors I think we're going to see something special and I believe it's going to come with Coach Croom at the helm. I look forward to that.

I think next season is going to be a different season than what we have seen the last six years or so. In 2008 and 2009 they are going to be ready to go. I believe anyone whoever doubted if Coach Croom had a plan and knew how to go about it will really just feel like they should have kept their mouth shut.

SR: Well, tell me who is going to win the Egg Bowl this year?

MW: I believe that it is a real toss up. The wild card is the quarterback position for Mississippi State. You just don't know what you're going to get. We just won't know until they start taking snaps. That being said, if MSU can turn in the same type of defensive performances that they did against Alabama and Arkansas then regardless of the QB play, State will have a good chance to win the game.

If Dixon gets 100+ and that defense plays like they have, I believe State is going to win the game.

The other side of that coin is that if Ole Miss forces turnovers early and if they can run the football it's could be a long day for State.

I know that's a lot of "Ifs" and not a true prediction, but that's how I see the game good and bad.

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